SF Bay Odyssey of the Mind

Experiencing Creativity

Experiencing Creativity

Experiencing Creativity Experiencing Creativity

Starting to Coach


Choosing a Long Term Problem

by Merritt Booster, Redwood Region

Realize that fundamentally, it’s the team’s choice – not yours.

  • External limitations: The problem must be open to the team’s Division.
  • Only one team per division per membership can select each problem. Check with the coordinator or other coaches to see if any problems must be eliminated.

Early in team formation, discuss team members’ strengths and interests.

  • Ask team members to write down their strengths, as well as new skills they’d like to acquire.
  • Have students share these reflections. These could even be charted out for the team.

Introduce the team to the different TYPES of problems, without going into specifics.

  • How do their strengths and interests fit the different TYPES of problems?

Read the Problem Synopses.

  • Discuss the pros and cons of each.
  • Vote on 2 or 3 problems to look into fully.
  • Homework for each team member: Read each problem selected, and be prepared to discuss the problems.

Next meeting:

  • Read the problems again and list the required elements of each. (The basic elements can be found in the A section of each problem.)
    Example: Problem 1 – Driver’s Test

  1. Team must build a vehicle driven by one or more team members.
  2. The driver must be a character taking a driving test and must accomplish three tasks.
  3. The vehicle must use at least two different propulsions, one to travel in reverse.
  4. The vehicle will encounter a directional signal and have a GPS system that talks to the driver.
  5. The team must create a theme that incorporates all these elements.

Discuss the overlapping elements in the problems. All problems include some elements of:

  • Drama/Acting/Script Writing/Presentation
  • Structural/construction elements
  • Technical elements
  • Art/Music/Dance

The team votes on which Long-term Problem interests them most.

  • If the vote is split, have each group list what they like about their choice.
  • Discuss the elements and see if elements are found in the other group’s list (overlap).

Vote again.

  • If one team member really doesn’t want to do the selected problem, see if a match can be made to an element of the problem.

What does the coach do if the team’s choice doesn’t fit his/her interests and skills?

  • Celebrate! Now there’s less temptation to hint/suggest/outside-assist.
  • Less frustration that the team isn’t doing it the “right” way.
  • Remember, if the team chooses a “technical” problem such as Problem 1, 2, or 4, and technical is just not your thing, it’s fine to connect the team members to someone who can demonstrate and teach technical skills, so long as the interactions are in a general, not-problem or solution specific, fashion. No Outside Assistance!

Training to be Spontaneous

Spontaneous is that part of the competition where team members really get to shine and share their creative thinking skills.  When solving spontaneous problems, team members get to “think on their feet” and quickly “think outside of the box.” 

During the tournament season these problems  are “TOP SECRET” and only the team members that enter the room get to know the spontaneous problem. 

Teams participating in the same long-term problem and division will solve the same spontaneous problem, so, to ensure fairness, it is critical that no one discusses the problem outside of the room until all teams have competed at both the local regional tournament and other regions.

There are three types of spontaneous problem, and the teams are informed as they enter the room, the type of problem they are asked to solve.  One of the judges read the specific rules for the problem. as well as outlining the scoring method. 

Teams will have to solve only one type of spontaneous problem in a competition. So teams should be prepared for any of the three types of spontaneous problems. Teams should practice for the three common types of spontaneous problems as listed below. 

  • Verbal spontaneous problems require verbal responses. They may incorporate improvisation or dramatization. Teams are scored for common and creative responses.
  • Hands-on spontaneous problems require teams to physically create a tangible solution. Each hands-on problem has its own specific scoring categories.
  • Verbal/hands-on spontaneous problems require teams to create a tangible solution and include some type of verbal component, for example, creating a story about the solution. Teams are scored for both the tangible solution and the verbal presentation.

Although all seven team members may enter the room, only five team members may participate in the spontaneous portion of the competition. Every team should assess the skills of its members and come to an agreement beforehand about who will compete and who will sit out.

For spontaneous, be sure to practice, practice, and practice. Here are some tips from Odyssey of the Mind for practicing spontaneous:

  • Teach team members to listen. They should not “think ahead” and presume what the problem requires; they should listen carefully until the judge finishes reading the entire problem.
  • Brainstorm verbal responses. Ask the students what made them respond the way they did, then develop that skill further.
  • Improvise non-traditional uses for various items.
  • Familiarize team members with various materials and their uses.
  • Practice building structures out of common materials such as toothpicks, paper cups

(Taken from Problems from Creative Interaction, by Dr. C. Samuel Micklus & Samuel W. Micklus.)

