Friday, April 5, 2019

Windham elementary students learn important life skills

By Craig Bailey

For the eighth year, students of Windham Primary and Manchester Schools are participating in the Odyssey of the Mind program (OotM). This is an international, creative problem-solving program that engages students in their learning by allowing their knowledge and ideas to come to life in an exciting, productive environment. Participants build self-confidence, develop life skills, create new friendships and recognize and explore their true potential. OotM proves that students can have fun while they learn.

Windham students compete in the Odyssey of the Mind
Several elementary school students (Elias Emerson, Ben Freysinger, Harlie Menard, Hanna Miele, Dexter Randle, Evelyn Robinson and Meng Xi) along with two OotM coaches (April O’Shea and Megan Campbell) and the school’s OotM coordinator (Linda Berry) shared their experiences from the program and the outcomes achieved.

“This year, we are fielding 10 teams, each with about seven K-5 students. A regional tournament was recently held, and three of our six Division 1 teams qualified for the state tournament in early April,” Berry said. “Additionally, we sent four teams to the Primary (K-2) tournament in Auburn. It should also be noted that Windham Middle School had a team that qualified for the state tournament.”

When students were asked why they decided to participate in this year’s competition, there were many responses. “My mom said this would be a good thing and something that I could do,” was Menard’s answer. “Now that I’ve done it for the second year, I’m going to the state finals.”

O’Shea, coaching for the third year, reinforced Menard’s statement. “Many kids aren’t interested in sports. It is great to have a non-athletic outlet for kids to build skills and create new friendships as part of a team. The program challenges them to think and work together to overcome conflicts - all skills they’ll need in the adult world.”

There are two main components of the program. First comes solving a long-term problem which involves planning, brainstorming and collaboration in preparation for performing on stage in front of judges. The second involves addressing numerous spontaneous problems throughout the program and during the finals, also in front of judges. This could involve a hands-on solution to build something, a verbal response in round table format or a combination of both, all on the spot, with no prior knowledge of the problem to be solved.

An example of a long-term problem to be solved was titled Museum Makers, in which the team had to create and present an original museum and its exhibits. The team decided to make a holiday museum, complete with displays featuring Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving. During the judged performance, the team had to share creative displays explaining the theme and show off team-made items via a tour guide who took audiences on a journey through the museum.

Campbell explained that team members quickly decided upon the long-term problem they’d solve. “We had team members interested in each role (props, set design, costumes, skit, dance (which needed to be choreographed) as well as a poem and song which had to be written by the students. The most challenging part as a coach is to guide the team through the process, while not helping to solve the actual problem.”

O’Shea stressed the commitment-level of the students, parents and coaches. “We had to meet once or twice weekly on nights and weekends to work on our problem in preparation for the competition.”

The most telling feedback came from the students when asked what they learned from the program.
“I learned that when you work together you can make stuff bigger and better than you could by yourself,” Miele answered.

Emerson said, “It was hard working with teammates and the big kids, for the first time. It wasn’t so bad after-all and I learned how to be a really good teammate.”

“I like to work independently, Xi realized. “And, it made me think more creatively and logically. It taught me how to use things I see in the world to solve problems.”

Menard shared that, “You learn not just to say something without examining it first. For example, you need to listen to your friends and not just say ‘no, that is a bad idea.’ We can’t think our ideas are better than everyone else’s. When working as a team you learn from others. If someone makes a mistake you help them out and don’t laugh at them.”

O’Shea reinforced, “This volunteer, parent-driven program develops skills including: time management, conflict resolution, commitment, perseverance, collaboration and grit,” O’Shea said. “All this rolled into one program, for kids at a very young age (5-10 years). Since my team has been involved for three years, they have experienced both the thrill of victory as well as the agony of defeat. All of which is just part of the journey.”

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