Destination Imagination is a global program for third grade through college-age students that encourages teams of learners to have fun, take risks, and frame challenges that incorporate science, technology, engineering, math, art, and service learning.
After applying and being selected to participate in the program, team members Davis Cawlfield ’23, Maggie Couhet ’23, Anna Erskine ’23, Aiden Gilroy ’23, Jack Litchman ’23, Konner Smith ’23, and Jourdon Willett ’23, got down to work this fall, backed by team managers Crystal Erskine, prekindergarten teacher at Severn’s Lower School, and Mallory Cawlfield, mother of Davis ’23 and William ’25.
New to Severn this year, the team managers saw the program as a perfect fit to the school. “The DI program fits in with what we do at Severn,” says Erskine. “We strive to think out-of-the-box and encourage our young learners to showcase their creativity when it comes to science, engineering and all academics. The team aspect of the program brought it all together for us and we could not have been more pleased."
Over 200,000 students compete in the program each year, and focus on two components---a central challenge and an instant challenge. The central challenge asks teams to use art, technology, performance, and real-world relevance to solve one of five different team challenges. The second component is the instant challenge, where team members are asked to solve a challenge on the spot. Teams apply their imaginations, quick wit, and verbal responses to solve the challenge without any preparation.
The Severn Creators, who also came up with the name of the team, chose to participate in the “ Going to Extremes” central science challenge this year. The team had four goals in place:
- To explore an extreme environment that exists in our universe
- Present a story about characters who adapt to survive in the extreme environment
- Design and create extreme gear that is demonstrated by using technical methods
- Design and create a depiction of the extreme environment
“Our extreme environment was an active underwater volcano near the Hawaiian Islands,” explains team member Maggie Couhet. “We created a story about a research ship that ran into a volcano and sank. The only survivor was a diver who was encouraged to explore the volcano by ghosts of his lost crew.”
In the story, the diver gathers facts about the volcano that he shares with other scientists after getting rescued. The team researched numerous facts about underwater volcanoes including how they are formed, what materials would survive in those conditions, where they are located and more.
The most creative as well as time-consuming part of the challenge was the creation of the extreme gear suit. Team members used a variety of materials to mimic a suit they believed would survive the underwater volcanic conditions.
Covered from head to toe in silver, teammate Aiden Gilroy wore the suit made from “rubber to prevent leaks that was covered in tungsten, because it has a higher melting point that lava,” according to the team. The suit also included a mask, special gloves, air tank, and boots.
During the skit, the diver was accompanied by the ship’s captain, crew, narrator, and lively “crew rappers” that explained the rescue mission for the diver. Props in the skit included a volcano, underwater scenery, and two-sided boat with one side being the sunken ship and the other being the rescue boat.
According to the team, the best part of the whole project was working together and getting to know each other. “When we first started working on the project, I did not really know what to expect or what my teammates were good at,” explains Aiden Gilroy. “Then we got the hang of it. We learned that it was much better to work together than to work alone."
“A lot of times we all had different ideas on how to get things done,” added Konner Smith. “Sometimes we just had to vote and go with it. But it gave us the chance to learn from each other and taught us to respect the opinions of our teammates. We got things done a lot faster and had a better project because we worked together.”
In reflecting on their favorite moments of the project, each team member noted how rewarding it was to be a part of the challenge. “It was so much fun to be a part of this team,” says Anna Erskine. “The best part was creating the rescue rap. We started out just coming up with a small jingle and it took off into a rap from there. It was great because we did not expect it, and were surprised at what our idea turned into. It turned out better than what we started out thinking it would be.”
“I enjoyed helping to draw and paint the depiction of our scene,” added Jack Litchman. “There was a lot of pressure to think about how to make it look like what we all thought it should be, but it turned out great and we all liked it. I was happy to really focus on this part of it since I enjoy art so much.”
One of the most unique parts of the program for managers and teammates alike is the fact that team managers are not allowed to guide the students in any way during the meetings, planning, research, or performance. In short, kids have to imagine, create and develop solutions on their own. Parents, team managers, family, and friends can’t suggest ideas or force teams in certain directions.
“The most difficult part of being a team manager was not being able to interfere at all in what they were doing, even though I knew that one simple suggestion would save them a lot of time, energy and resources,” comments Cawlfield. “They came up with their own ideas, and no matter what, we just had to let them go through the process of figuring it out on their own.”
Ironically, although it was a challenge to be completely independent, the team agrees that it taught them how to make solid decisions together. “I liked being able to work with other friends and create something totally on our own, without the help of an adult,” says Davis Cawlfield. “We had to figure it out on our own, learn how to compromise, and get to work or nothing would ever get done.”
Finally, perhaps Jourdon Willett sums up the whole experience the best. “At first, I really didn’t get what this DI challenge and program was all about,” says Jourdon. “But then I understood that the whole point of it was just to have fun and get the job done. Then I really enjoyed it!"
“We are so proud of this team, their work ethic and dedication, and their calm, cool performance at the event,” says Erskine. “Many of us have great ideas, but if you cannot work with people or communicate your thoughts in a team environment, what good are your ideas? Our Severn Creators truly showed us how it is done and we are already looking forward to next year.”