March 23, 2017

Friends’ School Team Wins Boulder Regional Competition

Team Illuminati: Evan, Rowan, Carson & Zhenren
For the second year in a row, a group of Friends’ fifth graders has advanced to the Colorado State competition for Destination Imagination.

Last Saturday, after competing with teams from around Boulder, Friends’ students Carson, Zhenren, Rowan and Evan, collectively known as Team Illuminati, won first place in the Boulder Regional Contest.

The Destination Imagination program is a fun, hands-on system of learning that fosters students’ creativity, courage and curiosity through open-ended academic challenges in the fields of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), fine arts and service learning.  Team Illuminati’s focus was on engineering, or “In It Together.”

The Destination Imagination program also encourages critical thinking, teamwork, problem solving, risk taking and self-confidence through challenges that kids have to solve and present at a tournament.  These are many of the same skills Friends’ School fosters in our children.

There can be no parent involvement in the creation of the solution. This is 100% student driven. And these are not easy challenges. A large part of the team’s score is based on how the students demonstrate the skills listed above. In addition to presenting their main challenge that they have developed over several weeks, teams also have to solve an “instant” challenge - one in which they have a time limit of 5-7 minutes to complete after they hear the directions.

I interviewed three of the team members and all told me that the instant challenge was top secret, not to be shared for the integrity of next year’s competition.  What I can tell you is that the team chose, as their performance piece, a scenario of two countries working together to solve an international issue.  The boys selected the issue of global warming because it is so relevant to the national conversation, and because they are concerned about the very real effects on the planet now.

They also had to build a structure out of balsa wood and glue.  Team Illuminati chose to forego the glue to save weight, and ended up designing and building a structure that held 395 lbs!  And they received a 30% bonus for their unique triangular design.

Heading into the evening awards ceremony, our fifth graders told me how nervous they were. All except Rowan, who felt confident that first place was in sight.  What they learned was that
hard work and practice pay off.  The team practiced together, with their coaches, Catherine Meng and Herb Blecher, for four whole months, three times a week.

Herb and Catherine volunteered to coach the team because they love spending time with their kids. They pointed out that one of the things that impressed them the most, in working with the team, was how the boys learned to handle stress under pressure. 

They also told me how much they grew in respect for teachers everywhere.  “Teaching is hard!” Catherine told me. She learned how to help the individual team members see their strengths and challenges, and how to support them to learn to work together in ways that complement each other. Herb feels so proud of the team’s accomplishments, he describes it as “up there with anything I’ve done professionally.”  That is praise indeed.

Upon hearing news of the victory at Regionals, the team jumped with excitement!  They will now compete in Denver, at the state level, on April 22nd, with a chance to go to the global competition in Knoxville, TN in May.

Congratulations to them all, students and coaches, and all the best at state!

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