One area in which public schools have made a lot of progress in recent years is in reaching the really bright student who isn’t interested in sports and who isn’t causing discipline problems.
One way in which they’re being reached — better yet, encouraged and motivated — is by programs like “DestinationImagiNation.” This is a national and international program of problem-solving contests for students of all ages who are bright, creative and ready to be inspired. The D.I. program stresses cooperation, teamwork and, thank goodness, “thinking outside the box.”
Volunteer teachers meet with small groups of selected students, usually seven, for several months to build on what they have learned in school by figuring out how they, the students, can meet one of five brain-teaser challenges announced by the D.I. organization. They must follow certain rules and restrictions, but for the most part, it’s up to the kids to figure out imaginative solutions.
Nine teams from Harrison County competed recently at the state level in Indianapolis, and two won, St. John’s Lutheran, mostly fifth graders, and Morgan Elementary, all fourth graders. St. John’s team manager (coach) was Brian Oberdieck, and Morgan’s coach was Kathy Crimans. Both put in hundreds of hours of preparation without pay to help the school kids take part in a marvelous opportunity to use their brains, imaginations, and senses. “DestinationImagiNation” also prepares them to deal with the unexpected because they get another challenge at the contest, and with one minute before they present their show to judges, an additional surprise factor must be incorporated into it.
Morgan took on the “It’s Your Move” challenge. They had to create a vehicle that could move an “object delivery device” across a giant game board in several directions, delivering “game pieces” in four directions.
St. John’s accepted the “Dual Dilemma,” which involved building two different kinds of load-bearing structures from balsa wood, glue and Duct tape, and incorporating all this in a skit.
Oberdieck, whose school fielded five teams, said the kids get a real work-out in creative problem-solving, but they also get into time and budget management. They learn new skills (painting, sewing, gluing), explore new academic areas (physics), and learn new vocabularies. They have to work together, sometimes compromising their own ideas for the sake of a project that represents everyone, Oberdieck said. Crimans noted that these are basic skills that will serve them well later in life.
Oberdieck made an interesting observation. The D.I. experience also helps parents, who can be supportive in many ways — like showing kids how to use workshop tools, for example. But well-meaning parents also learn how to support their children by standing back and letting the kids make their own way to discoveries — a difficult task for many parents.
Crimans said the D.I. program helps some kids find a positive, challenging niche for excess energy. She worked about 20 hours a week with her team, starting back in November. They had to find pieces for their board game project, so they searched their garages, went to garage sales and searched the Internet for peculiar needs.
Crimans said she wanted her kids to do two things for sure: have fun and try new things. Her children became “specialists in teamwork, cooperation and risk-taking.” Would that all our children could carry those concepts away from school.
She seemed pleased that they learned how to “disagree with smiles on their faces.”
When the teams get to the world competition, their stimulating experiences will continue. They’ll meet kids from 40 states and several foreign countries, probably including Russia and China. In a world fractured by ethnic conflicts and wars, this kind of intercultural exchange among young people can only be beneficial in the pursuit of world peace.
We’re thrilled that our local youngsters will get this rare opportunity to represent their schools, the D.I. teams that did not win at the state level and the rest of us in Harrison County. They have already received an education they rest of us can only admire.
Teams are raising money for the trip to the “worlds” at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville May 22 to 25. Oberdieck figures his team will need $5,000 to make the trip. No doubt both teams could use some financial support.