Join an Odyssey of the Mind Team

This year, we’re coordinating (recruiting coaches and encouraging kids to form teams) at Glebe Elementary School.

Odyssey of the Mind is a program that offers students the opportunity to improve their creativity, problem-solving, and teamwork skills. Here’s a quick video that you and your student can watch to orient you to what Odyssey of the Mind is.

At Glebe Elementary School this fall, we are now in the process of creating our Odyssey teams. Students will spend from October to February 2023 solving a creative problem, then present their solutions at a regional competition. The teams do ALL the work and come up with ALL the ideas, encouraged by parent coaches. The hallmark of an Odyssey solution is that it is student-driven.

Please contact Glebe’s Odyssey of the Mind coordinator, Christina Headrick (email), if you are interested or have questions. We must recruit more parent coaches and judges this year to keep our program going!

Who should participate?

Coaches are giving generously of their time, and we want to identify kids who really want to be there, so that teams will function smoothly.

Skills can be learned, but enthusiasm is priceless. Odyssey is a good fit for:

  • Students who like to make things from odds and ends lying around – or students who would like to start making things.
  • Students who like to write plays – or students who would like to try their hand at writing plays.
  • Students with big imaginations – or students who would like to have a big imagination.
  • Students with technical minds – or students who would like to explore something technical.

We are also looking for parents with a desire to mentor students in a special activity that applies everything they are learning at Glebe, plus encourages their growth in creative thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork. You don’t have to be a technical person or an artist — just willing to take the leap!

What age is this for?
This Swanson and Hamm team placed 3rd in the world with their wild west themed Cinderella tale and machines that included an Arduino coded car, water power, and a 1974 era fitness bike converted to power a conveyor belt. They also wrote an original song and sewed a Cinderella “transformation” dress.

Students in Kindergarten through 2nd Grade join “Primary” teams, who aren’t scored competitively and who all answer the same question. This year, our youngest kids will design and build one or more vehicles used to transport something. The vehicle will be powered three ways: human power, gravity, and free choice (e.g. battery, wind). The teams are encouraged to do their best and have fun! The focus is entirely on skills building and learning, and then everyone gets to enjoy seeing each other’s presentations at the tournament. Younger teams may need to have up to three coaches.

Students in 3rd to 5th Grades can join “Division I” teams, whose “Long-Term Problem” work is more difficult. The older students’ presentations are also scored at the regional tournament, with any first place teams moving forward to the state tournament and maybe beyond. Older students also participate in a “Spontaneous” competition to answer a surprise problem that day in a short amount of time. The team should also have a lot of fun! The tournament is a celebration of creativity, and students can go see other presentations, including what high school students made.

Students in 6th to 8th Grades can join “Division II” teams, whose “Long-Term Problem” will be the same, but team members take on even more responsibilities, such as filling out all of the competition submission forms without a coach’s assistance, and taking the lead at directing all aspects of meetings. The older students’ presentations are also scored at the regional tournament, teams may advance to state or world finals, and the teams participate in the Spontaneous competition round. Students also can continue to participate in high school, college, or even as adults.

How does my student join a team?

The number of Odyssey teams at Glebe Elementary School will be dictated by the number of parents who are willing to coach, judge at the regional competition, and otherwise help out — as well as by the number of students who are interested in participating.

Odyssey Interest Form

Required for ALL new and returning team members:
CLICK HERE to submit a form to let us know your student has interest in joining a team.

Please let us know of your interest in joining a team as soon as possible — and no later than Saturday, October 8th.

(Please note: If you send an email or text message, and do not fill out the form, your student may not be placed on a team. All teams on our school memberships need to be approved by the coordinator for schools we are supporting.)

Needed to Get Started: Coaches — Two Parent Volunteers per Team

It is difficult to run a team without at least two coaches. Your best bet to get your child onto a team is to collaborate with a group of parents and friends to form a team! Parent volunteers can learn everything they need to know about Odyssey of the Mind at a coaching workshop this fall and at a second problem-specific Arlington workshop in January 2023. Dates are still to be determined; we will also host a meeting just to help our new Glebe coaches get acclimated.

Needed: A Parent from your Team to Judge at the Regional Competition

We also need volunteers to serve as judges at the regional meet. If your team cannot recruit a volunteer judge prior to registration in January, you will not be allowed to register. Judges must attend a mandatory training in February 2023.

How do I find out more? Come to our Parent Information Meeting!

First, parents and caregivers from Glebe are invited to our annual Odyssey Information Meeting on Thursday, September 22nd, starting at 8 PM in the Glebe Elementary School Library. Please contact us with any questions about Odyssey if you are unable to make the information meeting.

Hands-on “Try It” Workshops for Kids

circleblock1Second, interested students, and parents if possible, are invited to come to at least one Odyssey of the Mind “Spontaneous” Workshop. This allows students to try out this activity and determine if they would like to join a team in October 2022. (Some teams have formed after a workshop, because students met each other and had fun.)

  • Friday, September 23rd, from 4-5 PM — meet up after school in #C201 (Ms. Arce’s room at the top of the stairs on the second floor) at Glebe TBD until 5 pm; Please RSVP.
  • Friday, September 30th, from 4-5 PM — meet up after school in #C201 again at Glebe; Please RSVP.

The Odyssey coordinator is responsible to help create teams, and must approve them, to participate as part of each school’s membership.

Priority for team placement is based student enthusiasm, parent (or grandparent/caregiver) involvement as a coach or judge, filling out an interest form, showing up at a workshop(s), and consultations with the coaches, as well as information provided about preferences and needs on the interest forms.

The goal is to find every student a spot on a team that works well for them, but if we have too many students and not enough coaches, names may be drawn from a hat to decide who can participate. Parents are strongly encouraged to help out by recruiting and suggesting a roster for a team they would like to coach.

Team Workshops and Online Zoom Learning Sessions

Last year, our regional Odyssey of the Mind organization hosted weekly “Spontaneous” challenges and Zoom trainings for coaches on different topics. In previous years, we have organized many workshops. Stay tuned for more details on this year’s activities soon.

  • Omers at work.
    A student experiments with how to engineer a small vehicle powered by a mousetrap.

