Monday, May 26, 2014

Lessons Learned at Global Finals

I have a confession to make.  I wasn’t always thrilled about the fact that I would be taking a group of students to Destination Imagination Global Finals this year.  In fact, I complained about it.  I complained that I needed to spend my time and energy helping the students prepare for the competition.  Going on the trip meant staying at school until 5pm each school night supervising practices.  It meant planning a week’s worth of sub plans and giving up control of my classroom to a stranger.  It meant I would miss the half marathon my friends were running and that I had been training for for months.  And it meant I would have to play the role of 24 hour babysitter to 4 unruly 7th grade boys for a full week.  I knew I should be grateful for the chance to see the talent and creativity at the Global Finals, and that the school was completely funding a week in Tennessee, but I sometimes found it hard to look forward to where we were going.

Though my reflection on the first travel day with the boys was, “That wasn’t so bad,” the first few days of the actual competition had me tired and stressed out.  At the competition were 1413 teams from something like 16 countries and 42 US states.  16,000 people had piled into Knoxville, Tennessee for the event.  And my 7th grade boys kept wandering off without telling me where they were going or deciding on a meeting place.  I found myself wishing I could implant GPS tags under their skin so I could keep track of them more easily.  And if that wasn’t possible, I wished I could at least give each one a working cell phone.  I felt like I was back in the dark ages because their phones didn’t work internationally and I was unable to contact them any way other than face-to-face. 

Looking down at Opening Ceremonies from the Guatemalan section

But as the week went on, something began to change.  Maybe it was my mindset.  Maybe it was the boys’ attitudes and behavior.  Probably it was a whole combination of things.  But by Saturday (our last day), I knew that I would gladly chaperone a team to Globals next year.  Each boy on our team had worked his way deep into my heart.  And I looked around me and all I could see were all of the things the boys were learning, even though they weren’t in school.

On Friday, after watching several high-school level performances, our team discovered there was a place to go bowling for free.  I watched my boys demonstrate the best sportsmanship they’d shown all week, cheering each other on in a friendly competition.  There was paper scoring, so we refreshed our memories on how scoring worked, and the boys got a tiny bit of mental math practice.

Scorekeeper hard at work
  Later that afternoon, our team visited the Expo.  Whereas the first time we went, earlier in the week, the boys had gone directly to souvenir sales, on Friday, they and I spent hours playing.  There were science stations set up, and we laughed at the Van de Graaff Generator, marveled at the ability to puff “smoke” by eating a graham cracker doused in liquid nitrogen, and watched people dash across the oobleck (chuckling at those who stopped moving and got stuck).  

You know the technician must just WAIT for a girl with
long, loose hair to come try it out.

Some people bounded right over the ooblek. 
But some got stuck. 

After that, we moved to the CitiBlocks.  The boys spent two full hours engrossed in the blocks, building a tower with students from Texas.  Two hours…you’d think I would have gotten bored.  But I was just as engrossed as they were.  These boys spend most free moments glued to ipads or cell phones.  But not this week.  Not Friday afternoon.  The boys worked seamlessly with other kids, using creativity and engineering skills to construct their tower.   As our tower grew taller and taller, they began looking for creative methods to get themselves higher to continue placing blocks.  And when we reached our limits, they offered blocks up to the man who was standing on a chair with his son on his shoulders trying for the record for tallest tower, and cheering when he achieved it with a tower of 9 feet 8 inches.

DI Global Finals offered a chance for my students to come together with kids their age from all over the world.  They made friends with kids from Colombia and Texas, and they talked to people from all over.  They practiced teamwork and sportsmanship. They watched creative solutions to problems they had pondered over the year.  Trading pins (which is a big thing at Globals) enabled them to practice their interpersonal and entrepreneurship skills as they bargained to complete their collections.  My boys were not always angels, and they didn’t always embody the true spirit of DI to perfection.  But they learned something.  And I learned something.  And we had a good time doing it.

My team, their moms, and 2 high school Team Managers dressed up
for the Duct Tape Ball. 

