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)  

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