    Checkout the “Odyssey Academy” series of videos online at Click here…

  • Checkout the Coaches Training Videos our region put together. Click here… 
  • UpCycle Materials Workshop: Go visit the UpCycle Creative Reuse Center in Alexandria (1605 Cameron Street) and learn about all the kinds of materials your team can use to create their problem solution. Hands-on exploration! Get dozens of ideas to spark further creativity with recycled materials.
  • Tech Night: Go peek inside the new Central Library “Shop” maker space, then find out about local resources and experiment with circuits, motors, code and STEM resources. You must fill out the “The Shop” maker agreement in advance.
  • Balsa Basics – NOVA East Odyssey Training Workshop (TBD if happens this year!): Come “take a break” with other Odyssey of the Mind teams and learn about structural engineering through hands-on activities. All students on balsa teams, and those who would consider this problem in the future, are invited. Structural engineering knowledge certainly also applies to solving Spontaneous problems!
  • Pizza and Problem Nights (TBD): Come have fun at these nights of Spontaneous Problem-Solving and Community (with pizza for dinner) for our OMers and Alumni. Primarily for 3rd grade and up but all are invited. (Little kids/siblings must have a parent to help them.)
  • Organize some field trips to locations such as the American Visionary Art Museum, the zoo, the Hirschhorn, and other places for inspiration. Some museums have specific programs for kids.
  • Host a series of “materials experiments” workshops in a team member’s backyard or garage, and have team members choose 10-12 ideas for art techniques and materials they would like to play with. Allow time to experiment and create. If the team wants to learn something, coaches can help connect kids to other parents or community members who can show them how to do certain skills, how to use tools safely, and in doing so, try to broaden their creative thinking. But you cannot require any skill or material to be used in their project, and in the spirit of Odyssey, it’s best to organize this with materials the kids choose and want to try out — so you do not unduly influence them. It is your job as a coach, however, to push their creative thinking and encourage them to try working with new materials.

More details on upcoming opportunities will be sent out via MailChimp emails, to those who have accepted receiving communications from us.

Sign-ups and additional details will also be posted here.

Some opportunities will be virtual this year.

The Glebe Odyssey program starts as soon as teams are organized and approved by the coordinator.

Each team (or the team’s coach) chooses a “Long Term Problem” to answer, and the choice must also be approved by the Glebe coordinator.

For Problems 1-5, there is a slot for TWO TEAMS to choose each problem. If more than two teams want to answer the same problem, we can purchase a third membership, but there could be an additional cost of $190 to the team that is last to get organized. (Our fabulous PTA has covered this cost before! But we try to avoid this.)

We can have an unlimited number of primary teams (K-2); they all answer the same problem designed to introduce students to Odyssey of the Mind.

Coaches can work together to divide up the problems between teams, so we can minimize the number of Glebe teams who are competing against each other at the regional competition. We would like to give as many students from Glebe as possible a shot at making it to the state tournament. Teams will have to eliminate each other at the regional competition if they are in the same problem division.

Teams meet after school or in the evenings, depending on the availability of their coach and members. Remember you can have virtual meetings — especially when you are discussing the script and ideas. The more meetings you have, the better it is, especially if you are serious about competition. Teams can work on projects individually at home or meet in pairs or trios between full-team meetings.

The teams work on their problems for four to six months, then present their solutions at a regional in-person competition in March 2023, which will be held at Wakefield High School. This year we do not believe that there were will be a virtual competition at all, but that could change. Teams should plan to participate in an in-person competition at the regional showcase.

A first place team (at regionals) will have the option to continue enhancing their project through April and May. Then they may choose to take an overnight trip to the State Championship tournament. Winners from there have the option of attending in-person World Finals, an international tournament that will be held at Michigan State University in East Lansing on May 24-27, 2023. Attending either advanced tournament is completely optional. Some schools use Odyssey as part of their curriculum or a club and do not participate in any competition, as the rewards of learning teamwork and creative problem solving skills are the primary goal!

Key Dates for 2022-2023:
  • Thursday, September 22nd, 8 PM, Information Meeting: Glebe Library;  Please feel free to also send us a note to find out more about Odyssey.
  • Two Friday Odyssey “Try It!” Workshops, 4-5 PM, at Glebe in room C201 (Ms. Arce’s classroom): Students in 2nd to 8th Grade, and parents considering coaching, are invited to try out on-the-spot “Spontaneous” Problems.
  • Coaches, Cocktails, and Conversation: So what are you getting yourself into? Join us for an in-person outdoor gathering with libations or a Zoom coaching session with other parents from Glebe. (Dates and Details TBD.)
  • Saturday, October 8th — participation form submission deadline: Students and parent coaches, who want to form teams, should submit participation forms by this date to the Odyssey Coordinator. Please consider volunteering to coach, so we can try to find spots for all kids to participate. If we haven’t heard from you by now, and we don’t have your form, your student may not be placed on a team.
  • Teams will be formed based on student and parent interest. Parents are strongly encouraged to recruit friends and fellow parents to support a team, and to suggest a roster of kids. But still, everyone needs to fill out the participation form; teams on our memberships aren’t final until the coordinator has approved them. Without enough coaches, or enough kids for a team, some may not be able to participate, so encourage your friends to join you on a team.
  • Attend a regional skills-building workshop or create your own team workshop, to teach various skills such as how to use power tools safely. Dates TBD — waiting to get details on any opportunities being organized regionally. If multiple teams want to partner up and help host an event, and there are some other coaches who can assist, we would really love to put more things together for the kids.
  • October 31st — All teams need to provide the Glebe coordinator with the name of a parent or community volunteer who will judge for them at the regional tournament; and the name of a parent or friend who will help volunteer at the regional tournament to do a task like registration. If you cannot provide these two additional adults to help support the program, your team cannot register for the regional competition.
  • JamBoard
    An example of a team that held a ZOOM meeting and put together a brainstorming board with “virtual” Post-It notes that they could save in their Google Classroom workspace.

    October/November: Submit room reservation forms if you want to meet after school at Glebe  Please turn them into the front office. In addition, teams almost always have a “construction” space at a home or other venue that can host their meetings, and provide space to store the project the team is working on, because we have no storage for kid-built props and mechanisms at Glebe. Your team should decide when and where you will meet, and start meeting in October!

