Six Bethlehem Central School District teams will compete at the state Odyssey of the Mind competition at Binghamton University on Saturday, March 23.
These teams, and three more that did not qualify for the state competition, had originally competed in the OOTM Region 7 competition on Saturday, March 2 at Shenendehowa High School in Clifton Park. Of the six teams, two are from the high school, another is from the middle school, one is from Eagle Elementary, and two are from Hamagrael Elementary. The full list of grades and team members are available on www.bethlehemschools.org/bc-shows-eagle-spirit-regional-odyssey-mind-competition.
District Odyssey coordinator Rebecca Beiter — she also coaches two teams: a 5th (Hamagrael Elementary) and 9th grade one — said that OOTM is a worldwide creativity-based competition that challenges students to work in teams to solve problems and come up with solutions in an eight-minute skit format. All teams of around five to seven children are coached by a parent each, whom their child is often one of their respective team members, and this is a completely parent-run program. Almost all props used in the competition have to be recycled materials.
With regards to the March 2 competition, the long-term problems were first revealed in early Fall 2018 which gave teams ample time to start thinking how to solve them by March 2019, and gather any appropriate props and/or materials.
OOTM’s website listed the problems as:
“OMER to the Rescue, Again” – Crafting a ride-on vehicle that could fit inside a suitcase
“Hide in Plain Sight” – Creating a mechanical creature that can camouflage with its surroundings
“Classics: Leonardo’s Workshop” – “Reimagining” the works of Leonardo da Vinci
“Structure Toss” – Evaluating how strong a team-designed balsa wood structure is
“Opposites Distract”: Learning about being intentionally distracted through comic arguments and more
“We have fantastic teams and it was nuts because the students were the ones who took on the tasks, did a ton of research and tried different things. All the decisions are from them,” Beiter said. “The school district has been very generous and supportive of us too, and has allowed us to use in-school facilities like the cafeteria for us to meet and practice in the past months.”
When asked what skills and experiences students get from participating, fellow BCHS coach Carol Roeder, whose 11th-grade daughter has been an OOTM competitor since her middle school days, said students learn that it’s important to keep trying even if they fail sometimes. “It gets them on their feet too, makes them learn and adapt, and deal with failure and learn from it,” said Roeder. “As long as you do your best, it’s okay. It’s also how you learn to improvise and make the most out of a situation.”
She added that when her students first found out what problems they had to solve last fall, they then spent much time together to find solutions and get creative. “They’ve formed a sense of comradery and it’s definitely forged some lifelong friendships it seems,” she said. “They’re very excited, apprehensive and driven. This is dealing with academics too and this is their favorite thing to do.”
Emily Saunders, the 3rd grade Hamagrael Elementary team’s coach whom she said has practiced weekly since mid-October 2018, said, “In school, you have a set of things to learn in set ways — that’s not a reflection on the teaching though — but there’s so many more ways to learn and have fun with math and theater, so I think having the teamwork and being with friends to learn and be productive has been all really valuable.”
Regarding challenges faced during this competition season so far, Beiter said that being a coach could sometimes take up a lot of time and energy due to months-long preparations for the competition and coming up with the props. Roeder said that her students sometimes have other obligations to focus on, like school exams and other extracurricular activities; Saunders brought up how when the problems were first unveiled last fall, her students — who are aged 8 or 9 — initially did not feel a sense of competing since the March 2019 competition felt so far away then.
Nevertheless, all three agreed that their advancing teams will reuse their same skits and products from the March 2 competition for the March 23 statewide competition albeit with a few tweaks.
“All the Bethlehem Central teams are great and have worked very hard, and we’re all very proud of their performances so far,” Beiter concluded. “Employers are nowadays looking for people who can work in groups and solve problems. This provides kids an opportunity to get really good at those skills and push out of their comfort zone. These young kids are already learning a lot of 21st century skills.”