The majority of this content is taken from the Virginia coaches handbook Coaches Guide))
Volunteering to coach Odyssey of the Mind is an adventure. A coach’s job, essentially, is to help guide 5-7 creative students to learn to solve difficult problems, while allowing all ideas and solutions to be the students' own. So… how does a coach get them to learn things without telling them answers? And what, exactly, happens at an Odyssey of the Mind meeting, anyway? Above everything else, Odyssey of the Mind should be FUN: fun for the students and fun for the coach! Every moment will not be fun, of course, but if the team and the coach are not having a good time most of the time, the coach needs to evaluate what has taken the fun away. Being creative, getting to do things all by themselves, figuring out difficult challenges, working out how to solve problems together … these should all be exciting for the team.
(or what to do with 5-7 creative minds)
So… now you have a room full of excited young minds, ready to get started. What do they do? What do YOU do?
Coaching an Odyssey team can be the most rewarding activity you have ever experienced. The primary key to success is to keep your sense of perspective. You need to enjoy and appreciate young people. You need to laugh, giggle, scowl, sigh, tease, moan, and maybe even growl at your team. But if you LOVE YOUR TEAM and keep your sense of humor, there are no problems they cannot conquer, with your guidance. Just remember that the team's problems are not YOUR problems. They must solve their problems by themselves with some nudges and facilitation from you. They are creating things no one has ever seen before, learning things they never learned before, and that fact alone should make you very proud of them. YOU will make this possible, and that makes you a hero, regardless of scores or a performance on one given day! You are making a difference in children's lives forever. And it should be FUN!
Ideally, your first meeting will include the parents. You need to set guidelines for behavior, agree on meeting times, days, and places, convince all team members and parents of the importance of attending every meeting possible, and, perhaps involve the parents in a spontaneous problem … just so they can experience a sample of the activities their children will be doing.
At the end of this section, there are suggested “LESSON PLANS” for the first 5 meetings. These include spontaneous problem suggestions, team building ideas, fundamental brainstorming methods, and ideas for tackling the Long-Term problem. Use these as a springboard for your own ideas … there is NO RIGHT OR WRONG METHOD for conducting meetings, so long as you avoid giving Outside Assistance. Feel free to adapt any or all ideas to meet your own needs and materials. Odyssey of the Mind meetings should be fun, but you should emphasize that this is your home (or their school) and insist the team respect each other and other people's property at all time! One suggestion from experienced coaches is to start with ONLY SPONTANEOUS for the first few meetings. That way, if a child drops off the team (because he or she didn't realize the commitment involved) you may replace him or her. The rule is this: You may only have the input of 7 minds in any Odyssey year. So long as you have never had 7 team members, you may add up to seven any time up until you register for the tournament. If you have had 7, you may not ever replace someone who drops out, UNLESS the team has not discussed Long-Term or Style. This is why some teams only do spontaneous at first, until they are sure the entire team is committed to coming to meetings. Other suggestions from experienced coaches include:
Refrain from outside assistance. Sure, you can figure out how to attach that sheet to a board, and you can probably paint that tree trunk to look pretty realistic. But the Long-Term problem is NOT YOUR PROBLEM to solve!! If you do work for the team, or give them suggestions, they will not “OWN” their solution. One of the most basic goals of Odyssey of the Mind is to give children the power to do things themselves, and to feel the pride of knowing they did it all by themselves. If you so much as suggest a costume, or staple a piece of paper, you have “submarined“ the team's “ship of self-esteem”!
Keep the team on task. Encourage them to make a “Must Do” list, and keep them on that one, not the “Maybe Do” list! Let them cross off items that are completed … we all like to feel a sense of accomplishment. Have a “Master Calendar” setting down goals. Set up sub-groups to do tasks, if the team can work that way.