    • Develop a team plan for your season.
    • Remember, some meetings CAN be held virtually.
    • Also, we recommend trying out free tools such as Google Classroom (SAMPLE ONLINE ODYSSEY PROJECT SPACE), or Padlet and Jamboard, which are wonderful brainstorming tools.
    • Coaches can use the Arlington Steam ZOOM account for meetings if needed.
  • By November 1st: Teams and coaches work together with the Odyssey Coordinator to finalize which Long Term Problem everyone will answer. Check out this year’s problem synopses here.
  • Teams should be meeting as much as possible before the end of the year, because the regional tournament comes up fast. Your team should brainstorm and organize ideas for engineering projects, themes, plots, costumes, sets, props, and style items. Also set aside time at each meeting to answer Spontaneous Problems. It’s nearly 1/3 of your total score!
  • November Coaches Training, DATE and LOCATION TBD: A regional workshop will be held to help orient new coaches. Also, please check out TRAINING VIDEOS that our region has posted here.
  • December: Teams should have decided on themes, finished a script, and be creating costumes, building parts of their problem solution, making sets and props, and practicing Spontaneous Problems. Encourage your team to take risks and “fail fast” on ideas, so they can work on improving them, or move on to another idea. Let them know this is the normal design process!
  • December 2022: Deadline (TBD) for registration for the regional tournament. Each team will receive specific instructions how and when to register.
  • January 2023: Teams finalize scripts, finish engineering work for project solutions, and complete major style items. Don’t forget to make a creative membership sign that is incorporated artfully into your show. Submit questions to the national problem clarifications webpage.
  • January 2023, Regional Coaches’ Meeting with Problem Captains, DATE TBD: Ask the experts problem-specific questions and gain coaching tips from others in the Odyssey community. In the past, usually held at Campbell Elementary School, 737 South Carlin Springs Road, Arlington, VA.
  • January 31, 2023: Deadline to enter a project into the Odyssey Angels community service competition. (It’s a ticket to World Finals if you win!) We are sponsoring an Odyssey Angels project this year. More details to come!
  • February 2023, Judges’ Training, DATE and location TBD: Judges MUST attend a mandatory training, which takes about 4-5 hours. Each judge is a parent or family friend, and sometimes an awesome Glebe teacher, who agrees to help score student projects and theatrical presentations at the regional competition.
  • February 2023: Teams practice presentations and perfect inventions. Time your practices. Teams complete paperwork, including their cost form, style form, and the problem form where they explain their solutions and ideas.
    • Teams can plan dress rehearsals for parents and friends to watch the first week of February. We usually host a group presentation evening for teams to perform for each other as practice.
    • Don’t forget: Practice a Spontaneous Problem at every meeting to get ready for the Spontaneous competition!
    • Practice moving your set in and out of space.
  • February 15, 2023: This is traditionally the last date to submit a personal problem clarification for your team’s problem. Also, your team should have reviewed all of the international problem clarifications that have been released, which affect all teams because the problem captains have decided to clarify a rule or requirement. It is extremely important to make sure that your team players understand the problem requirements and any rules, so they can make sure to avoid penalties at the regional tournament.
  • April 2023: Deadline to report results on any Odyssey Angels project.
  • March 2023, DATE TBD: Regional tournament at Wakefield High School in Arlington.
  • April 2023, DATE and LOCATION TBD: Virginia State Tournament
  • May 24-27, 2023, World Finals In-Person Competition: Michigan State University, in East Lansing, Michigan. You can get there if you put in the hours and keep pushing for that next, more creative idea. It is quite an experience!

Glebe teams at World Finals.

More Details for Parents and Coaches

How Much Does It Cost?

The Glebe Elementary School PTA covers some costs and competition entrance fees. (Thank you PTA for your generosity!)

Glebe coaches will meet to decide on a few final plans for this year’s program, after teams are finalized in October, and what costs teams will share, if any.

Parents should expect to pay $40 to $80 per student, to cover team and program costs, although the final amount will be determined after discussion with the coaches.

Most of this cost will be for your parent coaches to pay for your team’s specific expenses. Last year, coaches asked for $40/student or a team budget of $280 to use over five months. The students decide what materials to buy for their Long Term Problem presentations. (About $100-$150 worth of purchased stuff is allowed to be used in the finished presentation, with specific rules for each problem.)

Zipline project
A team launches a vehicle on a zipline at a regional competition, presenting their problem solution inside a high school gym before a panel of judges.

Coaches need to buy extra materials to be used in testing, skills learning, and design, especially in the balsa and more technical/engineering problems. Teams may use their budget to purchase various items such as extra “emergency” snacks, safety goggles, hot glue protective gloves, a license to use a pop song in their performance, or a unique tool that is required for their solution. Tools and balsa wood can get pricey, quickly, and it is not fair for coaches to shoulder all the costs. Coaches may have additional expenses, beyond this, that they will need to discuss with parents. For instance, one team needed an extra $60 to be able to test many kinds of thermochromic paint and buy extra heating pads to disassemble for the tests; so they had to ask parents to kick in additional funds.

Teams who decide to build very large items may want to reserve $50-$75 of their budget to help pay for a shared moving truck that we will rent for Glebe Odyssey to conveniently transport projects to the regional tournament.

In addition, we purchase some items as a group, including providing every team with practice materials for Spontaneous problems and printing kid-designed Odyssey t-shirts to show our team spirit at the regional tournament. (You will see many OMER’s wearing such team t-shirts at Glebe with pride!)

We have not determined yet if we will acquire a school group membership at the Alexandria Upcycle Creative Reuse Center, that all teams could use to go get free stuff to build projects. The center has rolls of fabric, huge cardboard tubes, gold paint, silk flowers, beads, bottle caps, ribbon, computer components, old maps, and anything else that your team can fit into the back of your car… The materials available change every week and are varied. The cost in the past has been about $22 per team. This discounted access pass will only be available if all teams agree to work together to participate. (In addition, the Upcycle CRC is an awesome place to donate extra craft materials and recycled trash items that you don’t use after your season is over!)

Finally, there may be some additional participation fees for those students who choose to attend additional skills-building workshops later in the fall, so we can cover materials costs, such as balsa wood, spray foam, circuit boards, or PVC pipe, etc. We do not know yet if these activities can happen this year with a large group.

We have a small scholarship fund from last year’s donations that is set aside to cover costs for any student with a demonstrated financial need.

