Livermore Odyssey of the Mind Team headed to finals

For the first time in eight years, Livermore Elementary School has an Odyssey of the Mind team — and it’s headed to the world finals next month.

Led by coach Jo Ann Yandle, a small, determined group of parents formed the Livermore Cowboys team last fall as part of an after-school enrichment program. The team has been meeting weekly since November, with more frequent meetings on the weeks before competitions.

Odyssey of the Mind is an international educational program that provides creative problem-solving opportunities for students in kindergarten through college. Activities range from building mechanical devices to interpreting literary classics. Creativity, rather than “right answers,” are emphasized. Working together is an important component of the program.

Livermore’s team consists of two second graders, a third grader and two fifth graders. The team confronts both spontaneous and long-term problems, and in the process learns the value of teamwork. For example, the team chose a long-term problem that asked them to construct self-propelled vehicles. Together they investigated rubber bands, a sling shot, a wind-up mechanism and batteries to power their vehicles. Teams are judged on “style” as well as execution.

Competing in the spontaneous part of the challenge places the team in a room with only the judges. No coaches or parents are allowed. The team is given a problem to be solved in a specific length of time. If they’re asked to build a bridge in four minutes, they must discuss among themselves and then execute the task. Judges observe teamwork, whether team members try to dominate and final execution of the task.

The Livermore Cowboys surprised everyone by scoring highest in their division in regional competition in the spontaneous problem. So high that they came in third overall even though they were among the lowest in the long-term problem category. They placed well enough to receive an invitation to the state competition.

The night before state, a team member fell ill and could not participate. The long-term obstacle course had to be set up and performed in eight minutes. The four remaining team members pulled together for a first-place finish.

“It is simply amazing to me,” coach Yandle said. “I’ve watched these kids develop the ability to work through obstacles of all kinds, from missing teammates to broken props and failed attempts, to keep giving their best.”

The team’s spontaneous effort did not measure up during the state competition. But their combined score was good enough for a second place and an invitation to the World Finals to be held May 20-24 in East Lansing, Mich.

Coach Yandle said no one is more surprised than she is.

Several parents will be attending the finals with their children, and one family has volunteered to drive cross-country with the props needed for the long-term challenge.

Anyone interested in donating to the expense fund for the World Finals can do so through the team’s Facebook page and Livermore Elementary School or by sending a check to Livermore PTO: World Finals, which will be tax deductible. Here’s a link to donate: On Saturdays May 2 and 9, Team Cowboy will be fundraising between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. in front of Jax Home and Ranch on U.S. Highway 287, weather permitting. Qdoba coupon books, handcrafted items and greeting cards will be for sale. Donations happily accepted.

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