A Word on Problem 4 – Transcript
3:00: Time Management
4:09: Recommendations for Coaches
12:31: Structure Requirements
13:50: Getting Balsa Wood
16:19: Balsa Wood Specifications, Measuring, Cutting and Shaping
21:09: Designing and Testing
26:20: Outside Assistance
Hi, I’m Jonathan Drogan. I am the NorCal and San Francisco Bay Region Problem Captain for Problem #4, structure problem. So first, how did I get involved in Odyssey of the Mind? In 1979 when Dr. Sam developed the program, and my mother was a seventh and ninth-grade math teacher, and she got involved on the same day that this program started and continued to be involved until she passed away 29 years later. In her honor, I continued her work and am now in my 13th year on Problem #4.
So, let me start with a couple of safety items that I’d like to talk about. You’re probably going to have meetings with your team. Let’s make sure that you follow CDC recommendations in regard to COVID-19. You want to keep your team safe, your kids safe, your family safe and all your loved ones safe, because, uh, we’re in a difficult time, and it’s the right thing to do. So please do so. All right.
I want to make a couple of comments about actual coaching. Remember, you are a coach, you’re not a babysitter. So, when you have meetings, your parents should be timely in getting their children to the site and picking them up.
In previous years, meetings were after school and usually, snacks were ready because the kids had been in school all day and they needed some refreshments, drinks, so on and so forth. It is highly recommended that you have snacks and drinks available for the kids during their sessions. And this should be divided up among all the team members so that not one person is responsible. It should just change over time and time on a rotating basis as to who will supply the snacks and the drinks for the day. Okay. So let’s get to the problem itself.
In previous years during the coaches’ trainings that I held generally, the way I did coaches’ training was that I read the Problem, you know, we just took the Problem — was it an example of the problem? Right? We took the Problem, and we just read through it completely from start to finish. And I answered questions from many people who were at the trainings about what was going on. However, National has made it known that we are not to teach the actual Problem from the, from the year. We are to actually just teach about the Problem. Although I will mention a few things involved in this Problem today, but mostly it will be general information.
3:00: Time Management
So, with that said, let’s talk about time management. Okay. It’s really important that you plan out well — not you, not you as the coach — but that your team members plan out what they’re going to do, how they’re going to do it, and how they’re going to get it done.
Time management is important. You only have a specific period of time every week to work on the Problem together. And so, you need to understand what you need to accomplish during period of time.
Additionally, you need to understand time management because you only have a specific period of time to do the performance, and you want to make sure that everything fits within that timeframe. Other problems have a similar timeframe as Problem #4, but you can go over — and you will get some penalty points for that — but you might earn more regular points for your presentation in that case. But in Problem #4, there’s a time limit. It’s very specific.
Additionally, we are not exactly sure how we are going to be doing the testing of the structure. So, there may it be some time management in that situation also. There are two potentials, and we’ll discuss those later. And just remember that there, as I say, there’s time management associated with it.
4:09: Recommendations for Coaches
So, what do you need to be a good coach? Well, the first thing you need is a copy of the Program Guide. And that you can find it online and, and I recommend that you make a copy of it, or at least read it online, because it is long and involved, but there’s a lot of good information in there that you’ll need to know.
Second thing is, is you need a copy of the Problem, and I would recommend that you have a copy. Whoops. I’m not getting my, there it is. There’s a copy. Okay. It’s a total of, what, I think seven pages long. And you should have a copy for each and every one of your team members. Because it’s necessary for them to refer to it to understand what they need to do.
All right. Additionally, you need a testing device for testing the structure. There’s no way to build the structure and understand how much weight it will support if you don’t do testing.
So, if you go to the San Francisco Bay website, you will find a set of plans for building a crusher. And it probably, you know, once you got all the materials together and everything, if you were just mildly handy, you can probably put one through together without too much problem. And that would probably take about an hour or two hours or so to assemble a crusher.