We will work with a coach to provide fee waivers and financial assistance to interested students who qualify because they are participating in the free/reduced lunch program, Medicaid, or similar programs. You can indicate interest in financial assistance by sending an email to the Odyssey Coordinator (to be kept confidential). No student will be turned away due to financial need. Please contact us for additional details about the scholarship policy. We can also help defray tournament travel expenses for students with a demonstrated need for assistance in order to be able to participate.

What is the time commitment?
Alice in Wonderland's dress
Alice in Wonderland’s dress was made by deconstructing and repurposing masks that this OMER’s family had worn during the pandemic.

Students (and coaches) decide how hard to play at Odyssey of the Mind.

You can solve problems, have fun, and keep it all about the journey! Try it. Don’t stress. Just making it to the regional tournament with a solution is a SUCCESS.

Teams should discuss their goals. Realistically, a team doing it just for fun and younger primary teams should schedule at least 15-20 hours together to complete a solution. A younger primary team can generally schedule 8-10 short after-school meetings and 1 to 3 weekend making stuff “workshops,” and finish a solution, especially if kids work on a few items at home.

Teams that are more serious, and older kids’ technical and engineering problem teams, should have a lot done by the end of December and take advantage of days off during the winter vacation.

Serious teams who have a good sense of what is required to complete a solution will schedule at least 40-50 hours (or more) to be ready for the March tournament. It is important to give the kids time to try things and fix problems, so they can get to a good solution, and not be stressed out. Teams should be actively testing and improving — not just brainstorming — solutions by mid-January.

Many older teams plan to meet weekly for about 90 minutes and then set up “team workshops” so the team can complete a lot of building tasks done all at once. Some coaches say it is easier for two or three younger students to meet up to work on team-decided projects — less chaotic — and then hold weekly group meetings.

Coaches should plan in advance to schedule more time during the two “crunch time” weeks in late February and early March, when many teams realize that they underestimated the time it will take to complete their ideas. (They are learning project management skills!) You need to schedule time for multiple rehearsals, so your team is ready to give a presentation, and confirm in advance the times when your full team can come together to practice.

At a minimum, all Odyssey teams should plan to:

      • Have extra opportunities to increase their creativity and teamwork.
      • Meet at least weekly – at a time, date, and place of your team’s choosing – starting anytime between October 7th and December 7th, and going up until the regional competition in March.
      • The rest is up to your team!

More Details for Teams

So is this a theater project or an engineering contest?

The Long Term Problem solutions are usually short sketch plays, developed by the teams, that answer a creative question.

Some questions are more technical, such as asking students to design and build a vehicle that is unpacked out of a suitcase, assembled, and driven by a student. Technical components of solutions can include coded robots, low tech “simple” machines, and tiny balsa wood structures that hold over 1,100 pounds of weight.

Other questions are more dramatic, such asking students to bring new life to an old fable or create a script with witty wordplay. The presentations can involve elaborate musical numbers, fanciful costumes, clever dialogue, and student-built sets that transform with elaborate engineering. One team engineered a way to make Peter Pan fly, and another created a very lifelike, mechanical puppet bird, as ways to enhance their theatrical performance. In the dramatic performances that stand out, engineering and design are used in an impactful way.

All problems tend to involve both technical and dramatic aspects, so whether your student is more technical or artistic, there is a place on a well-rounded team for him or her.

Coaching Odyssey of the Mind Teams

Learning the Engineering Design Process

Participation in Odyssey of the Mind is a great way for creative students to get hands-on learning experience with the engineering design process. The consistent feedback received from parents is that they see tremendous growth in how their students approach problems, as a result of their experience with Odyssey.

Coaches or team members might ask open-ended questions to start discussion. Teams plan, disagree, and work through conflicts as they try to improve a design.

Projects are built. Students often fail, but learn from the results, and try again, as part of the engineering design process. A coach can help teach grit and resilience, and walk them through this process, without telling the students what specifically to do.

Design Process Loop
A diagram of the design-engineering process — a continual loop! Take a few steps forward, or maybe a step back, and keep going as you continually improve your project.

An even simpler way to break this down for younger kids is:

      • THINK – What do you want to do?
      • MAKE – What supplies do you need? What do you need to learn?
      • IMPROVE – What’s not working? What do you observe happening? What needs to be fixed?
Become a Coach – We Need YOU!

Our program greatly appreciates all the superstar parents who help by coaching and volunteering to support Odyssey teams.

Check out the 2021-2022 Program Guide for even more details.

We have created an Arlington County Odyssey of the Mind FB page where we have posted videos and other resources, and can chat. It is a closed group and we invite you to join.

We have created a “Coaches Toolkit” packet with tips to help you! And we have created a Spontaneous Practice Kit with ideas to challenge your team and strengthen creative problem solving with surprise challenges. (Older kids will also compete in a Spontaneous problem solving round, too, as part of their competition! This may be held virtually, so we will provide practice ideas both for virtual and in-person.)

In addition, our regional Odyssey organization may host weekly Spontaneous challenges and may provide additional resources.

