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Published April 14th, 2021
Wagner Ranch fifth-graders place first in creative competition
From left: Maya Elkind, Sadie Elkind, Raunav Agarwal, Bryce Gordon, Davis Gordon, Brian Volk, Bryce Batiuchok. Photo provided

The Fifth Grade Team at Wagner Ranch Elementary in Orinda rose to the challenge amidst a pandemic year and placed first in their division at the Odyssey of the Mind SF Bay Regional Competition held in a virtual tournament on Feb. 27. Odyssey of the Mind is a world-renowned program where students learn how to problem solve, create, design, and think outside of the box as a team.
Apart from developing a solution to a long-term problem over several months, the team learned spontaneous problem-solving techniques to "think on their feet." Their performance, which centered around team-developed technical effects, portrayed a character that must escape a virtual world and defeat a nefarious character. One team member said, "I have learned a lot of hands-on skills through this problem solving competition. The process of building the solution teaches us what works, what doesn't and how to find alternative solutions. We also have to work within a budget which encourages us to utilize recycled materials. This creates unique looking structures."
The team's coach, Leslie Volk (who also heads the Innovation Lab at Wagner Ranch), has been leading members Raunav Agarwal, Bryce Batiuchok, Maya Elkind, Sadie Elkind, Bryce Gordon, Davis Gordon and Brian Volk for the past three years. "I'm in awe of how this team has grown as creative thinkers, problem solvers, and teammates that support each other to overcome challenges. Odyssey has been a wonderful experience for me as a coach and parent to see the group develop strong friendships while working towards a goal. One of the best parts about Odyssey is that the kids take full ownership over their project and come up with everything on their own."
Odyssey of the Mind was born out of an industrial design class by founder Dr. C. Samuel Micklus in 1978 who challenged his students to solve unique problems with creative solutions. The professor's classroom challenges spread amongst other schools and is now a worldwide competition. "We love Odyssey of the Mind because it allows you to be creative while working with friends on a hands-on project and you're able to compete with other schools," said the OMers (a nickname used for Odyssey of the Mind participants). For many schools, the Odyssey of the Mind program offers a creative outlet that students may not acquire as part of the general education curriculum.
These Wagner Ranch OMers are looking forward to the NorCal State competition and hope to advance to the World finals in June 2021. For more information on how to start your Odyssey journey visit www.odysseyofthemind.com. Local team and contact information can also be found on this website.

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