Fourth Grade Students Head to Odyssey of the Mind World Finals

(Scott Campbell, Photographer)
The Wagner Ranch Elementary team was excited to compete in their handmade costumes at the Nor Cal State Competition March 26, where they placed third. (L-R) Connor Volk, Anya Parikh, Coach Leslie Volk, Ryan Gibson, Drew Alameda, Elise Nguyen, Coach Maggie Wang, Stella Schmitt and Gianna Campbell.

    May we serve you a bacon pie? Sounds delicious and creative, as seven Wagner Ranch fourth graders will be serving bacon pies in the jungle at the May World Finals Odyssey of the Mind competition in Ames, Iowa.
    What do pies have to do with the jungle? As one of two parts in the competition, the team must solve a long-term problem with many requirements. The fourth graders set out in October 2021 to create an environmental climate change threat (bacon pies) and a solution. The team met for more than 80 group work hours (560 hours collectively) over five months to complete this production.
    The creative process includes brainstorming and teamwork to build the various pieces of an environmental scene. They hand painted boxes to build the jungle. As animals are an essential part of a jungle, the team created monkeys, a polar bear, penguins, a flamingo, a squirrel and a worm. They sing! While flamingos, penguins and polar bears are not usual in the jungle, it’s all part of the creative process and to meet the requirements of at least two animal characters, original songs and the use of Arm & Hammer Baking Soda.
    Students Drew Alameda, Gianna Campbell, Ryan Gibson, Elise Nguyen, Anya Parikh, Stella Schmitt and Connor Volk all worked together in the second part of the competition — spontaneous problem-solving.
    Based on scores from both parts, the team placed first in their division at San Francisco Bay Regional and third in the California state competition, where the top three continue to the World Finals.
    The team’s coaches, Leslie Volk (Wagner’s Innovation Lab leader) and Maggie Wang, both enjoyed the team’s bond.
    “There is a unique chemistry among this team, and we coach them to bring their individual strengths to collectively make the teamwork creative, think outside the box and have fun! This helps to foster the pace during the competitive elements of problem solving,” said Wang.
    Volk described the team’s unique process.
    “I like how our Odyssey team works together to compromise on a solution that is both funny and creative.”
    The final production will yield the use of baking soda, kept secret until the team competed May 26-28.
    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.
    Competitor Nguyen talked about their trial and error results.
    “I like how our team works together,” she said. “Some of our solutions surprised us, but we tried things out and learned from our experience. Seven heads are better than one!”
    To get the students to the World Finals in Iowa, the team raised approximately $18,000 to register, ship all life-size, student-built props and cover transportation and housing during the competition.
    Donations are welcome to cultivate innovation, critical thinking, diversity and inclusion and how to overcome technical and team challenges.
    Visit, under “Community Giving,” and note in the comments, “Donation for Wagner Ranch Odyssey of the Mind.”
    While the bacon pies seemed funny at first, they became the lynchpin of the production and led to the uniqueness and creativity for this project. Eastward ho, to Iowa they go!

Jill Gibson can be reached at

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