For thousands of enthusiastic kids around the globe,
Destination Imagination (DI) is an incredible opportunity to
explore their creativity, technical aptitude, and leadership
qualities. The memories made and the lessons learned as
students work together to imagine, engineer, and perform
their presentations can last a lifetime. However, participation
in most DI events requires months of commitment and
potentially restrictive shipping costs, and not every school has
the capacity to offer this incredible experience.
“Lots of kids and parents and schools don’t have time to do a DI
challenge from September to March. Most inner-city, low-income,
or rural schools don’t have those kinds of resources,” explains
Kris Beisel, Director of Educational Alliances and Training for
Destination Imagination. As educators strive to bring equity to
our society, we seek creative strategies to broaden the reach of
these transformative opportunities to underserved students.
At the 2022 Destination Imagination Global Finals in Kansas City,
Destination Imagination teamed with educational robotics and
STEM company Pitsco Education and community organization
Stone Lion Puppet Theater to pilot a new event called Envision.
What makes Envision different? A sort of storytelling/robotics
boot camp, Envision is a self-contained event that condenses
the DI experience into four days. Bright and early on Day 1,
students of varying ages and diverse backgrounds came
together in a high-ceilinged conference room in the Kansas
City Convention Center. In fact, the one thing they all shared
in common was their complete lack of knowledge about the
challenge they were about to face!
The plan was to push students through fast-paced, high-level
workshops in TETRIX® robotics (led by Pitsco) and scene
construction (led by Stone Lion) and then reveal a challenge
that would require the students combine these skills to create
enthralling theatrical productions. On Day 4, the students
would present before a live audience.
THE BIG REVEAL
“Exposure is the name of the game,” said Sandra Tucker, EPA
scientist and robotics coach who was on hand to provide
support for urban Kansas City students who were invited to
participate. Tucker had initially been connected to after-school
enterprise aSTEAM Village through the organization Blacks In
Government. Tucker is a passionate scientist with a mission to
open doors to students. Like the kids she arrived with, this was
her first experience with Destination Imagination.
“This is so, so important what Destination Imagination is doing,”
she said. “And it is especially important for kids in the inner-city
because they don’t normally have these opportunities.”
During the TETRIX workshop, as students worked hands on
with the metal robotics building system, she occasionally spoke
up to ask clarifying questions as the group pushed through
concepts like gear ratios, drive trains, and simple machines.
Most of the Kansas City students had some exposure to robotics,
but none had ever worked with TETRIX before. In contrast,
another group of participating students from Wyoming had
experience with Destination Imagination but almost zero
experience with robotics. This was an interesting test case indeed.
After every student in attendance felt the first flush of success
by completing a TETRIX robot, they were whisked away to a
quick lunch and then a workshop led by Heather Lowenstein,
Founding Artistic Director for Stone Lion Puppet Theater.
Lowenstein emphasized the need to make a splash with
scenery and to tell a story in broad, dramatic strokes that
appeal to the emotions.
Finally, after both workshops, the eager students received their
challenge: Using the TETRIX PRIME kits and assorted other
building supplies, create a fantasy-themed production. Create
set pieces, costumes, and props, and incorporate at least two
mechatronic elements using the TETRIX parts.
THE MAD DASH
For the next two days, students met in teams to brainstorm,
design, and build, racing against the clock. Notably, the adults
were only there to provide technical support and to perform
construction tasks that required power tools and paint. All the
creativity and vision came from the students. “You are not in
school anymore,” Lowenstein announced. “You are in charge.”
Most teams brainstormed a concept together and then
divided the tasks among themselves by interest. Whether it
was writing the script, designing the scenery, or constructing
mechatronic creatures, every student found a part to play.
“I love doing stuff like this where I
get full creative control,” said
feature of the event
was that students
to Stone Lion
for the set
Just as in a
had to be noted and
every color declared.
“The whole idea
is to simulate
at a shop,” said Stone Lion staff member Larry Goodman.
“We’re trying to emphasize to the kids making things well
Pitsco Curriculum Specialist Aaron
Locke was impressed with the
students’ creativity. He and
other Pitsco staffers helped
a few of the younger
students especially work
through the finer details
of robot construction.
The majority of the
students found a
high degree of self-sufficiency with the
building system after only
one workshop, however.
Locke recalls one team that
used all their allotted TETRIX wheels
on their first mechatronic creation, a giant
scorpion. They were unsure what to build next. “They ended
up making a shaker table that represented an earthquake that
opened a crack on Mars, and that is where the scorpion came
from. They were able to use a couple servos in a unique way
that they came up with,” he said.
THE PLAY’S THE THING
On the last day, parents, coaches, staff, and random
passersby gathered to watch the teams perform their creative
presentations. Audiences were treated to a retelling of the
classic fairy tale The Princess and the Frog with a rotating
set and a robotic frog, a journey to a tropical island where
elaborately costumed natives protected a mythical snake-monkey from poachers, an expedition into a cave where
two young girls faced a mechatronic dragon to claim a lost
treasure, and several more.
After each performance, the students returned to the stage to
receive a medal and take a final bow. The audience cheered.
In part they cheered for the same reason audiences always
cheer: to show their gratitude for the laughs and the thrills.
But on this day, they were also cheering for the journey of
imagination and discovery these students had taken together.
OVERHEARD AT ENVISION 2022
“This is so great! It’s like what
you would do in an entire school
year in DI but in four days!”
– Max, student
“I’m excited to present! I’m excited to
create! I’m excited just to be here!”
– Zoey, student
“It was beneficial for us to learn about
the TETRIX robotics pieces because we
might be able to use them in the future.”
– Jerede, student
“There is a sense of pride that comes from doing
something your own way, not doing it because
someone said to. Destination Imagination lets kids
explore, make mistakes, and learn from them in a
– Heather Lowenstein, Founding Artistic
Director for Stone Lion Puppet Theater
“This is an opportunity for them to lead
themselves and learn initiative and
the creative process. That can take you
anywhere in life.”
– Amber Escobar, Envision volunteer
“Everyone is walking through seeing what
they’re doing, asking the kids questions, and the
kids are so excited to say, ‘I built this!’”
– Jake Oudheusden, Envision volunteer
“It was VERY gratifying to see TETRIX used in a different yet very appropriate
and effective way. It makes perfect sense when you think about it. We might have
to rethink that definition and the way we talk about TETRIX.”
– Tim Lankford, TETRIX Robotics Application Specialist