An Odyssey of the Mind

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Odyssey of the Mind is a 25-year-old international educational organization that works with students from kindergarten through college to develop and use creative techniques to solve problems and have fun in the process.

There are five competitive areas: mechanical/vehicle, technical performance, classics, structure and performance. The competition is not just for engineering and science themes, but includes literature, art, architecture and music.

It's a competitive effort with teams contending at local events in five age divisions, with the winners going on to the world competition in Michigan.

This year the team from St. Leo the Great School in Fairfax competed in the Division I group for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Team members were fourth-grader Benjamin Ogletree, and fifth-graders Emma Dowd, Virginia Fehrer, Katie Holler, Maddie Ogletree, Travis Perry, and Grace Travis.

For their project they chose "runaway 'train.'" In their case the train was a roller coaster.

They had to design, build and operate up to three vehicles that travel on and are guided by tracks. The vehicle stops at stations and cannot touch the floor. While moving, the vehicle must overcome obstacles, like going uphill. There must be a cardboard conductor character. and on the last lap a victory flag needs to be displayed. The skit part of the project uses humor to illustrate the journey.

All projects had a cash limit of $145 for parts. The judges like to see the incorporation of trash items like soda cans instead of bought parts. The St. Leo team used marbles, a soda can and a credit card with wheels. The propulsion system must travel with the vehicle and can include spring and gear propulsion.

The St. Leo team placed first at Virginia regionals in March and they won first place in the Virginia State finals in May. They competed in the World Final competition May 20 at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich. There they joined more than 800 teams participating.

St. Leo coach and parent Suzanne Dowd said that the competition was tough, but the students enjoyed the experience.

"Beyond 'thinking outside of the box,' the team gets to interact with and learn from other teams, and at (World Final), our team has been partnered with a team from Hong Kong," said Dowd.

The team prayed before each competition, and after each event they personally thanked the judges, said Dowd.

Principal David DiPippa is proud of the team.

"They are a great group of children who have worked very hard all year long, and know that this experience will be very exciting and rewarding," said DiPippa.


The St. Leo the Great team place 10th in their division and project.

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015