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An Odyssey of imagination: Hall students bring creativity, science and drama to world competition
Four teams from county schools to compete this week in Michigan
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Jamie Ingraham and Madeleine Vaughn rehearse a portion of the solution their team will present at the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals at Michigan State University this week. The students are part of a team from the World Language Academy.

With their a team of gypsies, a smart house trying to communicate with Martians, a balsa wood structure that can hold nearly 1,100 pounds and a superhero cliffhanger, four Hall County Schools teams are headed to Michigan this week for an international competition.

The teams — two from Flowery Branch High School and one each from C.W. Davis Middle School and the World Language Academy  have advanced to the world finals of the Odyssey of the Mind 2017 competition scheduled Wednesday through Saturday.

OM is a problem-solving competition in which the student teams and an adult coach spend months preparing a creative solution to a specific problem for their age group. The competition combines science and creativity as students solve the problem through the course of an eight-minute skit.

Teams also must solve a spontaneous problem. Those participating must finish first or second in the state competition to qualify for the world finals.

Kim Carroll, a teacher at Davis Middle School, has been working with Odyssey teams for 24 years and has coached a team that finished second in the world. Her team made a structure out of balsa wood that weighed less than 15 ounces yet was designed to hold as much weight as possible while performing a Scooby-Doo mystery skit in which the cast was searching for and building a 9-foot Eiffel Tower. The structure held 1,098 pounds and the team earned first place with a perfect score of 350.

“I think they will make top 10 for sure,” Carroll said of the team’s chances at the world finals.

Will McDowell, a member of the team going back to Michigan for a second time, said the atmosphere is different in the world competition. He said he is hoping for a top three finish.

“At regionals, we had 12-15 teams in our problem and state was even less,” he said. “We’re going to be going against 50 other teams like Chinese people who don’t even speak our language.”

One of two teams from Flowery Branch High School who qualified for Michigan event had to design, build and operate an original robot with that would have human characteristics and learn to do four functions that copies human movements: play drums, read a fortune, pour milk and kick a ball. The team chose to develop their performance around a family of gypsies living in the first “tiny house” in 18th century Romania.

Kennedy Turpin, who along with teammate Sarah Catherine Willard, have competed in Odyssey for the past eight years and finished third in the world finals one year, said the time commitment to the competition is high.

“It takes a lot of time,” she said. “We started to start in September and had some unforeseen challenges. We didn’t get the idea until October or November. After you get the idea, it goes moving pretty quickly. The robot is what took the longest amount of time.”

The other team from Flowery Branch had to create and present a humorous story about an unexpected superhero who saves creativity in some way three different times. The superhero has to change in appearance when displaying superpowers and while blending in with society.

In the team’s dramatic presentation of its solution, the man in the moon is stealing stars because he is jealous of the creativity they inspire in the world. The blue star is secretly a superhero called the Blue Fairy. She sets out to stop the man in the moon. Shrek’s friend Donkey attempts to help her.

The story is a cliffhanger and ends with the question: “Will they succeed or will creativity be lost forever?” The team was scored on the quality of the performance and the use of certain elements listed in the problem, according to Teri Lance, drama teacher at Davis Middle and the team’s coach.

Connor McCary, who is making his second trip to the worlds, said his team has spent months renovating and updating its solution and props. Among the props were a set of boxes designed in such a way to create four different settings that are used in the eight-minute performance.

Lance praised her team’s “artistry” in creating the settings.

“They can take absolutely nothing and make something every time,” she said. “They also tend to not give up.”

The only elementary school team from Hall County going to the OM World competition is a group from World Language. This team also chose the problem where they had to have a family living in a house and someone brings a Odd-a-Bot home.

The family is centered around the story that Bill Gates (the Microsoft CEO) and Steve Jobs (the Apple founder) have children who marry and the family is living together in a smart house. The family decides to use the robot to help them communicate with Martians. It can also sweep, cut bananas and ring bells.

“Our idea was to have a big internet family with a big rivalry and they wanted to communicate with Martians,” fifth-grader Emma Veiga said. “We had to have a robot that learns from us and has to do an action and then it has to do the same action, but has to have a humorous result.”

Trinity Failyer, another fifth-grader who has been to the world finals before, had advice for her other members of her team who are going to Michigan for the first time.

“Teamwork,” she said. “A lot of times teamwork can affect you the whole time you’re there.”

The team is coached by Aaron and Darcie Turpin. Aaron works for the school district as assistant superintendent for technology.

“Going from being a teacher to administration, I was not going to become disconnected with kids,” he said. “This allows me to have positive impact on kids.”

The teams have to raise their own money to travel to competitions. Lance estimated that it cost about $7,000 just to send a seven-member student team to the Michigan event. In addition to coaches, teams also bring families on these trips. Turpin said his team would have a group of more than 20 people making the trip.

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