Williams Odyssey of the Mind Team Takes On the World

By Julia Hanauer-Milne

In a first for RSU 18, an Odyssey of the Mind team will take its show on the road this spring—to the World Finals in Iowa.

The Williams Elementary School third through fifth graders placed first in their division at the Maine state meet on April 7 with their mockumentary about The Hobbit. That earned them a trip to the World Finals at Iowa State University on May 23-27 where more than 800 teams from around the world will convene.

Getting to Iowa is an expensive proposition and the team is raising funds: a GoFundMe page (https://www.gofundme.com/7s7nm-odyssey-of-the-mind-world-finals), a Fun Night at Williams Elementary on Friday, May 4, and a dinner at Cancun on May 14 from 5 p.m. to close will help defray costs. Two bigger donations have already made a huge difference: Colby Chemistry Professor Dasan M. Thamattoor’s National Science Foundation grant provided $2,000 and RSU 18 covered the Iowa registration fee.

During the Cancun dinner, which is open to the public, the restaurant will donate 20 percent of each diner’s bill to the team.

Odyssey of the Mind is a creative problem solving tournament in which students write a play, design and build a set, make costumes, and perform without adult help.  While RSU 18 teams often make it to the state meet, this is the first time a district team has qualified for the World Finals.

“I couldn’t believe it when my mom told me we won first place,” said third grader Finley Minkel who played Gollum. “I ran around the house doing a crazy dance. It was awesome!”

In the Williams skit, Gollum pretends Bilbo stole his ring, then later becomes obsessed with Shakespeare and becomes a high school English teacher. Bilbo tries to sell the ring on Ebay.

“I really think OM is a great thing for schools to do….It’s a good idea to get your brain working,” said third grader Grace Moody, who played Smaug.

Fifth graders Billy McDougall and Joseph Wathen took leadership roles on the team. Wathen, a narrator in the play, said he thought the group worked well together and that he “enjoyed being creative and having fun.”

Coached by district gifted and talented program teacher Julia Hanauer-Milne, high school English teacher Lisette Bordes and parent Martha Minkel, the team included Ivan Brown (Gandalf), Jeremy Conry (narrator/Bard), Billy McDougall (Bilbo), Minkel, Moody, Lydia Parent (Thorin), and Wathen. It was a learning experience for both kids and adults.

“Odyssey of the Mind was new to me, so I learned along with the kids as the year progressed,” Martha Minkel said. “They had to collaborate, problem solve, and work as a team. Seeing them fully develop creative ideas and build on the strengths of each other was truly amazing.”

Added Bordes, “The group collaboration aspect reminds them and us how important it is to not rely on a single perspective when we face a challenge in any arena.”

Williams also had a second OM team this year, coached by Colby College Chemistry Professor Rebecca Conry. That team, which included Jeremy Croft, Hunter Doiron, Wyatt DeMott, Evan Hayes, Ruby LaBonte, Jackson Lee, and Elizabeth McDougal, placed sixth in a division that included 14 teams.

“I like OM because of all of the crazy twists and turns our project had during the year,” Fin Minkel said. “I also got to hang out with my friends every Wednesday after school and work on a fun project. For us to go this far is amazing.”

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