For the fifth year, Rhodes Elementary School in Milton will be sending a team of students to the state Odyssey of the Mind competition to test their creative problem solving, teamwork and ability to think on their toes.
"The Dream Team of Randomness" is what the students call themselves, and after taking first place at the regional Odyssey of the Mind Competition on Feb. 23, the group of seven fourth and fifth graders will be competing at the state level on April 6 at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.
Odyssey of the Mind is an international competition for students in kindergarten through college. Participants are presented with a long-term problem they can prepare and a spontaneous problem that they are given when they walk into the judging room. The spontaneous problem could range from building a structure to selling a product to interpreting a literary classic. Students are not given direction from their coaches.
The long-term problem Rhodes presented at the regional competition is the same as the one they will be presenting at the state level. It is a two-part task: first, the team had to design and build a structure using strips of balsa wood and glue that will roll down a ramp and also hold as much weight as possible. The second part is to sell a product through a commercial. Rhodes' balsa wood structure rolled a total of 5-feet and held 225 pounds at the regional competition. For the commercial section, students at Rhodes created an imaginary product called "Flopsies," which is a board game that teaches users how to flip bacon. The students perform the commercial in front of the judges and incorporate dancing, singing and acting.
For the spontaneous problem, students will be asked to do a verbal or hands-on activity. The students have to work together and think on their toes to solve the problem.
Odyssey of the Mind has been in existence for more than 25 years; however, Linda Thomas, guidance counselor at Rhodes Elementary, brought the competition to students at the school in 2008.
"We wanted something for our gifted students to go above and beyond (their regular school curriculum)," Thomas said. "It teaches them character building, teamwork and leadership."
Since the students have to perform and improvise in front of judges, many said they have learned to get over stage fright.
"Once you get up there you can't leave. You have to get over your nerves," said Baileigh Smith, 10. "I imagine everyone in their underwear."
Other students have learned to be more creative and think outside the box, while others have become better at working as a group.
"You don't want to let your friends down. We've learned to work as a team," said Amelia Akins, 10. Although the students knew each other before joining the team, Amelia said they've become more cohesive through weekly practice. When it's closer to competition time the group meets three times a week.
Rhodes Elementary and two teams from Holley Navarre Intermediate will be going to state on April 6.
Thomas said she wants to see more competition in Santa Rosa and Escambia County schools. One of the benefits to Odyssey of the Mind is that they give scholarships for higher education for participants who apply.
Overall, the students enjoy being spontaneous and improvising on problem solving.
"In the beginning we were all confused," said Aaron Kennington, 11. "I learned to stay focused and my favorite part is seeing everything come together."