A team of four Grade 7 General Gordon Elementary students, named after a popular restaurant in Tennessee, practices twice a week on Thursdays and Sundays to refine their skills for Destination Imagination, an educational program where student teams solve open-ended "challenges" and present their solutions at tournaments.
There are seven new standards-based challenges including STEM, Improv, Visual Arts, Service Learning and Early Learning. Each challenge is open-ended and enables student teams to learn and experience the creative process from imagination to innovation. The challenges generally encourage teams to utilize 21st century skills (creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, citizenship and courage) to build on their unique strengths.
The Gordon Tomatoheads have been particularly adept at all of these skills. In last year's competition the team placed first (out of 15-16 teams in the regionals) and in the nationals, the Tomatoheads won first place in both the "challenge" and "instant challenge" categories. They also scooped up the Renaissance award.
"The judges were blow away," says Grade 7 student and Tomatohead Sam Sims.
Sims says it was their innovative concept that cleared the way for victory for the team. As part of their scientific challenge, the group created a homemade Geiger counter utilizing tin cans, wires, transistors, voltage meters and batteries. They paired their presentation of the Geiger counter by spinning a yarn about a future world where Nuclear Armageddon had occurred. Thus the Tomatohead's Geiger counter became critically important.
"The first time we won, it was amazing," says Sims. "But when we learned we won first place for both the instant challenge and the renaissance award, we were totally surprised."
Their first place win at the nationals sent the team to the Global Destination Imagination competition in Knoxville Tennessee. There they participated along with 1,600 other teams from all over the world. Sims says the whole plaza where the DI was being held was a circus, jammed with close to 10,000 kids. In the end the Tomatoheads finished in the top half of their category globally.
Sims says particular thanks from the team needs to go to team manager Roberta Stuart for all her help and coaching.
"Our team manager Roberta put in a lot of time and was really patient with us," he says. "I think her help is what helped us get first place in the regional and national competitions."