Now you need weights also with that crusher. And usually we use Olympic weights — 5, 10, 25, 35 and 45 pound weights — to add weight to the structure until it crushes. Now that is the most difficult point because buying weights can be expensive. However, since you may have up to seven children on your team, that means there are seven sets of parents. I’ll guarantee that a number of them have weights from previously attempted health programs that are probably now just gathering dust. And if you collect them up from everybody, you’ll be okay.
So, and then you also need to understand how to submit your solution because it’s most likely that the problems that well, that we will not have an in-person tournament this year, based on COVID. Even if vaccines were approved very shortly, it will take a long time for everybody to become vaccinated and everything to open up again.
So, now we’ll come into that thing about how we’re going to test the structures themselves. In World, all the structures last year were sent in, and they used a hydraulic press to test every structure and get a rating on that. We may do that this year. One of the other possibilities is NorCal and the San Francisco Bay area region share a storage container, not a container, but a storage room in Concord, and we might set up scheduled times for teams to show up. We would accept two team members and coach to come. And we have an outdoor area by our storage unit, and we can test the structures there. And we would set up a specific time for you to come have it checked, weighed in, tested and then leave. And then we bring another group in, on a proper schedule.
7:39: Reading the Problem
Let’s get started in general about the Problem. So, the first thing you have to do as a coach is you need to read this, and your team members need to read this. And not just once. I recommend in the beginning, just read through it fast, but then right after that, read it two, read it three times in the very beginning.
And I also recommend that the start of every session you read it and your team members read it because you will find something new in it every time that helps you understand the Problem and get better at what you’re doing.
So, let’s talk about it. Section A on page one in the Problem talks about the general description of the Problem, describes the trapping and other things and the basis of the Problem. So that’s kind of important to understand that, and this year is a unique one. But again, read it and you’ll be okay.
Now let’s go through Sections B1 through B4 are the general requirements for Problem that relate to time constraints, costs, and clarifications. So, you have eight minutes for the Problem start to finish. So, you start eight minutes later, it’s over. And that’s it.
In general, when we have live performances, the structure crushing occurs during that eight-minute time. And at the end of eight minutes, if the structure has not been crushed, that’s it, that’s the maximum weight. This year, you could probably crush a structure during your performance that you are going to video and send in. But you’ll also have to have another structure that will either be sent into us, or you will come to our location for testing. And that one will be the official weight bearing numbers.
So, cost, I believe, is $135 this year.
And then clarifications. So, a lot of times teams come up with a unique solution, and you have to be sure that that unique solution meets all the requirements of the Problem and doesn’t run afoul of any of the constraints.
So, when you have a question regarding the Problem, you need to send in a clarification to National. Now you could email me, but I can’t answer because my answer might be different than what National would say is the right answer. So, I’d say submit clarifications often and early, so that if you have a specific solution, you know very early on whether that’s acceptable or not. Otherwise, you’d be wasting time working on something that doesn’t meet the requirements.
So, the next thing is sections B5, B10 through 14 on pages, one, two and three, which give a lot more detail regarding the requirements for presenting the Problem to the judges. So, we will have judges watching your videos and they will, of course, score your team regarding that. So, it’s important to think about camera angles and how you are going to present your performance so that the judges can actually witness what they’re supposed to see.
So, you’ll need to spend a lot of time on that. Again, that’s a time management thing and also determining where your camera angles are and other things.
Next is Style. Style is described in Section F on page 6. Remember that there’s some paperwork associated with Style that will have to be submitted, and there are five elements of Style. Well, there are four elements of Style, and then the fifth is how they all combine together.
Now, two of those four elements of Style are considered a free choice of the team. When you fill out the paperwork, don’t write “free choice of the team.” Because, I’ll tell you every year we get a couple sets of paperwork where Style element 3 and Style element 4 just says, “free choice of team.” The judges need to understand what that style element is so they can look for it, and they can then score it.
