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TETRIX® PRIME proves a powerful tool for storytelling at Destination Imagination

Published June 28, 2022
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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 student Sammae.

One interesting feature of the event was that students submitted work orders to Stone Lion for the set construction. Just as in a workplace, specificity was essential in these communications. Every measurement had to be noted and every color declared. “The whole idea is to simulate what would happen if they were at a shop,” said Stone Lion staff member Larry Goodman. “We’re trying to emphasize to the kids making things well thought out.”

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.


WATCH AND LEARN MORE AT PITSCO.COM/ENVISION2022.



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 nonthreatening way.”
– 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


“I love all of the hands-on activities! The enthusiasm from all of the presenters was wonderful. I enjoyed the hands-on activities and the incorporation of ELA into each lesson . . . real life!”

– Fifth-grade teacher, Grand Prairie ISD, Frontiers of Flight event

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