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“We can’t use that idea.” – The In-and-Out of Outside Assistance

Well-trained teams will push-back to their parents and coaches when they try to offer help solving the Long-term problem or creating the skit.

One of the biggest difference between Odyssey of the Mind and other programs for children is a commitment to the “No Outside Assistance” rule. Odyssey requires that “team members must design and create ALL aspects of their problem solution” without any help from coaches, parents, friends, store employees or others; this includes both physical assistance and intellectual help such as ideas and tips for solving problems that arise.

This rule is essential for students to fully benefit from Odyssey because:

  1. It levels the playing field. When the students do all of the work, it makes the competition fair. Kids compete against kids, not against kids and their parents or the Home Depot carpenters.
  2. Children learn by doing. They are active learners who manipulate materials in order to understand. The process of ‘doing’ is often the most important part, not the product. The struggle to figure out a solution is critical to learning in Odyssey.
  3. Every failure adds to the final solution. Think about what the students learn when they persevere and find a way to make that device work. Their first solution may not work, but if an adult helps, it deprives the team of finding an inventive idea that will.
  4. The point of participating in the program is to develop creative problem-solving skills that will last a lifetime. It is not necessarily to win in this year’s tournament.

So, what exactly is “Outside Assistance”? Anything that ends up in the performance or on stage at the tournament that is not the work of the team members is considered to be OA and can result in penalty points to the team.

Your job is to encourage the team to figure out how they can solve the problem as creatively as possible, even if they come up with a solution that is not what you think would be best. Coaches should stimulate their thinking, not influence it. The coach’s job also includes making sure parents and team members understand what constitutes Outside Assistance.

“Outside Assistance” can best be defined through examples.

• If the team wants to use an item that is too dangerous, it is not OK for the Home Depot employee to cut the wood for them or a parent to use the hot glue gun. Team members either need to learn to use the tool safely or find another way to build their prop.

• If a team needs a costume, adults can teach them how to sew but the team alone must sew the costume used in the performance.

• If they are running short on time, they may not recruit help (even if they tell the person exactly what they want and how it should look). The team must either allow the project to go unfinished or find another way to finish.

• If the information the team needs can be found in a book, you can direct them to the book. But if they ask for information that is specific to the problem solution, that is outside assistance.

What parents can do: What parents cannot do:
  • Transport the team to buy things
  • Suggest what to buy
  • Open attics, closets, basements for “garage sale value” materials
  • Offer specific items that seem appropriate to the problem or solution
  • Help move props into the building and staging area for the tournament
  • Repair props if they break during transport
  • Teach the team members a skill if the team asks, such as: sewing, woodworking, calligraphy, art, electronics, engineering, welding, and so on
  • Suggest to the team which skills to use to solve a problem
  • Suggest to the team which skills would result in a better looking or better functioning solution
  • Sew, paint, or do anything else to contribute to the team’s problem solution
  • Dress a team member or apply make-up on tournament day
  • Help the team learn to solve spontaneous problem solving.
    • Bring spontaneous problem supplies
    • Lead practice sessions
    • Do spontaneous exercises with the team (Yes! You can do this! Adult ideas during spontaneous can help team members learn new ways of looking at problems)
  • Go into the Spontaneous Competition itself. On tournament day, only the team members are permitted into the competition room (not even the coach is permitted to watch).
  • Hold a camera during dress rehearsal
  • Tell the team what they liked or didn’t like about the performance during the dress rehearsal.

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