Destination Imagination

Guys (and also girls)! Get excited about this!

Let me tell you a quick story.

When I was in elementary school, I was very fortunate to have been selected to participate in a creative problem solving team challenge. I was a third grader, and the only boy selected for the “junior” team. My teammates and I created a skit about a team of teenage detectives who solved the “mystery of the haunted library.” We also created a mechanical messaging system to communicate with each other using some insulated tubing and those old happy meal poke-balls.

I am sure it was adorable.

But more than that, it started me down a eight year journey into the world of Destination Imagination.

Destination Imagination Inc. is an educational nonprofit that offers a series of “challenges” to teams of up to seven students all of which must be completed without the aid of an adult. One teacher or parent acts as a “Manager,” who can be used as a resource, but cannot tell the participants how to solve their “challenge.”

Every year, Destination Imagination (or “DI” to those in the know) creates seven of these challenges, which can vary wildly in theme and scope. However, the challenges fit within one of seven categories: a Technical challenge, in which students might create a vehicle or robot; a Scientific challenge, in which students research and demonstrate a scientific concept such as camouflage; a Structural challenge, in which students engineer a load-bearing structure of some kind; a Fine Arts challenge, in which students recreate a form or literature or art in their skit. Then there is the Improvisational challenge, which is my personal favorite, and also the one my team eventually went to Global Finals for. There is also a public service challenge, and a “rising stars” challenge – that third grade skit I was part of was one of those.

Students who are part of DI prepare for these challenges throughout the year, then compete in Regional, State, and potentially Global competitions. When they go to these competitions, in addition to presenting their solutions to their challenge, they also encounter of of DI’s most infamous components: the Instant Challenge.

The Instant Challenge is what I like to think of as a method for leveling the playing field. While it can be hard to police managers from interfering with the main challenge, there is no opportunity (or time) for such things at the Instant Challenge. Here, students arrive, listen to the rules, and have five minutes to build a structure out of mailing labels and paper clips. Or maybe they have seven minutes to transport an action figure from point A to point B without touching it. Whatever the specifics, there is a small amount of time and a limited list of available materials.

These two things combine into a total score for the team. If they get a higher score than other teams, they progress to the next level of competition.

I think it is clear that this kind of thing could be very valuable for students. In a time when schools are told to focus on so-called STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) skills, DI asks if it wouldn’t be better to add an Art, making that acronym “STEAM.” As an artist, writer, and historian, I couldn’t agree more. I believe that even engineers benefit from art and history classes, just as artists and writers benefit from math and science.

I can honestly say that Destination Imagination helped make me who I am today. I credit it with my active imagination, and my ability to creatively solve problems. People who do DI learn quickly the importance of “thinking outside the box;” as symbolized by their logo:

Destination_Imagination_Logo Further, the opportunity to attend Global Finals was one of the really formative experiences of my life. It costs a pretty penny, but the fact is that it exposes those fortunate enough to teams from all around the world, from Korea to Brazil to deepest darkest Maine. DI pin trading abounds here, and I have held on to the pins I bartered over through moves across oceans.

The reason I am talking about DI now, of all times, is that I have realized the position I will be in in the next year: the position to potentially bring DI to a new school. I could create a class, or even run it as an extracurricular activity. Either way, the prospect excites me.

Here is DI’s Website.

Here is the list of Challenges.

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