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by Beverly Stewart, M.Ed.

Outside the box thinking. It’s a popular catch phrase. But, what does it mean really?

According to Wikipedia, “Thinking outside the box… is a metaphor that means to think differently, unconventionally, or from a new perspective.”

The result of learning to think beyond the conventional viewpoint results in truly inventive solutions to all types of problems. From an educational perspective, when students learn to think innovatively from a young age, their future is limitless!

Learning to think outside the box should never become a chore or relegated to the kids’ “To Do List,” however. Creativity should be fun!

Locally, two wonderful organizations are experts in fostering out of the box thinking within that fun atmosphere. FIRST Robotics and Odyssey of the Mind combine out of the box thinking skills, teamwork and spirited competition to produce talented, creative and forward-thinking kids.

The FIRST Organization

The FIRST Organization was founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway Personal Transporter, just one of his many ground-breaking inventions. In creating FIRST, Kamen hoped to inspire young people by engaging them in programs that build science, engineering and technology skills — and of course, inspire innovation.

In the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), high school students are challenged to raise funds, design a team “brand,” hone teamwork skills, plus, build and program a robot to perform prescribed tasks in a thrilling competition!

John Larock, Team Coordinator for Nationwide’s FIRST Robotics Team #365, Miracle Workerz, became involved with the FIRST organization, starting the team in 1999, and has been consistently involved for 14 years.

“FIRST Robotics provides a challenge each year where high school students work with engineers to design and build an industrial-strength robot for a sports competition,” explains Larock.  “This environment forces teams to truly think out-of-the-box in order to develop solutions to the game’s challenge.  One example is how a team used a powerful electromagnet to “shoot” an exercise ball over a 12-foot high bar!”

For teens interested in exploring more about the world of science and engineering, FIRST provides a unique opportunity to apply their creativity to solve real problems.

Odyssey of the Mind

Another example of an organization that gets kids thinking creatively is Odyssey of the Mind, co-founded by Dr. C. Samuel Micklus and Dr. Theodore Gourley.  In 1978 the pair created Odyssey, a unique program that provides creative problem-solving opportunities for kindergarten through college-age students.

Odyssey allows kids to let their creativity run wild as they work in teams to solve problems running the gamut — from building mechanical devices to presenting a dramatic interpretation of literary classics.

Eight-year veteran Odyssey Coach, Julie Edmiston, knows first-hand the myriad benefits that children receive from a creative, problem-solving program like Odyssey.

“I’ve seen Odyssey of the Mind become such an influence in the kids’ lives…  Not only are they trying to figure out scripts, scenes, contraptions, props and staging, but they are figuring it out all by themselves,” says Edmiston.

In the Odyssey program, “Coaches” are simply volunteers who keep the kids on track with the specific tasks that need to be completed, handle scheduling and provide a meeting space.  The kids themselves are the ones who brainstorm ideas, create scripts, props, and devices, and ultimately produce a solution to their assigned problem. Any outside influence from the Coaches or other adults is strictly forbidden.

“I’ve seen kids grow and become leaders, thinkers, mediators, builders and writers in more ways than one through the process, says Edmiston.

For more information about these amazing programs, visit usfirst.org and odysseyofthemind.com. Here’s to the next generation of inventive thinkers!

This article first appeared in the February 2013 issue of the Hockessin Community News.

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