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Odyssey of the Mind

Odyssey of the Mind

thinking outside of the box

Odyssey of the Mind (OM) is a worldwide program that brings together teams of students to showcase their creative problem-solving skills in a series of competitions at the regional, state and world levels. OM is organized into different divisions based on grade level. Teams of students work together to solve a variety of challenges that require them to think outside the box and come up with innovative solutions completely independent of adult assistance. Over the years, the competition has grown in size and scope. Today, it attracts over 20,000 teams from over 20 different countries around the world who compete in multiple challenges that test their creativity, teamwork, and problem-solving skills. “It’s the Olympics for kids who think differently and can solve problems on their feet.” said the School’s OM Coordinator, Gail Kirkconnell. 

OM challenges are divided into five categories: technical, mechanical, scientific, artistic, and performance. Each category is designed to test a different set of skills and encourage students to utilize creativity and innovation. Once OM teams develop a solution to their category’s problem, they must present them at a regional competition and win in the top six places in their division’s category to advance to the state competition. Once at state, OM teams have to win either first, second or third place to advance to the world competition. Competing at the World Finals gives students the opportunity to showcase their skills and talents on a global stage. It also helps to foster a sense of teamwork and collaboration among students from different backgrounds and cultures. 

In 2010, PS Parent, Rani Shea (Emma ‘13) brought the idea of starting an OM team to the School. The idea of students exercising their creativity and problem-solving skills with engineering, math, science, art, history, and language arts was enthusiastically embraced. OM was a natural extension to the School’s philosophy of learning: engaging teachers and students with valuable opportunities to present solutions to problems using a variety of media and methods. Following the start of OM, the School launched a new Lower School specialist class called Think. Make.Talk in 2016. More than just a catchy name, Think.Make.Talk is a highly interactive class that develops student ability to plan and manage tasks, organize and discuss ideas, set and achieve goals, identify and solve problems which in turn cultivates passion and develops collaboration and conceptual reasoning skills. The PS Think. Make.Talk paradigm is the School’s  authentic and research-based approach to challenge students to think deeply about problems, ideas, projects, and research; creatively make real-world applications that flow out of that thinking; and talk to members of the community about what they’ve made and how to make it even better. In a nutshell, this is also what Odyssey of the Mind asks of its competitors. 

Over the past 12 years, how has Odyssey of the Mind evolved at the School?  Since 2010, Presbyterian School has had 13 OM teams advance all the way to the World Finals with one team winning as high as 3rd place in World. In any given year, PS students going to World Finals will join over 800 teams with approximately 6,000 student competitors from the United States and all over the world including Canada, Singapore, India, Mexico, Poland, South Korea, Togo, China, Kazakhstan, and more! 

Currently, Odyssey of the Mind is the School’s most popular extracurricular activity with over 115 students participating. In the 2023-24 school year, 17 teams ranging from 2nd-7th grades joined OM. Not only is this the highest number of teams Presbyterian School has ever had to participate in OM, but it is also the greatest number of teams any school in Houston has sent to competition.  Moreover, Presbyterian School is currently the only Houston private school to support an Odyssey of the Mind program.  

This year seven out of the 16 teams that participated at the OM regional competition advanced to compete at the state competition, and two teams earned spots to compete at the World Finals in May 2023.  “The enthusiasm and positivity is evident. With a newfound passion after a  two-year COVID hiatus, our students are ready to participate, share their creative ideas and have fun again.” Kirkconnell credits much of the success of the OM teams to the School’s Think.Make.Talk. program which fosters creative thinking.

The School is firm in its commitment to divergent thinking–encouraging students to engage with and understand the changing world around them and the talents within them. “Taking risks, working collaboratively, and creating unique responses is what we strive to do…truly Think. Make, Talk. at its finest!” said Kirkconnell. “Everyone who works with our students contributes to their success. PS provides a unique experience for our students beginning in Early Childhood and continuing to nurture and guide students through the eighth grade. The ripple effect and impact of our work is certainly evident as we watch our students compete at OM.” We are so proud of all our teams and the countless hours of creating, engineering, preparation, collaboration, and perseverance that has been put forth outside of school. 

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Gail Kirkconnell

Gail Kirkconnell