Responsibilities of a coach include:
      • Helping the kids with time management and task organization, especially younger ones.
      • Organizing a weekly meeting for about one to two hours each week through January, as well as some longer workdays. If you can have some work days and accomplish more in December, you will be well-positioned in January.
      • Being a “Go-for” to take them places and exposing them to experiences that might inspire. We highly recommend taking your team to the American Visionary Arts Museum for ideas on how to use recycled materials.
      • Creating space and time for the team to have more hours to work, especially closer to regional tournament. In the weeks leading up to the presentation, teams may want anywhere from 2 to 10 hours of time per week, as they rush to complete things they haven’t finished yet (although hopefully, you are ahead of schedule!)
      • Keeping the kids safe. Parents can teach skills that students ask to learn, such as how to use a tool safely all by themselves with an adult standing by or how to operate a glue gun without getting burned. Coaches can facilitate “guest experts.” Just don’t teach to the problem or a specific solution. Keep it general.
      • Creating a positive team spirit. Emphasizing teamwork and conflict resolution. Help your team to disagree in a way that is productive for improving their solutions. Learn about Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats. Bring it to the elementary school level by using a simple handout and having “hat signs” that the kids hold up as they discuss. Encourage them to use all the hats to discuss a strategic decision.
      • Teaching positive brainstorming, with no criticism. Encourage the kids to list more ideas than needed. Coaches may keep a notebook or save all of the notes the students make. If the kids get stuck, pull it all out and remind the kids about the other ideas they had earlier in the season.
        • For younger students, you might consider using a “magician’s hat.” Get a costume top hat or a wizard’s hat, and encourage them write down ideas to an open question. “Where should our play take place?” Collect responses, then read them out, so no ideas are tied to a particular person. A coach can even rewrite sticky notes, so they are all in your handwriting and not identifiable as belonging to a specific child. Try to remove the “ego” from the ideas and emphasize all ideas belong to the team.
        • Make sure that quieter kids get heard. For older students, sometimes having students write ideas down (without doing everything verbally) can be a good way to make sure that an introverted student is heard. Encourage the strong personalities to practice listening. When you see a problem disintegrating your meeting, encourage a total time out. Then suggest that the team has a quick group brainstorm to write down ways to solve the problem.
        • Try to ask general, non-specific questions to spark a better solution. A great tool is the SCAMPER technique. Check out this video, then ask questions like “How could we combine things? How could we eliminate something?”
        • Suggest that the kids identify at least three options for major decisions. They can create a narrative where they tell themselves a story about each idea. Encourage them to tell a story where the idea succeeds. What was great about the idea that led to success? Encourage them to tell a story where things go wrong (then work on solving those problems.) Now which choice seems like the best one?
      • Encourage the kids to identify their most creative ideas. What makes an idea creative?
        • First, it is original. It is not something we’ve seen before! It is not on Pinterest a million times. It may require risk-taking.
        • Second, it is useful. It gets the job done and accomplishes the problem solution effectively. Throwing an octopus on the stage for fun is creative, but if it’s pointless for your plot, it won’t help your score at all. Creative solutions are purposeful.
        • And third, there is an element of surprise. You were not expecting that! The element of surprise delights the judges and your audience.

Encourage the team to meet together, and plan specifically what they want to do, so that members have team permission to work on items in smaller pairs and trios, especially if people are available at different times.

Key resources:

NOVA East Odyssey of the Mind Resources:

Virginia Odyssey of the Mind Resources:

Odyssey of the Mind (international) Resources:

For Those Want to Play at the Most Competitive Level

Disclaimer! You don’t have to do Odyssey this intensely, but if your team wants to position themselves to make a run for State or World Finals, here’s what you need to know.

How Do You Go to World Finals?

A Typical Scoring List for a Long Term Problem

Scoring ListThe team with the most points wins.

In the final, adjusted scores of each tournament level, the Long Term presentation is worth up to 200 points. Don’t leave any points on the table that are objective points, such as “5 points if the car crosses the finish line.” You either get points for this achievement or you don’t. Many of these objective points are all or nothing. Encourage your team to carefully review the problem requirements and to make a list of what they still need to do, in order to get all the points. Don’t give up. You CAN get all these.

The other way you are scored is subjective. What appeals to one judge might not appeal to another. Subjective scores cannot be questioned.

Generally, to get a higher subjective score, your team should make things in a way that shows extra effort in their creation. Your team could make any item, rather than using something pre-existing. Do not use a recording of music if you have a team member who can play the violin — but realize that your team will be scored by people who have a deep appreciation for the arts, so quality matters in performance, dance, and music.

Practice speaking loudly and smoothing out the performance, so your team can present with confidence. Teams should start running through their entire presentation plan no later than January/early February – even if you don’t have all your props and inventions made.

Also, all teams should practice good sportsmanship, maintain positivity, and show support for each other at all times. This is the right thing to do, for so many reasons, including that we want team members to be better people after their Odyssey experience, and we are representing our school community.

Judges may give a penalty for poor sportsmanship, including for coaches’ or parents’ behavior. Practice what to do if something doesn’t work, so you can deal with that with a smile.

Winning teams achieve some measure of success in all problem requirements. They spent time talking about how they would be scored and making sure they did not overlook something. They asked questions and got clarifications of anything they didn’t understand.

Students play well in the Spontaneous round. 

During the competition day, the older teams (3rd Grade and up) have an opportunity to earn 100 extra points by solving a surprise problem on the spot.

Most of the time, the Spontaneous part of the competition takes only about 20 minutes, maybe less, but it will be critical to your final score. The teams compete in a room by themselves – no coaches or parent audience members are present.

To do well in the Spontaneous competition, PRACTICE!

Glebe students — who practiced a lot — have actually won the Spontaneous competition in their age and problem division at World Finals. Many of these students will be coming back this year to mentor younger students. Our more experienced coaches will schedule some extra Spontaneous workshops to help you out later in the season, and we have also developed our own materials to assist your team. Glebe teams will also receive practice materials that they can use at their meetings. We recommend taking advantage of all these resources.

Do a problem for fun at every team meeting, work on teamwork and listening to each other, and try to come up with some strategies that spark creativity, risk-taking, and divergent thinking. Also, make sure to have FUN! Strengthen your team bonds.

A key element of Spontaneous practice is that your team will fail to complete problems successfully. That can feel discouraging, but it actually is GREAT! This is an opportunity to talk about things they would change and things they learned. This information is critical to success the next time. The team that won first place in the international competition applied specific knowledge that they had learned from practice problems where they had failed to solve the problem. So don’t get discouraged. This is how it works.

There are definitely tricks and strategies, such as having each team member create and memorize puns and jokes in an area of interest, such as space or the ocean, over the course of your season. Humorous and witty answers always receive extra points. Good teamwork and sportsmanship will always earn your team extra subjective points, while frowns and bad sportsmanship will often receive a penalty.

Coaches can offer specific suggestions during Spontaneous practice. The rules about Outside Assistance are different than how you approach the Long Term Problem. Also, team members can pretend to be judges during practices, and write down the answers they feel were the most creative. Have the team members go around and share the answers they thought were especially good. Keep it positive, and the students will get the hang of it.

There are three primary categories of Spontaneous Problems:

      • Verbal: Team members receive a question, brainstorm (often silently), and then go around giving answers.
      • Hands-onA problem is read to the team, and then usually, they are given materials where they have to build something or create something to answer the question.
      • Hands-On/Verbal Combination problems: You may have objects that you have to incorporate into your verbal response.

Please check out the above links for examples of problems, and your teams can attend local workshops, where we will be having fun with different Spontaneous problems to get started. There are hundreds of sample problems online.

