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How the Odyssey of the Mind program Gives Shape to Content; Using Art and imagination to Solve Problems.
Dianne Settino, 4/20/2010

Dianne Settino and her husband Linus Meldrum have been leading our first ever AP Studio Art: Drawing online with PA Homeschoolers this year-- within a month we plan to have an online art show of the students' amazing work completed for this outstanding course. Dianne and family live on a small farm in rural Juniata County, and she and her husband are the proud parents of two PHAA graduates (one now a graduate of Franciscan University and one completing her freshman year there), and one son now in 7th grade at home.

Four years ago when I heard about the Odyssey of the Mind program, I remember thinking, “where were you when I was a kid!?!”. This international creative problem-solving competition is all about the kind of imaginative art, learning and play activities that my family loves! In Odyssey, students learn to use creative skills of any and all types to solve one of five problems, and then present them when they compete at the local, state, and international level. One problem each year usually lends itself perfectly to an all-out art plan of attack. Go to www.odysseyofthemind.com for all the amazingly fun and exciting details! Since its inception, literally millions of students have enjoyed designing creative solutions to fun problems.

You may be thinking "FUN PROBLEMS!?" While my children were jumping with joy when the obligatory “creative” project was assigned in many co-op classes, some of the other children and their parents were groaning. As a school student, I can distinctly remember thinking that the most interesting math lessons were at the back of the math textbooks. They usually involved building models or tessellations or geometry. I eventually realized that we would never get to these. There were never enough weeks in the school year to get to the more experiential math. Each fall, a new textbook was assigned with the never-to-be-reached interesting lessons at the back. If you have a child who’s reluctant to learn a particular academic course of study it might be time to break out the lessons that we often never get to. Include more creative, "thinking outside of the box" assignments. Maybe one year you could do some of the end-of-the-year math lessons interspersed throughout the year.

Today, schools and families are trying to find ways to include creative aspects in all areas of study. If a bit of creative work is included throughout a child’s early education they probably won't dread these assignments. While it is important to learn the grammar to all subjects it is equally important to learn to use that grammar in ways that create content. This content can illustrate a student’s understanding of the subject’s ideas and concepts. A child that can take ideas and develop them into an interesting performance or presentation that teaches others is definitely learning. This type of creative sharing will also help them learn to love the process of learning. Teaching this way with even one subject will help the student think creatively across their curriculum.

Odyssey of the Mind requires the students to thoroughly understand the subject matter needed to solve their problem. As they reform the content of the solution into a performance/presentation the resulting shape is sometimes a hysterical dramatic presentation.  At other times, ity’s an awesome surprising vehicle of some sort. Young competitors are only limited by the project’s budget and their imagination!

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*one of Jessie Kusuma's self-portraits for AP Studio Art: Drawing*

This year, my husband Linus Meldrum and I have had the honor of teaching an Odyssey of the Mind award winner in our AP Drawing class. Jessie Kusuma has produced 24 incredible drawings to fulfill her AP requirements.  The excellent work ethic and creative skills she has demonstrated in our course were, in part, honed by her two years on an Odyssey team . Next year, she will be awarded our first AP 2-D Design scholarship because of her fine work. Her excellence in design, drawing, painting, paper mache, sewing and other talents won her the coveted Omer’s Award of Excellence for exceptional artistic talent. Jessie lives in Virginia with her parents, Nono and Judy Kusuma. She has been homeschooled her whole life.

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*one of Jessie Kusuma's wash drawings for AP Studio Art: Drawing*

Jessie’s team will be competing this May in the 31st Odyssey of the Mind World Competition at Michigan State University. Her team of 7 will present their multimedia production that solved Problem #3 titled “Discovered Treasures”. Some of the skills individual team members used to work toward this award-winning performance are: theatrical skills: acting, scenery design, scenery painting, scenery engineering, visual art skills: design, drawing, painting, paper mache, performance skills: dancing, singing, music, costume design, costume literary skills, scriptwriting, comedy, melodrama, engineering skills: construction design, technical building and model-making.

When asked how important visual arts skills were to her team’s success, Jessie replied, “Artistic skill helped my team greatly because our problem had four components that were scored heavily on artistic quality. These included painting backdrops, building realistic models and designing a team sign. By picking a problem that we could apply our best skills to, we were able to score highly in the areas that mattered the most."

Jessie's mother Judy Kusuma was one of the coaches for their team.  She says the following skills are important for team members: "thinking outside of the box, being able to prioritize and plan well, seeing the big picture, willing to work as part of a team." Judy listed the following as some of the areas this experience helps students grow in, "self-confidence, presentation skills, artistic talent, memorization, vocabulary, verbal skills, knowledge of current events, cooperation, respecting and valuing others on their team”.

A competition like this gives all the participants a chance to share their special skills and teach others on their team. The students learn to enjoy working and performing together. A young person will learn to problem-solve, feel more comfortable with spontaneity and be quick on their feet. Even a shy child can blossom in the camaraderie and fellowship of this competition.

How can you get in on the fun? What if it’s impossible for your family to participate in a program as demanding as OM? I encourage you to go to the website and check out some of the very creative free online curriculum activities there. A quick peek has me very interested in many of them! There seems to be a problem for every subject, interest and teaching style. NASA is a sponsor and they also have provided resources.

Including some creative fun into your learning will stretch your student in wonderful ways. You may discover talents you never knew existed or you may just enrich the subjects that you excel in already! Being a bit of a Jack of all Trades may not be a bad thing in today’s economy.


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