They were huddled in a hallway at Grandview High School, oblivious to the noise and crowds around them, intently focused on the problem at hand: to build a freestanding structure out of six straws, a handful of toothpicks and a sheet of mailing labels in a matter of minutes.
With concentration and collaboration, the group of seven middle school girls succeeded in building a two-foot tower in the allotted time. That engineering challenge was just a warm-up for the group, which was preparing to compete in the Cherry Creek Schools Destination Imagination Regional Tournament, held at Grandview on March 19.
Destination Imagination is a fun, hands-on system of learning that fosters students’ creativity, courage and curiosity through open-ended academic challenges in the fields of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), fine arts and service learning. Participants learn patience, flexibility, persistence, ethics, respect for others and their ideas and respect for the collaborative problem solving process.
“DI is the largest creativity program in the world,” said Pearl Schwartz, DI regional director for Cherry Creek Schools. “The challenges are designed to teach kids how to think, not what to think.”
Students are encouraged to look for unusual ways to solve problems and are required to develop and demonstrate their solutions on their own. Team parents provide moral support, but little else. The CCSD DI tournament is the largest regional tournament in the state, involving more than 700 elementary, middle and high school students on 144 teams.
Those teams compete in a variety of instant or spontaneous challenges as well as academic challenges that require several months of preparation. The Liberty team participated in the technical challenge called “Pace of Change,” which required them to:
• Design and build a vehicle able to carry at least one team member across the presentation site multiple times.
• Change the vehicle propulsion system and the vehicle movement method during the presentation.
• Create and present a story about change. The story will include a change in a character.
The Liberty team created a “walking machine’ in the form giant crab, which they made out of two-by-fours and other materials.
“We learned a lot about gears, pulleys, welding and power tools,” said team member Jori O’Grady.
But it wasn’t an easy process, which explains their team name – “There’s a fiasco in our presence and it’s very crabby.” The team spent about ten hours a week working on their project.
“It’s been a huge commitment for them,” said team parent Kevin Roethe. “The kids were strangers at first, but now they’re a well-oiled team. They’ve learned a lot of problem-solving skills. It’s really about working together as a team.”
Roethe is the parent volunteer for his middle school daughter’s team while his wife, Carrie, volunteers with their younger daughter’s elementary school team.
“We’ve become a DI family,” he said. “It’s an awesome program.”
Parent Tisha Smith agrees. Her daughter Lily is on the Canyon Creek Elementary team called the “Bloppy Rainbow Monsters.”
“I love to see the kids work together to come up with their own ideas,” Smith said. “They get to use their own skills. I absolutely love this program.”
And so do the kids, but for reasons more focused on fun and friendship than on 21st century skills.
“It’s fun to get to have a team,” said Kira Heidebrecht, a member of the Liberty “Fiasco” team.
The “Fiasco” team is one of 48 teams from Cherry Creek Schools that placed first, second or third in their category and earned the opportunity to compete in the Colorado DI Tournament on April 9 at the Auraria Campus in downtown Denver. (Complete results of the CCSD Regional DI Tournament are available here.) Teams that place in the top three at state get to go on to the DI Global Finals May 25-28 at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.