Competition encourages pupils to apply creativity and teamwork

March 06, 2003

For two months, 10-year-old Jonathan Odachowski has been hard at work building a robot. His teammate, Jesse Schwarz, also 10, has written a song. And the five other members of the Disco Ducks Destination Imagination team - Richard Gil, Kelsey Littlejohn, Ryen Seaman, Zachary Neil and Colton O'Donoghue - have contributed time and effort.

The team of third-, fourth- and fifth-graders from West Friendship Elementary School worked steadily to create a live-action game for the Destination Imagination Regional Tournament, scheduled Saturday at Dulaney High School in Timonium.

Destination Imagination, a nonprofit company, runs the educational program for students in kindergarten through college. Contestants work in teams, thinking creatively to solve complex challenges created by the company. The teams demonstrate their solutions in eight-minute skits at regional competitions like the one planned Saturday. Winners advance to compete statewide and in international finals.

The Disco Ducks chose their challenge from five possibilities. Their choice required them to create a multilevel game that would combine elements of geography, culture and current events. Each level was to represent a different country (the team chose the United States, Tanzania and Italy) and each level was to be increasingly difficult.

The youths had to build "a seeker" and chose to build a radio-controlled robot out of a modified radio-controlled car. The robot, which plays the game, must perform certain tasks, such as making sounds, picking things up and jumping over other objects, to get to the next level in the game.

In the script that the kids wrote for their game, the robot moves across the floor to steal AIDS medicine from an American "hospital" to give to Tanzania in exchange for gold; the gold, a natural resource of Tanzania, is "melted down" into a friendship key and given to Italy.

The students researched and wrote the story themselves. They built props, picked costumes and wrote a song to perform during their skit - all under the watchful eye of team manager Ann Schwarz, who also happens to be Jesse's mom.

"Can you imagine trying to explain all of the different parts of the process to kids?" Schwarz asked. "As coaches, we can show them how to do something, but then they must do it themselves."

"Our team has had a really fun time making all the stuff," Jesse said.

Schwarz was amazed at the range of skills that each of the kids brought to the team. "We had one boy that ... envisioned and built the robot himself. My jaw dropped as I watched him handle the tools," she said.

The girls took charge of painting and papering the sets. One boy served as team clown, trying on all the costumes and keeping everyone entertained.

This is the first year that West Friendship has participated in the Destination Imagination Tournament, and the school is fielding two teams - Disco Ducks and a primary-level team of younger children called the Wildcats.

"We are hoping that this will spark even more interest for next year," said Jennifer Hays, who coordinates the program for the school.

The Disco Ducks acknowledge they are nervous about the competition, but say they are ready. "I think we are going to win," Jonathan said.

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