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Learning how to think outside the box

Brandon McCoy, 8, said he likes to "build contraptions."

"I like to construct things and find other ways to do things," McCoy said.

So Wednesday's activities at Lakeview Fundamental Elementary School were perfect for the third-grader, who was working with his team to solve challenging puzzles.

The program is called HOPS, short for Hands-On Problem Solving, and was created in 2000 by retired educator Lynne Locke and her husband, Dan, of Minneola, near Orlando. The couple travel across the state presenting team-building activities for students and faculties.

The activities require strict adherence to the directions, logic skills and a healthy dose of teamwork. The Lockes create the games, which are geared toward Grades 3 through 8.

"Our main goals are to get them to read the directions carefully and follow them precisely and work on their team-building skills," Mrs. Locke said.

For the game "Psychedel-Amazing," students had to cooperate to move small objects through a maze without using their hands. In another game, students worked together to solve math problems and plot points on a graph to put together a puzzle of nuts and bolts.

The lessons have real world implications, Mrs. Locke said.

"In real life, you don't have enough time, you don't have enough stuff to do what you have to do," she said.

The activities are designed to teach kids to find alternative solutions and be flexible when things don't go their way.

Mikaela Bowman, 9, said HOPS made her team use their brains.

"It was really fun but it was also challenging," she said.

The presentation was funded by part of a $9,000 Bank of America Incubator Grant awarded to teacher Beth Griffin.

The grants are awarded annually through the Pinellas Education Foundation to previous Teach for Excellence grant winners, allowing teachers to expand the scope of their original projects.

Griffin said she hoped the kids learned "that they are successful team-builders, that they see their peers in a different light ... and (learn) that frustration is an okay thing."