Resolve social conflicts as soon as you notice them. Learning to work as a team is one of the most important things an Odyssey team can do. It is OK to allow disagreements, and, ideally, let the team resolve conflicts themselves. But do not allow feelings to be hurt. Avoid plurality votes — someone always loses. Approval voting, where each person tells all the ideas he likes, is better. Better yet is never to vote at all, but to come to consensus. Learn to recognize burnout, and lighten things up when that happens. Surprise the team with a fun, non-Odyssey activity, like a video or “unbirthday” party once in a while!
Make safety a top priority. Always supervise the use of tools, including hot glue guns, and make sure the kids know the safe way to use them. Use safety goggles, when appropriate (such as when testing balsa structures.) In addition, make sure adults and parents (including the coach!) know how to appropriately act around team members.
PRACTICE SPONTANEOUS at every meeting, if possible. Enlist a co-coach or parent to plan and bring materials for hands-on practices, if that makes your life easier! You may wish to have a Spontaneous Coach.
Talk with older teams (above Primary level especially) about all of the following issues:
Learn how to ask questions and how to answer a question with a question. Learning the technique of questioning is the best way to help your team while avoiding outside assistance. The art of asking questions is mainly the ability to be very open-ended. Here are some examples of “good“ questions and “bad” questions:
|Limiting questions (and steering from the coach)||Open-ended (allow the team to be creative)|
|How can you sew a duck costume?||How can you make someone seem to be a duck?|
|Can you use (item) to solve that problem?||What exactly does this item need to do? How can you cause that to happen?|
|Do you want some glue to put those things together?||How might you fasten those things together?|
Well, you get the idea here — let the team make decisions for themselves, but encourage them to brainstorm the questions. Try not to limit their thinking … what they come up with won't usually be what YOU would have done … but that is OK!
If the team asks you a question, try to answer with another question that will start them thinking in the right direction:
|Team asks:||Coach asks:|
|Do you think this glue will work?||How can you find that out?|
|Should we put more yellow in the tree?||What does the team think?|
|Why did the vehicle wheel come off?||Let's look at it…what do you think happened?|
After a time, the team will learn to ask THEMSELVES the right questions. But, at first, it will be hard, because they are used to adults giving them the correct answers! Let them discover that THEY have the power to come up with answers, and that they can find “correct” ones … or, at least, ones that work … all by themselves.
Help the team understand what STYLE is all about. Be sure they DO NOT CHOOSE SOMETHING SCORED IN LONG-TERM for a Style Element. (If they do, the staging area judge will ask them to change it. Teams handle this just fine, but surprises the day of the tournament are best avoided!)
Arrange practices for the team when tournament day approaches. The best method is to simulate a tournament — practice setting up, time the performance, and perhaps videotape. Rehearsing a couple of weeks before the tournament will allow the team to go “back to the drawing board” with any problems. They can refine the script to get the performance under 8 minutes, repair or redesign sets or props, etc. Watching a videotape will allow them to critique themselves — can you hear everyone? are they facing the audience? (Note: if YOU, as coach, tell them these things, it is outside assistance. Help them critique and discover things for themselves!) NEVER allow the team to be discouraged when things go wrong. Tell them “this is what a rehearsal is all about!” Remain their biggest cheerleader.
NEVER feel that “this is never going to come together.” IT WILL! Don't get depressed — if you could see every other team at the same stage of preparation, you would learn that every team has some difficulties the last few weeks. Every coach feels like, in the words of one coach, “running down the hall screaming”. It would be unusual for a coach not to have a few dreams about Odyssey at this point! Have faith … it WILL come together! NEVER assume that the performance site will be a particular orientation or set-up. Have the team practice with different configurations.
BRAINSTORM “what if's” … what if the judges are sitting over here or aren't seated at all? what if the vehicle stops? what if someone forgets his lines? what if our structure isn't “legal? what if the sun is in our eyes? what if a loud noise occurs during our performance? (This happened once at a regional tournament when a TV began blaring, and the team never skipped a beat!). Being prepared for a disaster will help team members feel more confident going into competition, and help them keep it together if a catastrophe should occur. As in life, many things may happen which are out of their control, but they CAN control their reactions! Remember a fix-it kit — but this should, as always, be the team's work to put together.
