DI teaches students to solve problems, think on feet

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— Regurgitating answers correctly on a quiz is a good way to get an "A"; it may even help you win a round of Trivial Pursuit.

But when you've just picked up a gigantic swordfish from the taxidermist and you need to fit that thing in the back seat of your two-door Mazda without any damage, you need skills beyond recalling the location of every Civil War battle.

That's why the Hayden School District is teaching its students how to think on their feet and problem solve.

Destination ImagiNation is an international program for elementary and middle school students. Participants meet once a week to solve quick, on-the-spot thinking problems, called Instant Challenges, and work on one semester-long project.

DI teams have been practicing since November in preparation for a regional competition in Rifle this spring.

Hayden Valley Elementary School has three teams this year and Hayden Middle School has one.

"Some of the eighth-graders have been involved in DI since the third grade," program coordinator Michelle Hoza said.

Instant Challenges can involve anything from moving a cup from one place to another without touching it to pretending the entire team is stranded on the side of a mountain with no supplies and they have to get down.

"A lot the challenges are non-verbal and students must figure out how to work out a language," Hoza said.

Students have three to four minutes to solve Instant Challenges.

"Part of the excitement for the kids is instant results," Hoza said.

Every year, the DI organization, based in New Jersey, sends students all over the world five long-term problems that will take months of teamwork to solve.

This year, Hayden students chose to tackle two very technical puzzles.

In one assignment, students must pretend to put on a theater production. Not only will they design the scenery and costumes, and develop a script, but they must also devise a moving backdrop.

And if putting on a play does not require enough mind power, during the course of the production students will be faced with a disruption.

But the show must go on.

For the other assignment, students will design a video game. They must devise a way for the player to move.

"In order to make something move, they will have to do research," Hoza said. "The great thing about this program is that it brings in kids from all walks of life. To make it work, we need students who can be creative and technical."

Students learn not only how to solve problems but how to solve them in a group setting.

"They learn how to share ideas and how to deal with conflicts and let go of some aspects of the problem," Hoza said. "They take those skills into the classroom and home."

The regional competition is April 5. Students will have a chance to perform a dress rehearsal when they host an assembly at 2 p.m. April 1 at Valley Elementary School. The public is welcome to attend.

Students will present their completed projects to get feedback from teachers.

"This is great practice for them to do it in front of an audience and they still have a few days to fine tune," Hoza said.

Winners from regionals go to the state competition on April 26 at Denver University.

Winners go to the global finals in Knoxville, Tenn.

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