Using their imagination

Challenge: Clemens Crossing pupils put their creative and problem-solving skills to work to compete in Maryland's Destination ImagiNation contest.

April 24, 2002|By Laura Shovan | Laura Shovan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A band of seven children is taking over the world. Youths from Clemens Crossing Elementary School in Columbia are attacking continents, oceans, asteroid caves - even a space station.

Although it sounds as if they are playing a computer game, their task is far more complex. They recently performed a game of their design at the Maryland Destination ImagiNation Festival of Creativity.

Destination ImagiNation (DI), an international competition, promotes creative problem solving. The nonprofit group creates five new "challenges" each September. Teams of children from kindergarten through 12th grade choose a challenge to "solve" and perform their solution at a regional tournament in March. There, teams are also judged on an on-the-spot problem called an Instant Challenge.

Clemens Crossing is the only Howard County school that participated in the competition this year. Two of the school's three teams finished first in the North Central Region (Howard and Baltimore counties) and earned a chance to compete at the state finals, held April 13 at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in Catonsville.

Parent Steve Dennis coordinates Clemens Crossings' DI program. "It's been a really good partnership between the parents, the teachers and the PTA," he said, adding that funding for DI membership comes from the PTA.

Parents and one of the school's resource teachers are coaches. Although coaching is allowed, adults may not help teams prepare their solutions.

Parent and coach Karen Geiser taught her daughter Mary, a member of the school's fifth-grade team, how to use a sewing machine so she could make costumes. "It teaches them really to be independent. ... They've done it all on their own," Geiser said.

The World Dominators team, a group of third- and fourth-graders, chose a challenge called It's Your Move. Sally Gold, coordinator of the North Central Region, described the challenge: "They have a huge game board and they have to make a game piece that they can negotiate around," she said.

The game piece is a team-designed vehicle that travels in a 20-foot-by-20-foot area, stopping to deliver objects into a goal.

Team member Lauren Goldschen, 8, said the team's prototype car did not work. "I learned about torque," she said, "and how it matters because we had a motor without torque and it couldn't hold up the car."

Second time's a charm

The team's second model, which uses a 9-volt battery and magnets for propulsion and steering, was a success.

A skit written and performed by each team explains what the vehicle is doing and why. Clemens Crossing's team of third- and fourth-graders used world domination as a theme, with its car shooting balls as the team "took over" each area on the game board. The concept that there are multiple solutions to each challenge is central to the DI program.

"Everything that it was promoting sounded really good to me for my kids," Dennis said.

He particularly likes the focus on teamwork. "The earlier the kids learn that skill, the better," he said.

His daughter, Elizabeth, 8, said, "I was pleased that ... we didn't talk over each other."

Teammate Rebecca Colandrea, 9, agreed. "We had great teamwork, and we tried hard. We didn't fight even though we were really worried," she said.

When it was their turn to perform, the World Dominators unveiled their vehicle, a wheelbarrow with a ramp for shooting balls. Team members acted out the story of a king who wants to take over the world. After the performance, judges gathered around the children for a closer look at the homemade car.

Also at state finals was the fifth-grade Clemens Crossing team, presenting its response to a challenge called On Holiday. The solution, a humorous skit with props and set pieces, required research on a foreign country. At the regional tournament, the team won the Renaissance Award for a Sphinx that transformed into a model of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.

Results of contest

The next level of competition is the Global Final. Although both teams from Clemens Crossing did well in their long-term challenges, neither team placed first or second to advance.

Before the results were announced, Rachel Lustbader, 8, said, "Everything worked well and everybody knew their lines and it was just our best performance yet. I don't care if we win or lose; I'm just proud that we tried our hardest."

Destination ImagiNation Web sites: (international program Web site) and (state level Web site - Maryland Creative Problem Solvers).

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