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Mountain View Voice

News - May 20, 2011

Graham team heading to global competition

Destination ImagiNation championship pushes kids problem solving, teamwork skills

by Nick Veronin

A group of students from Graham Middle School is heading to Knoxville, Tenn. this coming week to match wits with other students in a global competition that pushes kids' problem-solving and teamwork skills.

From May 25 to May 28, Destination ImagiNation, Inc., the non-profit organization putting on the three-day event, will pull more than 1,000 teams from 30-plus participating countries to the University of Tennessee campus for four days of activities and challenges.

The teams that are invited to the finals represent the best of the best. The Graham group is just one of many Mountain View teams that participated in the after school program this year. However, while many local groups made it to the regional finals and some even made it to the state tournament, the seven Graham students are the only group to make it to the global championship.

At the finals, teams will compete in a number of categories, including science, structural engineering, fine arts, acting, and community outreach.

The Graham team has chosen the fine arts challenge, "Triple Take Road Show," which requires them to build a set for a three-act play, then explain the same story to three imagined audiences using three different communication methods.

As Page McDonald, the team parent and manager tells it, her group will first tell the story as though they were on a silent movie screen, then by using flag semaphore — a system similar to Morse code that's used by mariners and flight control crews, employing flags to spell out words — and finally by narrating the action of hand puppets.

McDonald, who has a daughter on the team, said that her group has been meeting twice a week since the challenges were announced last August, and is composed of mostly Destination ImagiNation veterans.

The kids have constructed props and a massive set. In addition to learning teamwork and problem solving, they have been sticking to a strict budget. Anything that is purchased must be accounted for with receipts and presented to the judging panel at competitions.

The Graham group also will be subjected to a variety of tightly timed spot challenges. These challenges are not known in advance and test the group's ability to deal with curveballs.

The Graham group has been working now for about eight months to get to this point.

"Everyone is really excited," McDonald said, noting five of the girls on her team went to the global championship last year and are even more pumped up, as they know what to expect. "They're just thrilled."

McDonald, who has been doing Destination ImagiNation for four years, said that she has seen the participating children grow in ways they likely wouldn't have otherwise.

"The kids are able to really express their creativity on their own terms," she said, noting that by Destination ImagiNation rules, she is not allowed to intervene other than to teach skills and help with things the children simply can't do. "In school the teacher tells you what to do all the time. You are limited when you can be creative and where you can be creative. This is entirely up to them."

She believes that the experiences the kids are having with the program today will ultimately prove fruitful down the road. They are learning project management, communication and how to work productively and amicably within a group, McDonald said.

"You talk to people in the business world, and that is one of the most important skills to have — to be able to sit around a table and work with others," she said.