By Jann Wiswall

Six groups of Ellicottville Central School students are working hard during and after school to prepare for the upcoming regional Odyssey of the Mind competition at Wellsville Middle/High School on Saturday, March 15. And in order to give them a great send-off, the entire community is invited to a preview of their creative, dynamic, multi-dimensional performances on Thursday, March 13 at 6 p.m. in the ECS high school cafeteria.

Odyssey of the Mind (OM) is an international educational program for teams of elementary through college students to solve problems using creative thinking, brainstorming, teamwork and problem solving skills. The program is designed to teach the concept that “a group is a more powerful thinking force than an individual.”

ECS has been participating in the Odyssey of the Mind program for decades. Every year, one or more teams from the school have advanced to the state competition in Binghamton. In 2005, a team of fourth and fifth graders made it to the World Finals in Colorado. Then last year, the school have advanced to the state competition in Binghamton. In 2005, a team of fourth and fifth graders made it to the World Finals in Colorado. Then last year, the high school team followed their lead by making it to World Finals at Michigan State University.

All this success, no doubt, is the reason there are six teams this year, compared to last year’s five.

This year, 20 fourth and fifth graders are divided into three elementary teams. Eleven sixth graders and one eighth grader make up the two middle school teams. The high school group is made up of six students in grades 9-12. According to Colleen Bower, who teaches kindergarten at ECS and is serving again as the Odyssey of the Mind coordinator, teams are made up of students in good academic standing who have been recommended for the program by their teachers.

The teams selected four of the six problems that were devised by the international OM organization.

One of the elementary teams, coached by Caitlin Keller with assistance from 12th graders Izzy Brown and McKenzie Robinson (both members of last year’s high school team), will be solving a problem called “The Stackable Structure.” This problem requires teams to “design and build a structure made up of separate components stacked on top of one another. The structure components will be made of only balsa wood and glue, and will be tested by balancing and supporting weights after they are stacked. Teams will be scored for the number of components they use in their final structure. Before they are stacked, the separate components will be integrated into an artistic representation of Earth. The team will include the stacking of the components, placement of the weights and Earth into the theme of its performance. FYI, NASA is the international sponsor of this problem!

One elementary team (coached by Laurie Caldwell) and one middle school team (coached by JoAnn Kurtis) each will be addressing a problem called “The Not-So-Haunted House,” in which the teams will “create and present an original performance that includes a ‘pop-up-style’ not-so-haunted ‘house’ where four special effects take place. The intent of the special effects will be to scare others, but they will produce a different result instead. The performance will include at least one character that experiences the special effects and a narrator who relays the experiences to the audience. It will also include a surprise ending. The special effects will be scored for originality and engineering.”

The third elementary team coached by Melissa Block and the other middle school team coached by Aimee Kilby are working on creative solutions to the “Seeing is Believing” problem. In this problem, “teams are to create and present an original performance about a community that feels threatened by something in a location it has never visited. The community townspeople will use a creative method to select one or more Travelers to visit and explore the location. While at the location, a Traveler will use a means of communication to send a message home to convince the community that there is nothing to fear. The performance will also include a narrator character, two rhymes about the travels and a moving set piece.”

The high school team, being coached by Zachary DeChane, is tackling “The Driver’s Test,” for which the team must “design, build and drive a vehicle that will travel a course where a student driver attempts to complete tasks in order to pass a driver’s test. The vehicle will travel using one propulsion system and then travel in reverse using a different propulsion system. The vehicle will encounter a directional signal and have a Global Positioning System (GPS) that talks to the driver. The team will create a theme for the presentation that incorporates the vehicle, a driver’s test, a student and the talking GPS.”

If any (or all!) of these teams advance from the regional competition, they will move on to the state finals in Binghamton in April, and then, potentially, to the World Finals at Iowa State University in May.