Consider a “house arrest day”. If very many things need finished two or three weeks before the meet, and your team is not yet ready to rehearse, consider having an all-day meeting on a weekend. Tell the team “you are mine from 9 a.m. until you finish”. Order pizza, have cold cuts, bake cookies, ask parents to bring food, whatever it takes to fuel them… but keep them working all day and sit back and be amazed at what can get done by a determined crew in one day! And don’t forget to throw in a fun break or two … maybe a spontaneous problem involving food, or a nature scavenger hunt, or just a round of a card game. Have fun!!!!!!!! Enjoy these creative young people. Learn a little about how to brainstorm solutions to problems in your own life. (One former Odyssey team member said, when she got to college, “Life is just one big spontaneous problem!”) Be amazed at what the team comes up with. Enjoy a few activities with them that have nothing to do with solving the Long-Term or spontaneous problems. On tournament day, relax and enjoy the creativity of all the teams doing this worthwhile “mental sport”!
To the coach: it is the spirit of Odyssey of the Mind to encourage creativity, divergent thinking, and creative problem solving. Nothing less is expected of coaches. These lessons are only intended as a starting point, to get coaches thinking of ways to approach taking 5-7 excited students and get them to work together to make something uniquely theirs. Please feel free to change, delete, adapt, rewrite … in short, to vary… these plans to suit the team's needs as well as the coach's. Odyssey should be fun and exciting, and each team has an individual chemistry and its own way of working and problem solving. Keep this in mind as you take your own unique ODYSSEY OF THE MIND®!
Thank you to Lisa Love of Virginia Odyssey of the Mind for putting this guide together.
This would be a good time to have a meeting of both parents and students (for Divisions I and II) and to cover some of the basics (in all Divisions.) It would also be a good time for at least one fun activity to demonstrate the principals of Odyssey of the Mind to parents and students. The discussing parents guide (also in Word Document form) with the team member's parents is great idea too.
Suggestions for basics to cover with parents and students:
This meeting would be a good time to work on teaching the team the Odyssey philosophy and some of the basic skills used in Odyssey: thinking creatively and working cooperatively. It is still recommended that you not discuss a Long- Term problem solution at this meeting! You might begin this meeting, and all subsequent ones, with a spontaneous problem or team-building exercise.
IDEAS TO TEACH:
1. The Difference Between “Winning Prizes” and “Succeeding” (Being Winners) OBJECTIVE: To have the group begin to realize that ribbons or trophies do not equal achievement. FORMAT: Group discussion. PROCEDURE: The coach asks open-ended questions and lets the team members discuss such issues as: “Why do you want to do Odyssey?” “Why do you think Odyssey is a competition?” What does 'winning' mean?” “What do you expect from your teammates?” “What do you hope to achieve at Odyssey meetings?” “What do you hope to achieve at the Odyssey of the Mind® Meet?” (This is a good time for the coach to practice letting the TEAM come up with the ideas, and letting the coach be a “guide on the side.”)
2. “Rules of Engagement” for Odyssey of the Mind® OBJECTIVE: To begin to establish “Rules of Engagement” for team efforts; To practice brainstorming; To have the team realize that criticism of others' ideas undermines teamwork and prevents good ideas from appearing and evolving FORMAT: Demonstration and group discussion PROCEDURE: Give each team member a sheet of paper, a pencil, and a simple, unusual object (each team member gets a different object; could be citrus peeler, metal washer, etc.) Ask each team member to write creative use for the object. Then have them pass objects to their left until each person has written a use for each object. Have them read their lists aloud.
