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Odyssey rewards Bath students

By By BARBIE MORSE BURNETTE, Staff Writer
BATH – Students at Bath Elementary School were rewarded recently for acting silly and outlandish in school.
The students are part of the school's first-ever Odyssey of the Mind teams.
OM is a creative problem-solving competition in which five to seven team members act out a solution to a chosen problem. The solution must include specific criteria set forth in the problem.
Students are awarded more points for demonstrating creative and outlandish solutions than more conventional ones, said Tracie Mizelle, academically gifted/enrichment teacher at the school.
Two teams of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders competed in the regional competition, which was held earlier this month at First Flight Middle School in Kitty Hawk. One of the teams won a second place award and will advance to the state competition, Mizelle said. The other team captured a third-place victory and will advance only in the event that either the first- or second-place winner cannot attend the state competition.
The students' success was especially rewarding, Mizelle said, because first-time teams usually don't advance to the state level.
The team was spawned, she pointed out, by parents Ray Pearce and his wife. The Pearces' children had participated on an OM team before moving to the area and suggested Bath Elementary start a team as well.
"They spearheaded the entire thing," said Mizelle. "They're spectacular people."
Pearce and fellow volunteer Laura Bortz coached the two teams. Practices were held in the mornings before school started and on weekends at the Pearce home, Mizelle said.
The students prepared for the two-part competition, which included both long-term and spontaneous problem-solving tasks. The long-term task required students to write and act out a skit to answer a proposed problem. That problem was selected from a list of choices offered in August, Mizelle said. The students have been working since then to prepare their skit.
"It has to be 100 percent student-driven," Mizelle said. "You're not allowed as a coach to give them any ideas."
The students must do all the work themselves, including constructing a backdrop for the skit, writing the dialogue and sewing costumes. They are allotted a $100 budget for the skit, Mizelle said, but they must even attach a price to items donated and not bought. The students have eight minutes to set up and perform their skit; then, they must endure questioning from judges.
The spontaneous portion of the competition is one of three different tasks – verbal, verbal/hands-on or hands-on. The students do not know which of the three categories they will compete in until the day of the event and must prepare for all three, Mizelle said.
As an example, Mizelle explained that in a verbal/hands-on task, students may be allotted several minutes to look at an object, such as a paper clip, and several minutes to touch it. At the end of that time, the students are asked to come up with all possible uses of the paper clip. An answer, such as "item used to hold papers together" would win the team fewer points than a more creative answer, such as "item that can bent into a roller coaster for an ant," she said.
There are different divisions of the competition, Mizelle said, including middle school and high school levels. The competition becomes more intense at each level.
Judges for the competition must endure an entire day of training she said, during which they are taught to judge only one very specific aspect of the competition. Such close scrutiny necessitates that numerous judges be involved, she added.
Mizelle said many of the students have blossomed since joining the team; they have gained tremendous self-esteem and pride.
The nature of the tasks has helped to teach the students teamwork and good decision making, Mizelle said. The process also has encouraged student creativity.
"I can't put into words how the students have reacted and how it has changed them," she said, "It's been wonderful."
Mizelle said she has been so impressed with the OM competition and its value to the students that she plans to offer it to students in future years.
"After hearing the kids rant and rave about it, we will continue it as long as I have anything to do with it," Mizelle commented.
Barbie Morse Burnette may be reached by telephone at 940-4212 or via e-mail at barbie@wdnweb.com.