They are silly, clever and serious all in one meeting and the six members of the Fire Dragons, an all-girl Odyssey of the Mind team, are busy planning for their upcoming trip to the competition’s world championships.
Tess Ravick, Kasey Chatterji-Len, Emma Davis, Molly Ding, Annie O’Connell and Rabhya Mehrotra are all eighth-graders at Thomas W. Pyle Middle School in Bethesda. They began working on their Odyssey of the Mind projects in September but, they point out, they have been friends a long time.
“I think our team is the best part of Odyssey of the Mind,” Tess said. “Everyone is really fun and creative and we get to see how [each member] thinks.”
The Odyssey of the Mind program started in 1978 to “foster creative thinking and make learning fun,” according to the competition’s website, odysseyofthemind.com. The program provides problem scenarios designed to showcase students’ creativity. Each team chooses one long-term project and, during competitions, is also given spontaneous problems, those they have no way of anticipating. The teams are judged on use of materials provided and “out-of-the-box” solutions.
The Fire Dragons selected a problem called the Not-So-Haunted House for their long-term project. They created their haunted house by painting three cardboard flats with black paint and drawing pictures of things that would be scary to teenage girls, they said — for instance, a bad hair day, having only 1 percent battery power left on your cellphone, math problems or blood. Then they wrote a performance which had to include four special effects, designed to be scary, but which don’t turn out to be. One of their special effects is a papier mache head that allows them to “decapitate” one of the actors.
Although the team took first place in its grade-level division at the state championships March 15 at Norwood School in Bethesda, the girls have been busy improving their props and upgrading their special effects for the world competition. They are limited to spending just $145 on materials for their project and win points for using of recycled or reused material. Most of their money, they said, was spent on paint for their house.
The group met twice a week throughout the year: one day to work on the long-term project and one day to practice solving the spontaneous problems.
“I’ve learned to work together with others, because with six different opinions we either come together as a team or we split into different groups,” Emma said. “When that happens, we all vote.”
All of the girls said they have enjoyed learning to think more creatively.
“The problems are not something we’ve done before, like hanging a box of nails using straws, toothpicks and string,” Rabhya said. “I’ve learned to think differently.”
They are coached by Rabhya’s father, Nitin Mehrotra, and Annie’s father, Dick O’Connell, though all the parents are helping arrange the team’s trip to Ames, Iowa, for the World Championships May 28-31.
“I enjoy [coaching] very much,” Mehrotra said. “They are a smart group of kids and they all think so differently.”
The girls do have one problem they are having a hard time solving: raising money for their trip.
“It’s a lot harder raising money than we thought because we aren’t old enough to work,” Annie said.
The girls have held two bake sales, sponsored a fundraiser at Mamma Lucia’s restaurant and received money from an anonymous donor, raising about $250 so far. They also contacted stores in Bethesda, hoping for a sponsorship, but to no avail. Anyone wishing to contribute to their cause can call Pyle Middle School at 301-320-6540.