With the rising importance of standardized tests, educators are increasingly focused on "teaching to tests" and test-taking skills. But a welcome new extracurricular activity is helping children develop a different set of skills.
Destination Imagination (DI) is more concerned with the process of finding an answer than the answer itself. Through the program students learn and experience the creative process, with a focus on imagination and innovation, while developing skills in teamwork, communication, project management and critical thinking.
DI is a non-profit, volunteer-led, cause-driven, global organization. Students from kindergarten through 12th grade form seven-man teams to solve "challenges" in different categories.
Challenge categories range from STEM, community service, performing arts, visual arts and research. After weeks of practice and preparation, team solutions to these challenges are brought before a panel of evaluators at tournaments.
Jessica White, Germantown Municipal Schools DI Coordinator, explains a typical challenge as "open ended, forcing the kids to think outside of the box, asking what unique skills can I bring to help solve the problem." White is a strong supporter of DI and has lobbied the GMSD School Board to sponsor the program across all five of its schools. Parents and teachers are not allowed to assist in the DI challenges
Last month, the Memphis regional DI tournament boasted 33 separate teams from all across the city. The victors are on their way to Nashville in April for the state tournament. From there, they advance to the global tournament.
"It was the neatest thing being in such a huge space, meeting teams from places as far away as China," White said about taking a team to the global tournament in 2014.
In the past, DI has been a standard offering for private school students, but Regional Director and administrator at Hutchison School, Amanda Killen, would like to see that change.
"There are currently 110 teams competing in the Nashville metropolitan area. Our hope for the future is to meet or exceed that number here in the Memphis area. Those involved will tell you how valuable we think the program is for our youth and for their futures and we want to grant access to as many kids in Memphis as we possibly can."
For several years now, the DI Tennessee Affiliate has offered a Start a Team Grant to assist the formation of new teams. The grant covers registration, tournament and travel expenses. This year, Corning Elementary, White Station High School, Peabody Elementary and Soulsville Charter School have taken advantage of the grant money.
A team made possible by the Start a Team Grant program
"We certainly hope more school districts follow Germantown's lead and make an effort to sponsor the program in their schools. We are always trying to find ways to introduce the program in charter schools and community programs across the city," Killen said about the hopefully growing number of teams.
Another great feature of the DI model is its utilization of parents and community members as team leaders. Ginger Spickler, a parent in the Cooper Young neighborhood, jumped at the chance to begin a team at Peabody Elementary School.
"I think DI gives kids the chance to really be creative, learn to work as a team, and most importantly, take ownership of their own solutions, all of which are things that can sometimes get squeezed out during regular class time because there's so much pressure on schools to do well on standardized tests."
For more information about starting or supporting a team, contact Amanda Killen.