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Students propel creative thinking to the next level

Destination ImagiNation puts teamwork, problem solving skills to the test
By: Andrew Westrope, Staff Writer
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A dozen local students will put their creative thinking skills to the test this month in a competition against California’s best and brightest.
 
In one of seven regional “Destination ImagiNation” tournaments across the state, two local teams – a group of six sixth-graders from E.V. Cain Charter Middle School, and an elementary team of five Rock Creek School students with one from Bowman Charter School – placed first and third, respectively, in competitions at Olympus Junior High School in Roseville on March 2. 
 
Both scored high enough to qualify for state finals on March 23 in San Diego, where they will test their knowledge, creativity and strategizing skills to compete for a slot in the international finals in Knoxville, Tenn. on May 22.
 
Alison Easton, one of two team managers for the elementary group, said the program is open to teams of two to seven children with kindergarten through college-level skills. Every year, teams from regions around the world compete against others in their age group in organized Destination ImagiNation challenges.
 
Her team, the “Awesome Oompa Loompas” (they had to come up with a “crazy, creative” name), had been practicing at Rock Creek School every week since October to prepare for an “In Disguise” challenge in which they had to put on a six-minute play involving a character in disguise, an elaborate mask that was not a disguise, a morphing mask and no verbal or written communication. On competition day, they were also responsible for spontaneous “instant challenges” for which they would be judged not only on meeting their objective but on creativity, time-keeping, leadership and teamwork.
 
“It’s incredible for teaching them teamwork, leadership skills, creative thinking, out-of-the-box thinking, divergent thinking. They’re having to come up with a lot of different solutions to try and solve one problem,” Easton said. “That sometimes means they have to try the same thing maybe three or four or five times until they find out what does work, and it’s obviously a much stronger lesson for a child when they learn it themselves, as opposed to when they’re just shown it.”
 
E.V. Cain science teacher Don Scott, team manager for his school’s “Team DestIfy,” said his students were tasked with building a bamboo structure under 175 grams that could support as many 45-pound weights as possible. Their work sustained 420 pounds, ran out of room to add more weights, and won them first place in their category and a special award for best structure. To Scott’s knowledge, it was the first time an Auburn middle school team had qualified for the state finals, but he said the best prize was a lesson in creativity and cooperation.
 
“The most valuable thing is they’re learning how to work together as a team, where everybody is having input and being heard,” Scott said. “And they’re having to solve challenges on their own without adults telling them what to do.”
 
Enjoying her first experience with Destination ImagiNation, 10-year-old Bowman Charter student Laura Easton said her favorite part of competition was working with her team. She even discovered a few skills she didn’t know she had.
 
“I’ve learned how creative I am, and I’ve learned a lot about my teammates. I actually didn’t know five of them. I’ve kind of learned more about myself,” Laura said. “I wrote our performance, exactly what everyone was going to do, so I didn’t know I could write that kind of thing.”
 
Rock Creek student Autumn Peak, one of Laura’s teammates, said the challenge was both a learning and a bonding experience she would recommend to others, but only if they’re willing to put in the effort.
 
“I have learned quite a bit about my school, and about the people in my Destination ImagiNation group, and also some good theatrical techniques,” she said. “You need to spend a lot of time, sometimes working on your costume or writing the story at home.”
 
Easton said the elementary team has about two weeks to raise about $1,800 for trip expenses to San Diego, and anyone willing to support them may contact Rock Creek School to make a donation.
 
Win, lose or draw, Easton said the team stands to gain lifelong skills from the experience, having scored highest in teamwork and leadership.
 
“We’ve heard from people that some large companies are using these kinds of techniques for interviews, having people come in and presenting them with an unusual challenge to see if they are going to be good teamworkers and good leaders,” she said. “All of these skills are tremendous for them in the future.”