You should practice all types of problems and decide in advance which five members of your team will compete in each category.

In the early planning stages of the Long Term Problem, encourage your students to spend a meeting to brainstorm ideas for a “theme.”

Build your story around a universal idea, or what one of Glebe’s English teachers might call the “big idea” of a novel.

Examples of classic themes are a battle between good and evil, the power of love, or a person struggling to survive in nature. Examples of creative themes that have been done by Odyssey students include ideas such growing up and going through puberty (as students went around the spots on a board game transforming!), or remembering the love between a parent and a child, years later after the parent has passed away. The theme was the power of memory and love.

Award-winning presentations tend to have a clear theme that is easily accessible and sometimes even emotional, allowing the audience to quickly be able to connect to the performance.

Themes can be light-hearted and sweet, or deal with heavy ideas, including prejudice, fears, and even death. A good theme will present an authentic perspective from the students. We found at World Finals that judges tended to love dark themes, because they stood out amid all the happy craziness of the competition, and they often felt very honest and real, as a performance work of art.

Make sure the plot is easy to understand, but is also creative.

Many winning presentations have ideas that are simple to understand for the audience seeing it for the first time. There aren’t any inside jokes. The presentations might be complex in some way, but the story is easy to follow.

To come up with a plot, consider asking the team if they want to use a storyboard on a few sheets of poster board or a wall. Students can brainstorm their ideas for plot points quickly on sticky notes and arrange them in a beginning, middle, and end. Then they can decide on the best ideas as a team.

Encourage them to act out their ideas for the scenes and use their acting tests to figure out the best ideas. It’s better to start practicing in early February or late January.

Some teams realize late they have written a 30 minute play and need to cut two thirds of their work. Try not to spend hours writing a script you won’t use. Encourage the team to choose only the “best” sticky notes when creating their outline, act it out in play, THEN write it down. (Ultimately, it’s the kids decision how to proceed however!)

Some teams draw inspiration for a plot by retelling a classic story, such as The Little Prince or Alice in Wonderland. Then they spend their time reinterpreting the story and adding creative twists.

Another tactic is for a team to take turns with roles in their rehearsals, and not to claim roles immediately (which all little kids will want to do.) If everyone chooses their parts immediately, the problem then becomes that the team struggles when they can’t cut or modify a part, in order to improve their presentation, without offending someone’s ego because “hey, that was their part!” A coach can remind the players they will lose as individuals, but they can win as a team, and try to encourage them to take group ownership of the whole presentation, not just their individual roles.

Encourage brainstorming with SCAMPER (What can we combine? What can we magnify? etc.) to come up with creative combinations to produce surprise plot elements. As an example, let’s say you are making an outer space drama presentation, and you want to create a fight scene. Okay, pretty normal. But what could you combine the fight with? What about a “zero gravity” idea to make it more creative? Have the characters floating towards each other, trying to land punches, in slow motion. Suggest that your team brainstorm a list of combinations of “this plus that,” to see if anything sparks a more creative idea.

The team’s work shows the students put some time and detail into machines, props, costumes, and set pieces.

Detail always matters when the judges come up close to inspect the work.

Using ordinary materials in a way that transforms them from a distance (watch an episode of Project Runway’s materials challenge) is very important. The most unconventional material we have ever seen used in a project is chewed bubble gum in different colors to create an artistic portrait. The gum was technically “trash” so the budget cost of this material was also zero. They received a Ranatra Fusca award for this creative idea!

The judges will be able to see if your team took care with their work, and if it looks polished, you might receive higher subjective scores. Sometimes this means making something many times until your team is satisfied.

Students decide early and plan how they want to score points for “Style.”

Some of your best set pieces and costumes could earn points in the Style category, where your team requests that the judges score certain items. Style projects are things that the team think make their solution unique.

Style items haven’t already been scored, according to the requirements of the problem. They are often something your team added.

An example of an award-winning style item might be an armadillo costume that is made out of 4,000 soda can pop tops, or a balloon that expands to six feet and then pops, showering a stage with confetti. For maximum scoring, style components in a presentation will typically:

      • demonstrate creative thinking,
      • have a “WOW” factor,
      • thematically helped to tie everything together,
      • reuse common materials in an uncommon way
      • be BIG – large enough to be seen from the back aisle of an auditorium,
      • and, be effective in directly advancing the plot points of what is happening in the presentation.

Style points are often a secret of winning teams. Many teams don’t identify style items until the week before the competition, and then it’s almost too late to compete with some of the groups who have been planning and working on style items for weeks.

Start early on STYLE – decide on a few ideas to test out beginning in NOVEMBER and DECEMBER – and you might find those extra points will help a lot. The winner’s adjusted score is rounded up to 50 points.

Size matters for sets and props.

Judges may take into account how big things are, so you need to be size wise and create items that have an impact. This is especially true for later rounds of the competition.

The challenge is to build a set that is impactful, but that is also designed to be moved quickly into a room by your team in 20-30 seconds!

Tape out a square on a floor that is the minimum amount of space you are guaranteed to perform in order to help your team comprehend the amount of space they have to work with. Suggest brainstorming ways you could use the space, brainstorming ideas (with measurements!) for what they will build, and brainstorming ideas for where they will leave room to perform. Think about how you can move things into the room quickly using wheels, cardboard “sleds,” and other tricks. Brainstorm ideas for how to make a creative membership sign as part of your set and where that will go.

Remember: Everything must be easily portable and able to fit through a classroom door — so make sure to set up a rehearsal space where your teams can test that, and practice and plan their moving in and out strategy multiple times. Reading the annual Program Guide is essential, so you can find out all these details. After going through the door, the set and props can become bigger when assembled quickly. Sets can even be taller than kids when assembled. (You can bring a step stool!) Many sets transform innovatively and include engineered components, even when they have not been specifically requested by the problem question.

Some Odyssey competition locations have strict rules about protecting floors, when moving pieces, so you may be required to show you have felt or wheels or another solution to make sure your set can be moved without causing any concern. Stools, wagons, and moving devices can be used, as long as they are quickly carried off to the side before you start (and then they won’t count against your budget).

Finally, the competition starts out in small classrooms, but many of the rooms used for competition at both State and World Finals are very large auditoriums, college theaters, or classroom spaces that are huge auditoriums for elementary school kids. Teams should consider if a person in the last row of a larger space would be able to appreciate the dramatic impact of their set and props, and think forward.