Discussion: Ask the team “what answers did you hear that you liked?” Let each person have a chance to contribute his/her praise of another person's written answer. Ask the team: “were there any answers that you thought might be impractical?” “how could you change or adapt the answer so that it is more practical?” “have you improved on the original idea?” “does hearing all ideas make you think of more and better ones?”
Discuss the idea that in Odyssey there are NOT ANY BAD IDEAS, only ones that may need further work or discussion. Suggest RULE No. 1: All ideas should be allowed and never criticized! Suggest that the team begin a list of “OUR TEAM'S RULES” tailored to “Just Us.”
(Note: empowering the team to make their own set of rules gives them ownership that will promote their following the rules by choice. It also begins teaching them that in Odyssey of the Mind, they are encouraged - required, actually - to do the work themselves. The coach may write team's lists in Div. I if words are the team's own.)
3. If We Can Dream It, We Can Do It OBJECTIVE: To give the team confidence in themselves and promote mutual respect FORMAT: Group interaction with some direction PROCEDURE: Ask the team members to take the sheet of paper from the previous activity and list all the things they think they are “reasonably” good at doing. If they know one another already, have them list at least one thing they think each of their teammates is good at. If they don't already know one another, have them write the other team members names and something they do know about them, such as where they live, how many brothers and sisters they have, what sport or musical instrument they play, etc. Let them discuss this if they don't know anything about each other - a sort of “get acquainted” time. You might consider SERVING REFRESHMENTS during this activity. Then let them share their thoughts and positive comments.
This meeting might be the time to begin discussion of Long-Term. However, you may continue to work on Spontaneous for another week. Some new teams might require three meetings to achieve all the goals thus far. Adapt to meet your group's needs! Again, you might start the meeting with a spontaneous problem, or, better yet 2-3.
IDEAS TO TEACH:
1. Brainstorming Can Be Fun OBJECTIVE: To teach the team a brainstorming technique: Diamond method FORMAT: Group interaction MATERIALS: Poster board, newsprint pad, or white marker board and some markers. PROCEDURE: Ask a spontaneous sort of question that might also be a Long-Term sort of category. (Example: name ways to make music; name ways to make backdrops for a play, etc.) Have the team generate ideas, building on each other's answers and adding more as they discuss their answers until they have at least 15. List all ideas on the paper or board. Talk about the answers that are similar and group them together. Eliminate ideas that are less creative and keep the ones that everyone agrees are the most creative in each column. Narrow the list down to one or two of the favorite ideas.
2. The Long-Term Problem Requires Much Thinking and Discussion OBJECTIVE: To allow the team to see all the complexities and possibilities of a Long-Term problem. (You could actually do this without discussing THIS year's problem if you are still unsure whether everyone is committed - just evaluate a problem from last year.) FORMAT: Group Discussion PROCEDURE: Read through a Long-Term problem (can be the one the team has selected or been assigned, or can be any Long-Term sample problem.) Give everyone a copy of the Long-Term problem, if they have chosen one. Read and discuss “the creative emphases” of the problem and discuss what it means. (What is creativity?) Read “Spirit of the Problem” and discuss what this means. (Why is there a “spirit of the problem?”) Look at the problem requirements; look at the scoring criteria; look at the penalties. Ask them to re-read it before the next meeting and bring 2-3 of their best ideas for themes, etc., to discuss at the meeting next week. If the team has not chosen a problem, they should choose one in this meeting or the next.
3. “Rules of Engagement” Part II OBJECTIVE: To continue the team's efforts to make a list of acceptable behaviors or “team rules.” To have the team understand that all must share in the work involved. FORMAT: Demonstration and discussion MATERIALS: 10-14 sticks PROCEDURE: Give each team member one stick. Ask them each to break it in half. Now give one person 7 pieces and ask them to break all seven in half at once. Ask them why it is harder to break all at once. Ask them what that might say about the strength of many as opposed to the strength of one. Ask them how this idea might apply to a team. Let them discuss this and perhaps discuss the idea that everyone needs to share the labor needed for a solution. You might discuss absenteeism. They might make a team rule about these ideas. (For example, if someone must be absent, they will have OotMwork.) End with another fun activity, such as a spontaneous problem or group artwork, etc.
