Sunday, November 22, 2009

Selecting the Challenge

There are two methods to select the Team Challenge. The team (kids) selects the challenge with the coaches facilitating the process or the coach picks a challenge. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. The first year I coached, we let the team select the problem. Subsequent years I/coaches selected the problem.

I have been selecting the problem for the team for these reasons:

1) We get organized and have our first meeting in early December which results in about 10 meetings before the first tournament. Selecting the problem can use up several of those scarce meeting slots. I like the team to be prepared and relaxed at the tournament. Giving the team as much time as possible to work on the challenge is one way to help accomplish that. Using up several of the meetings selecting a problem makes the season feel rushed and adds un-needed stress to the team.

2) Unfortunately the process of selecting the challenge leads to a feeling of "winners" and "losers" where the team members that get their problem selected win, and the team members that don't get their selection feel disappointed. Also, most of the team members don't get to work on their first choice. I don't like to start a season on this note.

3) There are plenty of opportunities for the team to work on compromising and problem resolution skills during the season. I like the team to apply their energy to the problem solution, and not to the problem selection.

This is why I like to simply select a problem that looks like there is something interesting for everyone and start to focus on the problem at the first meeting.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Instant Challenges

The Instant Challenge (or Spontaneous Problem in Odyssey terminology) is described well on the DI web site:

Instant Challenges require teams to engage in quick critical thinking. At a Tournament, a team will receive an Instant Challenge and the materials with which to solve it. The team members must think on their feet by applying appropriate skills to produce a solution in a period of just five to eight minutes. While Team Challenges build long-term problem solving and teamwork skills, Instant Challenges provide an exciting, impromptu creative experience for competing teams. By practicing Instant Challenges during the course of the season, students can increase their improvisational skills and train their minds to work quickly!

On the right hand side of the Instant Challenges web site are some examples you can view.

Two of my favorites from Odyssey are:

Build It
30 pieces of linguine
1/2 cup of mini marshmallows (or a 1 inch cube of modeling clay)
Build a structure that hangs out over the edge of a table. Give a point for every inch.

A variation of this is: Build a structure that holds a container at least 5 inches off the ground. Give a point for every weight that the raised container holds. Use nails or pennies for the weights.

Describe It
Select an object or set of objects (e.g. chop sticks) and pass them around. Each team member says, "This may look like a X, but it is really a Y." For example, the first person would say, "This may look like chop sticks, but it is really walrus tusks" and hold the chop sticks to their mouth to show walrus tusks. The next team member would say, "This may look like walrus tusks, but it is really antenna" and hold the chop sticks to the top of their head. Get it?

Finally, typing "destination imagination instant challenges" into google gives lots of sites with lots of ideas.

The first meeting

I will be sending email to my team's parents to kick off the first meeting. I still have to read the Challenges and pick a problem with my co-coach. Independent of the problem, the agenda for the first meeting will look something like this:

15 min - Introductions
20 min - Establish the rules
30 min - Read the problem
20 min - Instant Challenge (if time)
85 min - total

What do I have in mind for each of these?

Have each team member say their name, give their experience with odyssey or DI and say what they like to do (e.g. build, act, write, etc.)

Establish the rules
State your expectations. A few are: one person talks at a time, this means do not talk if the coach is talking; treat each other with respect; conduct the meetings as if a judge is watching and awarding (and subtracting) points for teamwork.

Follow this up by an "Instant Challenge" where you see how many rules of conduct the team can brainstorm in 3 minutes. Then have the team select a core set of rules to follow for the season. Write the rules on a large piece of paper, or type them up and hang them up in the meeting room

Read the problem

Go around the room, have each team member read a chunk (paragraph or so) of the problem and discuss with the team. It helps if the coach has read the problem first to help facilitate the discussion.

Instant Challenge (if time)
Have one or two fun instant challenges selected. There will be a separate blog post on this topic.

Monday, November 16, 2009


I have coached Odyssey of the Mind for five years and I am about to start my first year coaching a Destination Imagination team. The purpose of this blog is to be a resource for the other coaches in town. Potential topics are:
  • The first meeting
  • Picking the problem
  • A rough time line
  • Combining instant challenges with progress on the long term challenge
  • Ideas and resources for instant (spontaneous) challenges