The Glebe Odyssey Coordinator and other experienced coaches are available to come to a meeting, and provide a general, non-problem specific, presentation on topics like set construction, with photos and examples seen at competitions for inspiration for new ideas.

Watch your costs from the start.

Encourage your team to discuss purchases and to make sure they have found the CHEAPEST price for items.

There is a limited budget of roughly $125 to $150 for each problem, so be prepared to have boxes of recycled trash that your students are saving in your team’s work area.

Encourage your student to look in your recycle bin each week, and see if there is anything they want to keep. Some teams will try something with more expensive materials, then reverse-engineer their idea to come up with a cheaper way to accomplish it. (Lego wheels become hot-glued wheels made of dowels and plastic tops to orange juice bottles, etc.)

You must SAVE all receipts so your team can track their costs and use the receipts to compile their cost form at the end. If you buy 10 feet of PVC pipe, and use only 3 feet, you may count only the 3 feet your team used in your presentation. Teams often purchase materials to test them and they do not use all of their supplies.

Fundraising for Teams

Teams should be prepared to help raise funds to cover expenses for any later rounds in the competition.

Participation in the State Tournament can cost $150-$400 per team member for lodging, food, and to offset any transportation costs to move your project there and back. It depends how many nights you stay in one of the tournament hotels near Norfolk. Most teams stay two nights. You’ll also need to cover your registration fee, usually about $65. If you have any funds left in your team budget, this is a good way to spend them. Many teams also cover costs for a judge who is traveling to the tournament on their behalf, if the judge is not a parent, as a courtesy.

Should a team advance to World Finals, be prepared for a cost of about $1,000-$1,500 for each student and for each parent/coach. These costs include approximately $600 that will pay for your four days of college dorm lodging, about eleven cafeteria meals, and tournament costs to use the college campus. Your team will have other costs for transportation to Michigan or Iowa, rental vehicles once you arrive there, and the shipping of large project components. Expenses are usually higher for teams going to Iowa for World Finals, due to travel costs to the location.

There are resources to help you. Scholarships can be acquired from several local, regional, and national non-profit organizations that support Odyssey of the Mind students, and together, we will find a way to greatly reduce costs for students with the greatest financial need, as well as for other members of your team. Success should not be a burden on any team member who has worked so hard.

Any team that advances to later rounds of the competition will need to be in charge of raising additional funds, and start immediately.

Glebe parents created our program’s sponsoring 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, ArlingtonSTEAM, to expand challenge-based learning opportunities within Arlington Public Schools and to remove barriers to participation in programs such as Odyssey. Needs-based scholarships can be provided by ArlingtonSTEAM. Scholarships are funded through optional parent support as well as fundraisers. Tune in soon to find out what we do this year! We aren’t fundraising at all yet this year, because we had funds built up from two years ago to cover some of these costs.

Glebe’s Odyssey community has also organized dining nights, bake sales, and has had a student-run website called Narwhal Prints, and GoFundMe campaigns to support our students.

NOVA East, the regional nonprofit that organizes the regional Odyssey tournament, often is able to provide financial support for teams attending additional rounds of the competition from Region 11, which includes Arlington, Alexandria, and Falls Church schools.

Creative Opportunities Unlimited is a national nonprofit that provides needs-based financial assistance to support teams heading to World Finals. Applications for fee waivers are usually due immediately after our Virginia state tournament, so you must submit quickly.

Ideas and parent power are welcome, as we figure out new ways to support our students!

Giving Back with Odyssey Angels

Odyssey AngelsSome teams apply their Odyssey knowledge to solve problems in their communities, by participating in Odyssey Angels projects.

In addition, teams can be invited to go directly to World Finals if they have a winning project, to recognize them for their creativity and their service.

Projects must be submitted in January, and then a panel reviews them to see if the team:

      • Found something to fix in their community that others hadn’t noticed.
      • Devised a creative way to attempt to fix it.
      • Used teamwork.
      • Helped others!

“Much like judging in Odyssey of the Mind, those projects that utilize creative thinking will be given more weight than simply the best final outcome. We hope that teams will continue their projects after the deadline to help those in need,” according to the program website.

Please contact the Odyssey Coordinator if your team would like to spearhead an Odyssey Angels project.

Here are the full text versions of problems and key documents that you will need for your Odyssey. Reminder: Your team is NOT approved to participate on our membership until the coordinator has all your information and has given the go-ahead for your team to start working on a problem. Some problems and/or virtual participation may require extra costs that your team will have to cover. These should be in the $100-$200 range.

Program Guide for 2023: All your questions will probably be answered here. Yes, you and your team MUST read it!

Problem 1: Pirates and the Treasure (Vehicle Challenge)

Problem 2: Because iCan, (Technical Challenge)

Problem 3: Classics… The Walls of Troy (Classics Challenge)

Problem 4: Where’s the Structure? (Balsa Structure Challenge)
PLEASE NOTE: We have a crushing machine that a parent built for us! You will have to borrow weights, but we have the machine. Teams can borrow it to test their balsa structures.

Problem 5: The Most Dramatic Problem Ever!!! (Performance/Humor Challenge)

Primary Problem (For Grades K-2): Dinos on Parade!

Additional Documents You Will Need

Team Contract (Establish ground rules for a well-functioning group!)

Cost Form (One of our teams does this in a shared Google spreadsheet and it works great!)

Style Form (A very important part of competition and scoring!)

Outside Assistance Form

Problem-Specific Competition Forms will be posted when they become available. There is ONE MORE form each team needs to complete to help explain and present their problem solutions to the judging teams.

In addition, ALL PARENTS helping on site at any APS school need to have gone through the APS volunteer approval certification, and there may be emergency contact forms (with allergy information) collected in order to participate at the regional tournament.

Staying Healthy While Being Creative

Safety is a team responsibility. The actions of each team member and their families contribute to an overall reduced (or increased) risk to all team members.

Safety includes following instructions when using power tools, having adequate adult supervision or instruction before kids use cutting tools, and also, making sure you can stay healthy without creating an outbreak via team participation.

Coaches also need to make sure they are aware of team member allergies or health concerns. Please DO NOT use nut and food products in your final product solutions, as these have sometimes created major issues at the regional tournament due to allergens, and could even cause your team’s project to be disqualified.

