An intrepid group of students from Swigert International School have been laboring since the fall on an unusual challenge: “to create a story about a disguised character who goes on a secret mission and communicates with secret codes and spy gadgets.” Another group from Lowry Elementary designed a project that addressed a community need and created a live presentation about it in fable form that included an “impact prop and a character that changes appearance.”
These might sound a little strange, but they are part of a competition organized by Destination Imagination (DI), “a volunteer-led, educational nonprofit whose purpose is to inspire and equip students in grades K–12 to become the next generation of innovators and leaders,” according to the Destination Imagination website. DI organizes tournament-style competitions, and there are over 800 teams in Colorado alone that compete in different thematic areas, many of them aligned to state or national educational standards, all requiring imagination and collaboration. The challenges must be done with no “interference” (i.e., the grown-ups can’t help!) and on a budget of $150.
Swigert’s team, “The S.U.P.E.R. Sloths,” is a scientific team, comprised of seven kids in grades two–five. The team has been working together under the management of parents Alison Auster and Syndy Lee for the last three years, learning more and more about how to rise to the challenges of DI. For this year’s challenge, the Sloths built a set, designed and created costumes, wrote a script, developed cryptography methods, and completed tasks using chemistry, engineering, music theory and computer science.
“The coolest thing has been watching them develop this amazing team dynamic over time,” said Auster. “Because one of the things that they learn at DI is how to come to consensus.” This is no easy skill, even for most adults, and Auster described how the kids on her team have learned to “sit and talk like little adults about the pros and cons of their project. They listen to each other, they respect each other’s points of view, and they are able to move forward with solutions even if they don’t get their own way,” said Auster.
Lowry Elementary is sending a team to Globals for the second time. Lowry’s Service Learning/Project Outreach team “We Can’t Agree,” managed by Laura Levin, took on water conservation as their community need. Partnering with Denver Water, the fourth-graders put together an effective community campaign to exchange inefficient faucets with water-wise aerators. Then they created a fable, “The Fox, the Vulture, and the Faucet,” that told an allegorical tale and explained their project, mostly written in verse! It also featured an “impact prop”—a pig named “Bacon Rings”—made from a large, clear water dispenser bottle that was filled with exchanged aerators. Levin estimated the yearly water savings from the project will total 100,000 gallons.
“I think DI should be mandatory,” said Levin. “When you get the kids, they have not thought for themselves. At the beginning of every year, they’re looking to me for answers, and I’m not going to give them. They’re learning to think outside the box, work outside the group, and it teaches life skills.” Levin is also gratified by the sense of ownership that the kids-only approach engenders, “It’s not very often a kid can look at some amazing project and know that they are 100 percent responsible for every detail that went into that from start to finish.”
After successes at the district level, Lowry and Swigert both placed in the top three in their divisions at the state level competitions. A middle school team from Denver School of the Arts (DSA), “Irrational Ideas,” also placed in the Fine Arts category. These teams were invited to compete in the Global Finals in Knoxville, Tenn., an honor bestowed upon fewer than 10 percent of all DI teams in the world. The competition took place May 24–27, with over 8,000 students competing. As of press time, we did not have results, but without a doubt, our local teams were excited to participate. To finance the expensive trip, both elementary teams held fundraising events as well as receiving $400 per student in support from DPS to go to the competition and, in the case of Lowry, generous support from their PTO.
Other school teams from High Tech, Denver Discovery School, DSA and Swigert also participated in the state competition. Area schools that have DI teams include Isabella Bird, Park Hill School, Ashley Elementary, McAuliffe International and Denver School of the Arts.
To find out more about how to get involved or start a team at your own school, contact the DI coordinator at your school or, to begin a program at your school, get in touch with Minda McGurk at DPS about starting one (email@example.com) or go to the DI webpage at https://www.dicolorado.com/start-a-team/.