This meeting might be a good time to examine the Long-Term problem in more depth and brainstorm skills and task necessary to complete a solution.
IDEAS TO TEACH:
1. Brainstorming Can Be Fun, Part II OBJECTIVE: To teach another brainstorming technique: making creative connections FORMAT: Group discussion and interaction using the infamous newsprint pad and markers PROCEDURE: Tell the team that many great ideas have come from finding unexpected connections. And example might be the union of plastic and zippers to make Ziploc bags, or chairs and wheels to make a wheelchair. Give the team some of the following pairs and ask them to brainstorm at least 5 links for each: Film and Piano; Telescope and Shovel; Table and Lever; Button and Stove. The links may be tenuous, and do not have to be actual, practical objects.
2. Long-Term Attack OBJECTIVE: To begin brainstorming solutions to the Long-Term problem FORMAT: Diamond method of brainstorming PROCEDURE: Using the ubiquitous newsprint pad or white board, have the team brainstorm at least 20 possible themes/ solution ideas for the Long-Term problem. (They were to have thought of some of this during the week.) Let them narrow it back down to 2 or 3. Have them discuss all the creative possibilities of these themes. If they can narrow it down to one, great; if not, let them think about them over the next week.
3. TIME is of the Essence OBJECTIVE: To have the team begin working on a timeline for Long-Term FORMAT: Group discussion MATERIALS: A Large, One-page Calendar with all the weeks until the tournament shown PROCEDURE: Mark an “X” through all the days team members will be out of town (that they know of.) Circle the Meet Day in RED. Back up two weeks and circle a weekend day in RED. Tell the team that that day is “House Arrest Day” - they are YOURS for the day until all Long-Term items are finished and ready for dress rehearsal. Mark all other meeting days & see if there are some additional ones they want to add (such as teacher in-service days, for example, when they are out of school.) Keep the schedule handy and add to it as the year advances.
4. Skills Workshops and Road Trips are a FUN Part of Odyssey of the Mind® OBJECTIVE: To identify needs for Long-Term Problem Solving & expand the team's horizons METHOD: Brainstorming for fluency PROCEDURE: Ask the team to answer the following questions: What skills do you think you need to have someone teach you to solve this problem? What places do you think you might visit to get supplies? What are all the ways you can think of to fasten things together? What ways can you decorate props? etc. Have the team make lists and post them. Find a creative way to post the lists that fits your situation and environment. You might have each item on an index card and hang them from a clothesline in the basement. You might make a file. You might make a huge poster or two. But let the team do the writing if they are old enough. In Division I, a coach may write down the team's ideas verbatim, not adding his or her own
The lesson plan for this meeting is less detailed. By now, you should have a thread going through your meetings, a team “style” for brainstorming and for working together. You should also be going in some direction in terms of Long-Term and planning your time together. Some suggestions for this meeting might be:
An appreciation for creative young minds (because this is NOT a quiet, structured activity most of the time!)
A sense of humor (because Murphy's Law prevails)
A copy of the rules in program guide (because this is the team's ultimate authority, superseded only by Long Term Problem Limitation and Clarifications)
Spontaneous problems to practice (found in many books, and on the internet)
Your regional coaches' training (because we are all in this together … for the kids!)
Supportive parents (because the team needs help with transportation, snacks, and encouragement)
Clarifications and clarification forms (because that is the only way to ask whether a solution is “legal” if your team isn't sure, and clarifications take precedence over all other rules)
Websites all over the country dealing with Odyssey of the Mind, starting with http://www.odysseyofthemind.com (but be VERY careful of discussions that might be Outside Assistance!)
Food (because teams will be much happier when snacks are involved)