Spreading COVID-19 on our Odyssey teams has been prevented when the team and coaches:

  • Have a meeting with parents and team members to discuss safety and set group expectations. For the past five years, the goal of this program has been to make it possible for the greatest number of students and adult volunteers to feel comfortable participating and have equal access to this wonderful activity.
  • Wear masks indoors together when community transmission of COVID-19 is high.
  • Get vaccinated. Get boosted.
  • Take advantage of testing or stay home if they have ANY symptoms.
    • Sign up for APS’ free weekly COVID-19 testing program at Glebe.
    • Curative offers FREE COVID-19 testing after school hours at Courthouse Plaza, 2088 15th Street N.
  • If anyone feels unwell, please consider holding your next meeting virtually via ZOOM, or have a team member participate VIA ZOOM, Facetime, or another application.
  • Space out when outside without masks. For many Odyssey activities, kids will have to put their heads together and be very close to each other to accomplish construction tasks. When in doubt, wear a mask, even outside. A round of COVID potentially sets your entire team back by a week and causes more days of missed school.
  • Consider holding meetings in open air or outdoor spaces such as your backyard, under a canopy, at a park picnic structure, or in a garage when possible. The weather becomes cold, so get started on your projects as soon as possible! Please note that some teams last year did their entire season outdoors, and they survived and even placed at World Finals. A Swanson Middle School team that wore masks to World Finals last year and took meals off campus in an AirBNB rental was able to prevent any student from becoming ill, despite traveling to an event with thousands of people from all over the world.
  • Risks can be reduced indoors with open windows and use of a True HEPA filter(s) in a space with a CADR of at least 300 or equal to ⅔ of the square footage of the space.
  • If you are traveling anywhere as a team, car windows can be rolled down and masks worn to reduce any risks.
  • Wear top-notch masks with a tight fit when working closely together — not cloth or surgical masks. Get a box of good masks to supply your team at meetings.

    Group rules
    Being a team means showing respect and concern for each other. A candid discussion can result in a list of rules for your meeting space that everyone feels good about.
  • Many teams have always used PPE for some meetings and construction sessions, because some building materials can be hazardous without appropriate safety considerations.
    • Typical team PPE for constructing sets often includes having some N95 respirators, gloves, and safety goggles. You can use some of your team budget on these safety items, as well as some plastic drop cloths to protect your work space from spilled paint.
    • For children, KF94 style masks can achieve a good fit and be better than other kinds of masks at minimizing risks.
    • From our teams’ experience, we can recommend KF94s including Bluna Kids, BOTN kids and mediums, and BOTN Facefit.
    • The Glebe Odyssey program also has safety goggles and extra tools available for loan to teams, so please ask if you need help.
  • Set a standard for communication that is transparent and fast if anyone has any symptoms or any concerns about any health or safety issue.

ADULT VOLUNTEERS must also fill out the APS Volunteer Application and be approved to work with kids, as a safety measure required by APS and our Odyssey of the Mind program

Have concern about safety?

Anyone who has concerns about any team safety issue should immediately contact our coordinator to help resolve issues.

Glebe/Swanson (and Hamm) Odyssey Hall of Fame

2021-2022 – 5th Grade Glebe Co-Ed Team Problem 1, Division 1 – 3rd place, “Escape vroOM,” World Finals in-person competition; also State Champions in their problem and division

2021-2022 – 8th Grade Swanson/Hamm Girls Team Problem 2, Division 2 – “Tinkering Teens” – 6th place, “Odyssey ReOMvention,” World Finals, in-person competition; also State Champions and Virginia Ranatra Fusca Award winners

2020-2021 – 7th Grade Girls Team Problem 2, Division 2 – “Tinkering Tweens” – 9th place, “Virtual Odyssey,” World Finals, Virtual Competition

2019-2020 – 6th Grade Girls Team Problem 2, Division 2 – “Brainstorming Smarties” – 3rd place, “Net Working,” World Finals, submitted virtually (only virtual competition this year)

2018-2019 – 5th Grade Girls Team Problem 2, Division 1 – “Brainstorming Smarties” – 4th place, “Hide in Plain Sight,” World Finals; also 1st place in Spontaneous in problem and division

  • 2018-2019 – 5th Grade Girls Team Problem 3, Division 1 – “Girls on Fire” – 21st place, “Leonardo DaVinci’s Workshop,” World Finals
  • 2018-2019 – 5th Grade Girls Team Problem 3, Division 1 – “Girls on Fire” – 1st place, “Leonardo DaVinci’s Workshop,” NOVA East Regional Tournament
  • 2018-2019 – 5th Grade Girls Team Problem 2, Division 1 – “Brainstorming Smarties” – 1st place, “Hide in Plain Sight,” NOVA East Regional Tournament
  • 2018-2019 – 3rd Grade Girls Team Problem 5, Division 1 – 1st place, “Opposites Distract,” NOVA East Regional Tournament
  • 2018-2019 – 5th Grade Girls Team Problem 3, Division 1 – “Girls on Fire” – 2nd place, “Leonardo DaVinci’s Workshop,” Virginia Odyssey of the Mind State Tournament
  • 2018-2019 – 5th Grade Girls Team Problem 2, Division 1 – “Brainstorming Smarties” – 2nd place, “Hide in Plain Sight,” Virginia Odyssey of the Mind State Tournament

2018-2019 – Glebe Coaches, OMER Moms, and Glebe 5th Grade Girls – 1st place Winners of the Coaches Challenge at World Finals for their sketch “HERstory”

2017-2018 – 5th Grade Girls Team Problem 2, Division 1 – “Brainstorming Smarties” – 7th place, World Finals

  • 2017-2018 – 5th Grade Girls Team Problem 2, Division 1 – “Brainstorming Smarties” – 1st place, “Emoji Speak for Yourself,” Virginia Odyssey of the Mind State Tournament
  • 2017-2018 – 5th Grade Girls Team Problem 2, Division 1 – “Brainstorming Smarties” – 1st place, “Emoji Speak for Yourself,” NOVA East Regional Tournament
  • 2017-2018 – Glebe Coaches and OMER Moms – Runner-up in the Coaches Challenge for building the the tallest tower they could, part of the Empire State building, out of 40 sheets of paper in three minutes