Jackson Langley grew up surrounded by the creativity competitions known as Odyssey of the Mind.
His older sister competed in OM for nine years and took part in international competitions. His older brother tried it for a while before deciding to concentrate on sports. Jackson’s mom coached teams.
Jackson, who’s now 11, says he used to watch as older sister Caroline, who’s seven years older and now in college, and her middle-school or high-school teammates prepare for and take part in OM competitions year after year.
“I used to go everywhere with Caroline,” Jackson remembers. “I remember when I was like 5 years old, just watching them do it. It was fun.”
So when Jackson was old enough, he and a group of his buddies at Sarah Smith Elementary School started their own OM team. “It’s super fun,” Jackson said.
Most of the members of the team have stuck together through three years of competition. It’s paid off.
Last month, Jackson’s team placed second in the OM state competition. Next month, they’ll join more than 800 teams from around the world competing in the 36th annual OM world tournament. The competition will be held at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich.
Odyssey of the Mind calls itself an international education program “that provides creative problem-solving opportunities” for students from kindergarten through college.
Teams of students work together to solve problems posed by OM and then compete to see which team provides the most imaginative solutions. Teams from across the U.S. and from 25 other countries take part, OM says on its website.
The Sarah Smith team started preparing for the 2015 competition about the time school started last year. They meet once or twice weekly, said Lesley Langley, Jackson’s mom and coach. A portion of each meeting usually is spent solving puzzles and problems intended to develop their creativity.
The team is all boys. “When we were walking into [one competition], one woman was like, ‘We have an all-boys team. Why don’t you have any girls?’ I don’t know. We don’t need them.”
Jackson said he and his teammates prepared an eight-minute sketch that incorporates various elements required by OM. He’s the narrator and plays a percussion instrument the team assembled from PVC pipe. The performance includes “lots of humor,” Lesley Langley said. “Humor is considered very high-level thinking.”
The team also built an elaborate set. “The challenge of it is that it has to fit in my car and it has to fit through a standard-sized [school] door and then, when they set it up, to expand,” Lesley Langley said.
They’ve presented the piece twice –at the regional competition at a school in Gwinnett County and at the state competition in Columbus.
Lesley Jackson figures she’s coached 13 or 14 different OM teams through the years. One year, she said, she coached three teams at once. “My role is to help them … figure out what they’re looking for,” she said. “I cannot come up with solutions for them, but I can ask questions.”
She says part of the value of the competition is it teaches teamwork and teaches the competitors how to solve problems. “(It gives them) the ability to see (past) a dead end, that there’s always another solution out there. You’ve just to find it.”
Besides, Jackson said, solving problems is fun.
“You get to hang with your friends and basically reveal your creativity,” he said. “And I just like it.”