I believed in the mission of Destination Imagination before Global Finals, and I knew it was a good program.  But seeing this international gathering of creative minds, my dedication to the program has doubled—maybe even tripled.  Despite all of my complaining before the event, I can say with complete honesty that I am looking forward to starting the DI season again next fall.  The boys and I have already been looking at the Challenge previews and musing over next year’s potential team members.  Bring it on, Global Finals.  We’ll be back next year!   

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Against All Odds

At times this year, I really didn’t think my Destination Imagination team had a prayer of going to Global Finals in Tennessee.  And yet, on Monday, we will be boarding a plane for that exact location.

Destination Imagination is an extra-curricular I volunteered to manage because of my prior experience with Odyssey of the Mind, which is a very similar organization. Both sponsor problem solving competitions which foster creative thinking and teamwork in students.  In Destination Imagination, students choose one of seven long-term challenges and spend the school year developing a creative solution to the challenge, then presenting it at tournament.  More information can be found at

When I took on the role of Team Manager, I essentially promised to supervise, without offering advice or assistance, yet providing the resources the team needed and keeping them focused and on task. 

My team was originally comprised of seven ambitious, energetic, unruly 7th grade boys.  Keeping them on task proved to be a major challenge—more difficult on some Thursday afternoons than keeping an entire class of 25 7th graders on task, it turns out. 

Our team progressed through the year with some great ideas, but not a lot of progress towards the completion of our goal.  All too soon, the national tournament date arrived.  (In the US, a team would compete at the school, regional, county, and then state level before advancing to Global Finals.  In places where DI isn’t as popular like Guatemala, there is one national competition, and the winners of each category advance.) 

Several days before the tournament, our team was still without a structure (the keystone of our challenge), the skit had not been practiced, and costumes and props were not complete.  And at about this time, I was informed that we were the only team registered in our category in all of Guatemala.   As long as we met the basic specifications of the challenge, we would advance to Global Finals.

Cut to the morning of the tournament.  My team could be found creating costumes, running through their skit together for the first time, and gluing back together their structure, which had been broken that morning when someone was swinging it around.

The time came to check in for our presentation.  Five minutes before they admitted us to the room, the boys had the bright idea to weigh their structure (for the first time).  It turned out to be 16 grams overweight.  After some hurried chopping, they took the still heavy structure to be checked in.  Though it was still 10 grams too heavy, they were allowed to perform. 

As the boys started their performance and began adding weight to the structure (the object being to see how much it would hold before breaking), the structure tipped to one side, forcing weight distribution to end at only 5lbs. 

Still, being the only team in our category, we were conditionally approved for Global Finals. 
The boys were given two weeks to create a new, score-able structure that could bear weight.  They were required to present their skit—with all costumes and props—for two members of the DI board, and if they passed, they would be allowed to register for Globals. 

In those two weeks, a complete change came over the team.  They stayed during lunches and after school.  They increased their practice time per week from one hour to 7-10 hours.  In two weeks, they built three new structures, testing two and using the third for their presentation. 

At the “test” two weeks after the tournament, the structure was checked in officially, and though it was now well under the weight limit, the measurements were smaller than the official requirements.  Still, based on the obvious improvements, the team was notified of the changes they would have to make and approved to register for Global Finals. 

That was nearly one month ago.  Since then, the structure has continued to improve, the skit has been refined, and new props have been created.  Against all odds, our team is nearly ready to present at Global Finals as a competitor to be reckoned with.

The team's first structure.  Notice the gaps between
the layers... I'm no engineer, but I don't think that
was very good planning.

Progression of team's structures from left to right, oldest on the left.

The structure the team will be taking to Globals
(notice the increased precision at least)  

It’s been a lot of work.  It’s been tiring, and it’s been time consuming.  Neither the boys or I have really had lives outside of DI for the past two weeks.  But hopefully, it will all be worth it.  We pack up our props and structures and costumes, and on Monday we’ll be Tennessee bound.  I’ll update again after the competition, as I am sure you are all on the edges of your seats.  And so I end with

To be continued…  

My wardrobe for the coming week at Globals.  I love how well our
shirts turned out!! Proud to be a Flappy Chapin.  (our team name)