Now you have to remember that most Style elements, especially those, are subjective scoring. Usually, a Style element scores 1 to 5 or 1 to 10, and that’s a subjective scoring. So, depending upon how good the judges think it is, it can get anywhere from 1 to 10, or zero to 10, depending upon what your team has done.
12:31: Structure Requirements
So, then sections B7 and B8 deal with the requirements of the actual structure. And let’s talk about that a tiny bit. In that, there are weights and dimensions and about the balsa wood. So, regarding weights and dimensions, all structures this year (2021) cannot weigh more than 15 grams. Additionally, they have to be a minimum of eight inches in height. Now they can be under height by an eighth of an inch, but you will lose points for that in penalties. And if it’s more than an eighth of an inch under eight inches, it’ll get a Weight Held score of zero.
Now, if you get a Weight Held score of zero, your probability of winning the problem pretty much drops to zero. It’s unlikely. You could come in for a second or third in that case.
And then additionally, you have to be able to pass a two-inch diameter pipe through the center of the structure. (2021) So, these are the requirements for weights and dimensions. They’re rather important. Remember the weight of the structure can be affected by humidity and other factors. So, balsa wood is rather porous and will absorb water. So, if you’re going to end up shipping it into us, remember those issues.
13:50: Getting Balsa Wood
And let’s talk about balsa wood. Where do you get it?
You essentially have three alternatives for getting balsa wood. The first is to buy it through Odyssey of the Mind. And when you get it from Odyssey of the Mind, it will be the correct type of balsa wood. It will be the correct cross-sectional area, and it will come in the 36-inch lengths, which is what you’re supposed to get it in.
The second way you can get it is you can buy it online through Amazon. There’s another place called, I believe, Midwest Balsa. And, and there are different grades of balsa that you can buy. Some grades are heavier than others, but be very careful that you get balsa wood, not Asian balsa wood because Asian balsa wood is stronger, has more tensile strength. And when we see the structure, we’ll recognize Asian balsa wood, which isn’t really a balsa wood.
There is a problem with Asian balsa wood, and that it is heavier. So, you will be able to use less balsa wood to make your structure, and therefore it might not work.
The other place you can get balsa wood is at hobby shops. I want you to be very careful. When you go to the hobby shop, your team members must pick out the balsa wood. You can’t go to the hobby shop and buy it for them because that would be considered Outside Assistance. It’s sort of the same thing online. The kids have to decide what grade they want to use. And there are articles on the web that talk about different grades of balsa wood and what they mean. So, the kids have to say, that’s the balsa wood we want, and you can pay for it, order it online for them, but they have to pick it out.
The one other thing to be careful about when you are in the hobby shop is that basswood is another kind of wood that’s sold in the same dimensions as balsa wood. And basswood is a much higher tensile strength than balsa wood. And if you use it, we know what basswood looks like. And that would then make your structure qualified for a zero Weight Held score.
Now you need to be careful if you go to a hobby shop because there are different bins and a lot of times like anywhere else in any other store, things get mixed up from bin to bin. So just because you’re pulling wood out of the balsa of wood bin does not mean that it’s balsa wood. I would recommend that you have your team members talk to an employee at the hobby shop who can help them determine what is balsa wood and what is basswood.
16:19: Balsa Wood Specifications, Measuring, Cutting and Shaping
All the balsa wood needs to be one-eighth by one-eighth cross-section and has to come in 36-inch lengths. The only end cuts that can be made by somebody other than your team members are the two end cuts originally made on a 36-inch-long piece of balsa wood.
Additionally, you can only reduce the cross-sectional area of the balsa wood in areas where you’re going to make joints. So, the majority of the piece of balsa wood still needs to remain at the one-eighth by one-eighth size. Now there are manufacturing tolerances where if you buy your balsa wood other than Odyssey of the Mind, it might not be one eighth by one-eighth, and it might actually exceed or be smaller in cross-sectional area than is allowable according to the Program Guide instructions. So, you need to be careful about that and make sure you measure it. If you buy it from Odyssey of the mind, no problems.
