Challenges take ImagiNation

November 19, 2009


Could you stack plastic cups in a pyramid using only a string contraption and no hands? For middle school

students at St. Patrick School in Wadsworth, the challenge looked easier than it actually was considering

success required a group effort.

"The cup stacking was the hardest," said eighth-grader Will Thompson of Antioch. "You have to learn to work as

a team and how to analyze (the situation)."

Team work was the theme of this special field day enjoyed by sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders on Nov. 9.

Volunteers from the non-profit organization Destination ImagiNation, Inc., which offers educational after-school

programs across the country and internationally, coordinated different problem-solving challenges in eight

classrooms. It was the first time the school has hosted the event.

Sixth-grade teacher Kathy Gilmore said she was turned on to Destination ImagiNation after her own daughter

experienced their program at a school in Beach Park. Gilmore thought it sounded like a fun and educational

way for students to learn hands-on problem-solving skills, work as a team and embrace their creativity.

"Every year we try to do something creative as a group. We call it 'Mission Impossible.'"

On the surface, the day's challenges appeared simple but would have been daunting even for adults.

In one challenge, students had to pass a balloon through an obstacle course without touching any other object.

Another task had teams of students working to figure out the most successful means of launching bouncing

balls of various sizes into baskets. They used everything from fly swatters and ice cube trays to cardboard

cylinders and Chinese food take-out boxes. One resourceful team made a string slingshot.

For sixth-grader Maddie Gomez of Gurnee the most fun and the most difficult activity was an acting challenge.

"We had to come up with our own idea and write the script. We also did improv," she said.

Teams earned points for each challenge, logging their progress on poster boards covered in sticky notes from

teachers and volunteers praising their efforts and sportsmanship.

The challenges were not only fun and educational, said Gilmore, they also boosted the students' selfconfidence.

For students who are not involved in after school sports or clubs, said Gilmore, this may have been

their first time participating in a true team effort.

"You could see the progression of their creativity, enthusiasm and out-of-the-box thinking grow with each

challenge," she said.

Destination ImagiNation also coordinates global tournaments for all ages, from kindergarten through twelfth

grade. An Illinois team is now being formed for a tournament at the University of Tennessee in March that is

expected to have 16,000 to 18,000 participants. To learn more, visit


Challenges take ImagiNation