By Scott Dalgleish, Director of Business Development, Phase IV Engineering

If you have been familiar with  Phase IV for a little while you know that we have been strong supporters and advocates of Destination Imagination (DI) for years now.

DI is a problem-solving, leadership and creativity competition for kids from kindergarten through university level. Teams work throughout the school year on a chosen challenge based in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) and present their solution at competitions. The challenges are specifically designed to teach kids creative, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as the ability to think on their feet and learn from their failures.

Now here’s something you’re probably not familiar with: I love pinball machines. Once I became an “empty nester,” our basement became the pinball domain where I repair and play with my pinball collection. You can imagine my excitement when I found out that one of the DI challenges this year was called “Pinball Hero,” where teams were given the task of creating their own pinball machines. This would be a challenge enough on its own, but remember this is Destination Imagination so there is always more to it than that.

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Scott at the Awards Ceremony for a recent DI Tournament.

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One of the creatively designed pinball machines.

During the tournament, students present their pinball machine and its required technical elements while also performing a skit incorporating their machine–all within an eight minute time limit.  

Then there is the piece of the challenge that is the core of what DI is about. In this challenge, points can be awarded for “Technical Design and Technical Innovation based on all Technical Methods used or attempted,” and for “Risk Taking in the design of the Pinball System and for Risk Taking in the Pinball’s movement and interaction within the Pinball System.” In other words, the teams are rewarded for their boldness in innovation and risk taking, even if it is unsuccessful. One of the guiding principles of DI is that the team must come up with the solution to this challenge entirely on their own without any ideas, help or interference from adults. DI teaches kids that it is okay to learn through failures, that trying and failing is always better than never trying at all. 

This past weekend, at the Destination Imagination State tournament I witnessed that lesson exemplified. A middle school team took some great risks with their pinball machine.They launched the ball using a catapult system, and had it travel through several machine modules (height change, direction change, spin, etc.) before it was sent up a ramp that used a pulley to get it back to the launching catapult. However, the mechanism that was supposed to hold the ball in place  so it could be pulled up the ramp kept failing. These twelve year-old kids never once balked at this unexpected challenge. 

The students performing the team’s skit carried on without missing a beat, while the students running the pinball machine remained calm, synchronized their teamwork quietly and efficiently to problem solve the module on the spot. There was never a moment of fighting or panic as the team did their best to fix the issue. After trying several solutions and realizing it still wasn’t going to work, they pivoted. They took the module apart in order to retrieve the ball and move it along another way in order to  get other points where they could in the time they had left. When their time was up, they took their bow with nothing but smiles on their faces. Yes, they failed because they took risks, but the lessons they learned from that failure–that they can make on-the-spot decisions, that spirit of teamwork is the best thing to have in a worst-case scenario, and that they can struggle in front of a full audience and keep their cool– those are the best possible things someone can learn from DI. And this is why here at Phase IV, we can’t wait to hire DI kids.

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Appraisers evaluating a team’s performance.

I started out the season looking forward to seeing some amazing pinball machines created by these DI kids, and once again ended up being blown away by so much more than their mechanical prowess. I encourage you to check out Destination Imagination and lend your support as well.