Here you will find several resources that may help prepare a team for spontaneous.

Odyssey of the Mind – National website

This is the national website for the Odyssey of the Mind program.

Spontaneous Problems Archived from Virginia

Archived Spontaneous Problems from the VA Odyssey of the Mind website.

Spontaneous Problems Galore

Northeast Pennsylvania’s Spontaneous Problems

Georgia Spontaneous Site

Spontaneous problems from Georgia

Arizona Archive Spontaneous Site

Archived spontaneous problems from the Arizona Odyssey of the Mind.

Tennessee’s Spontaneous Site

Spontaneous problems from Tennessee

Pinterest Odyssey of the Mind Spontaneous Problems

This is a Pinterest site where several ideas come together.


Team Building

Team building is a critical part of the Odyssey of the Mind Program, and for some participants, being part of a team is their favorite part of the Odyssey experience. It takes time and conscious effort to truly create a “team” mindset, sort of an “all for one, one for all” mentality in which the team embraces and values its members, celebrating their individuality, and appreciating the team’s single the final solution. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Facilitating Teams

Facilitating a team can be quite a challenge, but it can also be very rewarding. In approaching this challenge it is important to remember that the facilitator provides the process through which the team develops the content. So, the facilitator cannot offer answers or solutions, but by guiding them through an effective process they can help the team make progress toward their goals.

Effective Team Process

An effective team process is one that leverages the strengths of the individual members into a results the individuals would not have achieved individually. This is sometimes referred to as synergy, where the results of the whole (the team) is greater than the sum of its parts (individual members). The key is to get participation from every member, keep them focused on the goal, and guide them by way of a formula or process, but not by providing actual content. We can accomplish this by using various techniques that are easily learned and can be readily applied.

3 Basic Process Techniques

There are many process techniques to facilitate teams, but the following 3 basic techniques are recommended for those who are building facilitation skills. These techniques can be used in the phases a team goes through in its normal progress toward reaching solutions or determining actions. In the use of these techniques it is recommended that ‘public recording’ be used so that the team can see their ideas and progress toward their goal. Most commonly, this is achieved through the use of a whiteboard or ‘flipcharts’ and colored markers.


The most straightforward technique for gathering ideas is brainstorming. The idea is to collect as many ideas as possible in a short period of time. You can go around the group in ’round robin’ fashion to make sure everyone participates evenly. Capturing the ideas and posting them on flip charts on the wall helps the group see the progress they are making. There is one rule in brainstorming: every idea is a good idea. Simply write them all down without discussion and in a few minutes you can have 20 or 30 good ideas. Stop when the group runs out of steam or you sense that the quality of the ideas is waning.

Facilitated Discussion

After gathering these ideas, it is a good idea to try to eliminate duplicate ideas, combine ideas that are related, and trim off ideas that might not move the team toward its goal. You can do this by explaining this objective to the team and then simply guide them through a discussion of the ideas. This discussion might even lead to adding a few new ideas to the list. Ask questions about the ideas to stimulate the group. For example:

Does everyone understand this idea the way it is written? How does this idea help us solve our problem? Is this idea one that we can combine with something else on our list? Can we expand on this idea to make it better?


This technique is most effective when you have a large list of ideas that you need to boil down to 5 or 10. With your ideas posted on the walls, you simply give everyone a certain number of ‘votes’. Each team member gets 10 post-it notes which they can use to ‘vote’ for the ideas they like best. After everyone has voted, the votes are tabulated and the ideas with the highest number of votes are the ones the team will consider as its final solution. If one solution is clearly the ‘favorite’ you can stop right there, or you can do another round of voting to ‘pick’ the final answer. You may want to have an in-depth discussion about the ideas prior to the ‘final’ round. Sometimes the top 2 vote-getters can be combined to make an even better solution.

Quick tips for facilitating:

  • Explain the process/technique before diving in
  • Maintain impartiality toward ideas
  • Keep the process moving
  • Make sure everyone is involved, especially quieter members
  • Ask probing questions if an idea is not clearly stated
  • Paraphrase if needed to clarify an idea
  • Encourage divergent views
  • Summarize before moving on to the next step/technique

 Remember that facilitation is an art and it takes time and practice to perfect techniques. With new teams the challenge is even greater because the members are still trying to learn how to relate to each other. If the group is struggling with this you may want use the first 5 minutes of every session to ‘break the ice’. This can be a simple guessing game or practicing brainstorming something totally unrelated to your actual goals. There are entire books and websites devoted to “Icebreaker” activities that can help get your team working together through games.

Adapted from VOICES

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