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Published: Tuesday, 5/19/2009

Area students vie in world tourney

BLADE STAFF

Twenty West Side Montessori Center students have traveled to Tennessee this week to participate in a worldwide tournament for Destination ImagiNation, a creative problem-solving and teamwork-building program.

West Side has participated in DI for many years, but sending three teams to the Global Finals is a "huge" accomplishment and matches the total number of teams the school has sent to the world tournament in the past, said Glenda Miller, that school's extracurricular coordinator.

A team from Ottawa Hills Elementary School also will be competing.

Headed for the competition at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, are these West Side teams:

•The DI Doodz, a third-grade team whose members are Raaghov Agnihotri, Claire Kohler, Janaki Patel, Antonio Peron, Jami Stout, and Libby Stupica, along with team manager Margaret Kohler;

•the ReM!x, a team of seventh and eight graders Nikita Ajmera, Kristen Darah, Angela Jacob, Beth Ann Less, Priyanka Pitroda, Rachel Reeves, and Allison Sheehan, along with team manager Elaine Sheehan;

•That Team, a team of fifth through eighth grade students Isabel Abu-Absi, Grace Beham, James Blanchard, Drew Gannon, Lilly Kaplan, Daniel Miller, and Laramie Reynolds, along with team manager Karen Callinan.

Representing Ottawa Hills will be the fifth graders calling themselves Titanium Weasels: David Hart, Roman Langenderfer, Aidan McMurray, James Steven, and Brent Wang. Their managers are Teresa Langenderfer and Noreen Hanlon.

Destination ImagiNation, run by a nonprofit organization in Glassboro, N.J., provides participating schools' teams with five "team challenges" from which each team selects one to research and pursue over the course of several months before the start of regional tournaments in late winter.

Regional winners advance to state competition or national competition, and champions at that level compete in the Global Finals. While most of the teams are American, Ms. Miller said, there are usually at least a few foreign teams in the world competition; Destination ImagiNation says it has chapters in 43 other countries.

The "team challenges" cover such areas as technical and mechanical design, structural and architectural design. science, theatrical-literary-fine arts, and improvisational techniques.

Teams may have up to seven members of any age, although for competitive purposes they are grouped based on the oldest member's age. Team managers may provide guidance for skills development but are not allowed to influence what the teams choose to include in their projects or how they present them.

"Parents are not allowed to participate at all" except to provide the opportunity for their children to do research, Ms. Miller said. Team members "have to come up with their own ideas, make their own costumes. Parents have to sign waivers, and kids have to take an oath that they won't allow any interference. It's such a big thing, people are pretty good about [complying] with it."

The DI Doodz and That Team both chose to work on a "team challenge" called DI Detective in which they researched sleuthing, superstitions, and movie genres. Half an hour before each tournament, team members were given specifics for a theme-related skit they then had to plan out and perform, plus a last-minute "surprise" added at the end for them to improvise.

The ReM!x team opted for ViDIo Lit Hits, a challenge under which they were directed to develop music, scripts, choreography, and scenic elements for skits, in the form of music videos, based on literature.

Ottawa Hills' Titanium Weasels chose A New Angle!, primarily a structural-construction challenge in which they build a two-part structure with angled sides, test its weight-bearing capacity, and create a "new art form" by merging two different art forms.

All tournaments include, along with the prepared "team challenges," an "instant challenge" that tests participants' improvisational resourcefulness and problem-solving skills. Teams are given details for those events at the tournament and are not allowed to consult with each other or with any adults; judges compare how the various teams responded to the same challenge.

"It's on-the-spot. It could be anything in any discipline," Ms. Miller said, citing as an example the following instruction: "You need to sell us a used car. In 10 minutes, create an advertising jingle."

In that regard, she said, the "instant challenge" has some similarity to the improvisational-comedy television show Whose Line Is It Anyway? Ms. Miller said, and performance and presentation is a central element in the entire Destination ImagiNation program.

"Even structural challenges have a skit component with them, a story associated with them," she said. "Every one of them has some performance involved."



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