Cutting and Shaping
So the next thing is, is cutting and shaping. You, as the coach cannot cut anything. You cannot help them make the structure. You cannot assist them in any way, shape or form in producing the structure. That is Outside Assistance. There are many different ways to cut balsa wood. You can cut it with scissors, you can cut it with a razor. You can cut it with a, what they call a razor saw. There are other saws — there are many ways to cut it, even power tools. However, your team members must make the cuts.
Now, if they want to learn how to use a specific power tool, you can teach them how to do that. But they have to ask you. You can ask them questions. How are you going to do this? And they’ll say, well, we’re going to do this or that. You can ask them specific questions that may guide them to better ways to do things. You can’t tell them how to do it. You can only guide them to better ways.
So, it can be cut with saws. It can be sanded. It can be routed. There are many different ways to cut and shape balsa wood. You just need to remember that the cross-sectional area of the majority of each piece of each piece cannot be reduced very much. We expect that 90% of the length of each piece is the cross-sectional area one eighth by one eighth, and then there’s the assembly.
So how do you put this together? Usually most teams — if you read the, the instructions here, the synopsis — you’ll see that it is a balsa wood structure that can be assembled using glue cement, epoxy, but doesn’t necessarily need that.
Now, the only materials that you can use are balsa wood, glue, cement, epoxy; you can’t staple it together. They can’t use pieces of metal or anything like that. Now, many years ago, when I went to a World competition, a team of young ladies from Poland built a structure, and they assembled it with basically small round dowels of balsa wood. It had no glue in it. It was extremely creative and inventive. It didn’t help hold much weight, but really, they won an award for their inventiveness.
However, you’re going to need glue, cement, epoxy. And I recommend that you retain the packaging to identify that glue, epoxy, cement so that we can verify that it’s acceptable. Almost anything that says glue, epoxy, cement is okay.
Now you cannot use any accelerants in that epoxy unless it’s part of the, glue ,epoxy or cement — unless it’s actually in, you’re instructed to use it on the instructions on the package. And you can’t use any strength-enhancing coatings to the wood. And I wouldn’t recommend that anyway, because that’s just going to add weight to your structure. Usually doesn’t add any strength, but just weight, and you only have 15 grams to work with (2021) so you need to be careful.
Now the last one thing I want to talk about is what’s called glue strings. Each piece of balsa wood must touch another piece of balsa wood. In past years, what some teams had done was they would lay out a, take the tube of glue or epoxy, and they’d just lay out a bead of epoxy until they had a little string. And then they could attach that to two pieces of balsa wood that were far away, which would allow them to have columns that were very widely spaced.
That’s not allowed. You can’t do that. When the structure is picked up from any point and turned, either horizontally, vertically, upside down, it must retain its original shape. Uh, each of balsa wood must be touched touching another piece of balsa wood.
21:09: Designing and Testing
Let’s talk about, uh, testing of the structure. So how are you going to design? Let’s talk about designing and building the structure, so methods for determining design. You can have your team look at things that are being built or already being built: bridges, buildings, houses, anything like that will usually show how pieces of wood or steel are put together so that they reinforce each other.
Now, when it comes to learning about what a structure should look like, you can’t tell them that. You can ask them, well, how are you going to design this? What’s your method? How are you going to learn about that? And if they say, well, you know, we want to go look at some buildings, you can say, okay, fine. You can take them there, but they have to look at it. You can’t really instruct them.
They could also have discussions with designers and engineers. So, you maybe somebody’s dad or mother is an engineer and understands construction methods and reinforcing. But you can’t suggest that. The kids have to come up with that idea. And then you could bring somebody in to give them a lecture on how things are designed. Now, remember that person can’t help them actually design it. It has to be their design.
And then, you know, they can do web searches on how buildings are done. I don’t recommend looking at YouTubes of previous performances. You want these kids to develop their own ideas of what things should look like and how they should do it.
