Y’all. I feel like I have been away from the blog for so long. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, my posts and projects have been sporadic over the last few months. Tomorrow, I’m jumping right back in with plenty of DIY and home decor goodness to make up for it! But until then, I am dying to update you on what’s been going on in our world.
For the past three years, Tom and I have managed a team (and sometimes more than one team) of elementary school students in a program called Destination Imagination, or DI for short. DI is a program that teaches kids how to use collaborative problem solving and creative thinking skills to address open-ended challenges. The teams present their solutions in tournaments around the world. Kids from Kindergarten through University can participate, and I participated myself when I was in high school. But now as team managers, Tom and I can’t offer suggestions or help to the kids, so the solutions that they showcase are completely theirs and theirs alone. Sometimes, their solutions excite us, and other times, they make us absolutely crazy.
The first two years, our teams struggled in finding the sweet spot in collaboration. There were arguments and struggles, and they never really placed higher than middle of the pack in our Regional tournament. These were super creative kids, but they just couldn’t figure out a way to work together without turmoil. Tom and I were disappointed, because we knew that they had it in them, and we hoped that they would at least be able to look back on DI later in life and remember some of the problem solving skills that we worked on. Tom always said that if he helped instill that in just one kid, all of the time and resources we put into the teams would be well worth it. He’s definitely right about that.
This year, we decided that we’d give it one more try. I don’t know if it was fate or what, but we ended up with a smaller team than usual (5 instead of 7), with only 3 of the team members having participated in DI before. But after our first few meetings, we knew that this team was going to be different.
The Sugar Rush Monkeys, as they decided to call themselves, selected Lose to Win as their Central Challenge from the DI program. To solve the challenge, the team had to design and build a lightweight structure out of specified materials that would support weight while parts of it were removed, design and build a device that enabled them to safely remove parts of the structure, tell a story about how something is transformed and revealed to be something completely different, create a prop or set piece that transforms as parts of it are removed during the presentation, and create two elements in the presentation that show off their interests, skills and talents. They also had to prepare to solve an unknown problem that they were given on the spot on the day of the tournament (this is called an Instant Challenge).
In other words, DI requires that these kids become engineers, builders, researchers, creative thinkers, actors, artists, costumers, scriptwriters, and storytellers – all at 8, 9 and 10 years old in our case. Oh, and they had to do all of this in our garage after school and on weekends, because DI is not a class on our campus like it is in other schools.
Tom and I knew from the moment this team got together in early November that they were different. Only two of them came onto the team as friends, but they developed a bond (across grade levels even) in a matter of hours. Together, they were able to collaborate quickly and really come up with creative solutions to their Central Challenge. They were also able to solve Instant Challenges without a lot of arguing and infighting. As we worked with them over the school year, they were able to separate their personal selves from their ideas so as not to be “hurt” when their suggestion wasn’t the one that the team went with. That is an incredible trait in a group of 3rd, 4th and 5th graders! DI is really about the journey, so these kids were huge winners before we even went up against other teams. We were amazed at what we were seeing.
The Sugar Rush Monkeys went into their Regional tournament in March and really performed well. We were so proud of them! We knew that our region (the largest in Texas) is incredibly competitive, and we hoped they’d at least place in the top 6 so that one of our DI teams could finally earn a medal. At the awards ceremony, they announced places 6th through 2nd, and Tom and I got a little depressed that our names weren’t called. “Man, the other teams must have really brought it this year,” we thought. But when they announced 1st, we all stared at each other for a few moments before it sunk in. The Sugar Rush Monkeys won first place (out of 20 teams), which advanced them to the State tournament!
What happened at the State tournament? Well, a lot! I’m going to have to leave you hanging on this story since this post is already so long. I can’t wait to tell you more about these kids and how they have changed over the course of the school year. And of course, I can’t wait to tell you why I think YOU and your child needs to get involved in this fantastic program.
Are you familiar with Destination Imagination (or a similar program called Odyssey of the Mind)? Are your kids involved? Tell me all about it!