Great minds think alike for Odyssey contest


TOMORROW, SEVEN local middle school girls will compete at the World Competition for Odyssey of the Mind in Boulder, Colo.

Their appearance is evidence of their dogged persistence and desire to be part of the international creative-thinking competition.

Since they began in September, they have beat the odds to reach the top.

Odyssey of the Mind is an international educational program for students, kindergarten through college.

Working in teams, the students develop unique solutions to problems.

Lauren and Heather Lawson are from Hampstead and formed a team in September with friends Elizabeth Binette, Autumn Hynson, Sarah Miller and Alee and Annie Pagnotti. They're all seventh- and eighth-graders at Sacred Heart School in Glyndon.

The school applauded the idea for a team, but didn't have space to house them for problem-solving practices. Undaunted, the girls sought out a team member's garage. They began brainstorming and building every Tuesday, adding Saturdays and Sundays in the final weeks.

The competition requirements were specific. The team was to build a "chameleon" vehicle that could change appearance three times in eight minutes, and could spend $135, including costumes and music.

Although adults could provide transportation and show how tools worked, no adult could touch any part or tool to help build the vehicle.

"The man at Home Depot became their best friend," said Bonnie Lawson, Lauren and Heather's mother.

The girls initially decided to work with a bicycle to create a vehicle, but simplified their idea. They chose a bowling ball to move the contraption they would make from a plywood platform and papier-mache. For traction, they wrapped the ball in a deflated basketball. They chose the smallest team member to push the ball while riding on the platform.

They disguised the platform with papier-mache to look like a computer mouse, hiding the team member inside. The "human-powered mouse" performs orchestrated movement with a light show and is camouflaged by alternating layers of fabrics thrown out by the hidden team member.

After six months and nearing completion, the team, called Feats Creative Problem Solvers, received news that Maryland wouldn't be having a competition this year.

They would be allowed to show their construction at the Delaware tournament in March. However, they would not be eligible to win.

"They'd worked so hard, and wanted to see how well they might have done, so we went," Lawson said.

Feats Creative impressed everyone. They received a higher rating than competitors from Delaware. Tournament officials presented them the Odyssey of the Mind program's "Ranatra Fusca Award for Creativity." The award also was an invitation to the World Competition in Colorado.

Team members had to raise $10,000 in 60 days to fly the seven girls, five chaperons and the Chameleon to Colorado for a week where they will live in the dormitories at University of Colorado.

They hustled to spread the word and 16 businesses, individuals and organizations helped with contributions. The team leaves today and will show its stuff tomorrow. Results will be announced Saturday.

"We were told we couldn't compete," Lawson said. "We were told we couldn't win. And we were told we couldn't make it to Boulder. But we did it anyway. These girls are so creative. Kids like these are the ones who will come up with fresh ideas to solve problems and make positive changes in the world."

Tea and ceremony

Ceramic artist Matt Voelker took the Japanese tea ceremony to the art room at Hampstead Elementary School recently. He was a student teacher paired with teacher Barbara Hammond for eight weeks.

With a display of his whimsical teapots, he taught the fifth grade clay techniques for making teapots embellished with their ideas.

"You can put water in the pots, but that's secondary," Voelker said. "This gave them free rein to express themselves. I like them all so much because they're all so different."

As the clay dried and was fired, he briefed the children on the history of tea, the teapot, and how tea is served. Art tables became tea tables with tiny bowl-shaped cups. He taught them Japanese manners, such as how to bow when asking a question.

This month, the pupils will take home teapots shaped as animals or abstract designs, and prepare tea for their families.

Voelker will leave to begin teaching at a different school in the fall.

Pat Brodowski's North neighborhood column appears each Wednesday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad