APRIL 7, 2015

Four of the Masterman OM team members

Four of the seven Masterman OM team members (l-r. Shahla Mukhtar, Ellie McKeown, Adam Gizis, Anya Gizis)

It’s Saturday morning at DM+D, and a group of Masterman Middle-Schoolers are working fastidiously on creating a very large Monopoly game board.  That is, they’re working hard in between teasing each other in that particular way that middle-schoolers seem to do almost automatically and begging Mike Darfler, DM+D’s Program Manager, to accompany him upstairs on an errand to the mysterious upper floors of the Science Center.

These enthusiastic middle-schoolers are making final preparations for the Pennsylvania State Finals of Odyssey of the Mind (OM), a team-based competitive educational program that provides students with extra-curricular creative problem solving opportunities through experimentation, original thinking and risk taking.  On February 28th, the Masterman team took first place in the Southeast Regional Tournament to advance to States.  This Saturday, April 11th, they will compete against nine other Pennsylvania teams for a spot in the World Finals to be held at Michigan State University in mid-May.

They’ve spent months preparing for the competition, first coming to Drop In +Do on Thursday nights and then arranging to use the space on Saturday mornings.  Each team that participates in OM has their choice of five problems to solve.  The Masterman team chose a technical problem, the solution to which involved building a series of machines that are powered by rubber bands.

But the devices are just one part of the team’s entry into the competition.  In addition to building the devices, the team was required to construct a storyline around the use of the devices that included a “mysterious engineer character.”  Enter the Monopoly board.

Their story begins at a Monopoly convention where the kids encounter a disguised Mr. Monopoly, whom they accidentally offend.  To teach them a lesson, Mr. Monopoly sucks them into a game board, where they overcome a series of obstacles and complete a series of tasks involving the rubber band-powered mechanical devices, such as a catapult, dice machine and self-driving car.

Team member Adam Gizis demonstrates how the rubber band-poerwedwee

Team member Adam Gizis demonstrates how the rubber band-powered car works.

Over a dozen visits to DM+D, the team of seven students fabricated six different mechanical devices for the competition.  Coach Kristin McKeown, whose daughter, Ellie, is on the team, says that the students transformed from complete novices with hand and power tools to experts.  ”As a parent, to see the kids undergo a transformation from being scared of the tools to being totally comfortable with them is really exciting,” she says.  McKeown recounts an early visit where using the handsaw induced a lot of anxiety.  Ellie’s reaction after they left DM+D that day?  ”Can we go back next Saturday?”

In addition to learning how to use the tools, DM+D has been a lesson in learning what’s possible.  When asked what her favorite part of coming to DM+D is, Ellie responds, “It’s seeing what we could make but in a much cooler version because we had the right tools.”

Shahla Mukhtar, another team member, concurs, “It’s a really good workspace with a lot of tools and really cool technology.  You get a lot done.”

As for sibling team members Anya and Adam Gizis’ favorite part?  They’re in complete agreement—the snacks.

Who knows?  It might just be those snacks that help them bring home the state championship this Saturday!  Best of luck, Team Masterman!  We’ll be rooting for you!

Using the table saw  OM team member using the nail gun

Masterman OM team members practicing

Masterman OM team members practicing