Testing the structure. You can, you’ll find that in sections B16 to B19, which is pages three and four. And then of course, we’ve talked earlier about sending the structures to us, how that’s going to happen. So, think about that in regards to time management on getting the structure in on time so that we can test it.
Section C is site set up competition pages four to five. We’re not going to have a live competition (2021) you should still read this because it tells you what the size of the area is supposed to be. Obviously, you have more space, you can use more space. There is no staging. There is no anything like that, but right, you cannot help them set up. You cannot help them put things together. That is their job. Anytime you do that, that would be considered Outside Assistance, and that is right for penalties.
Don’t forget there’s paperwork submission. You’ll find that on Section H, page seven. Make sure you get that right. In regards to paperwork, the younger teams, they can dictate to you and you can write it, but you can’t write the words. It has to be their words. And in general, what we’ve found is when younger teams’ parents write it, we can tell. It’s, it’s pretty obvious a kid wasn’t writing this, a parent was writing this. So, we’re going to understand that we’re going to know.
And then understanding when the structure is considered crushed. So, in other words, if, if your kids are testing the structure, you look in section C13 on page five. That’ll tell you when we consider the weights at their maximum allowable.
So let’s talk about scoring for a moment, a total of 200 points for scoring. There’s 100 points for weight held. And of course, that is basically the highest weight holding structure will get the hundred points. And then everything under that is a percentage of points based on the highest weight held.
Then there’s 100 points for performance. Some of those performance items are objective, and some of them are subjective. Objective is you did it, or you didn’t do it. So, you get these points or you don’t get those points.
Subjective is something associated with a performance and determining how interesting or inventive the performance is, determines how many points you get. It is highly unlikely that any team will get the maximum amount of subjective points, because we have to have a range to do it in. I can’t give — the first team comes in, everybody goes, wow, that’s great. And we give them the maximum subjective points.
What happens if the next team comes in and they’re even better? We are out of high-level points. So, uh, just understand that you’re probably not going to get perfect scores on subjective scoring.
And then there are all the penalties. So, the penalties you’ll see right after the scoring section. You need to read through that. That’s kind of important. And one of the problems that you’re going to have is normally when we have a competition and we award a penalty, you can come and talk to us about the penalty right then and there. We won’t have that situation this time (2021), although you’ll see the penalties and I’m sure some method will, we’ll come up with some sort of method to discuss those penalties and make sure everybody’s you happy.
26:20: Outside Assistance
And then we have the Outside Assistance. So, be very careful, right? This is a learning experience for your kids. The goal of the program is for them to become inventive people who can figure out solutions on their own and develop those skills, which we are very short on, I believe in this country. So, you assisting them outside defeats the purpose of the program.
The purpose of the program is to help develop critical-thinking people, right? If you give them the solution, if you help them do the solution, you’re not doing them any service. And in general, well, when we talk to the kids, we’ll know.
The last thing I want to talk about safety just for a moment. When you’re doing weight testing, you’re putting weight on the structure, be careful, weights are heavy. We have had, mostly on my judges, broken toes and other things like that from weights being dropped.
Additionally, when these structures break, when they have a lot of weight on them, parts can fly quite far. And they have some sharp edges. So, you need to be careful. Your kids should always have close-toed shoes on when they’re working with weights. They should never get their head below the level of the crusher board when there’s weight on the crusher board and you’re testing the structure.
And the last thing I want to say is just be very safe in regards to COVID-19 with your kids and your team members, because they’re our future. And we need them to be around here and be good, be okay. So again, be safe with your family. Be safe with your kids. Be safe with other kids, other families, friends loved ones. Take good care of yourself.
I hope I’ve helped you in some way today. And that’s all I’ve got. So, if all goes well, we’ll see you live at the storage unit that we have for testing, or at least a couple of your team members and the coach. With that have a good day, and have a lot of fun. Thanks.