‘Light bulbs are going off in their heads’: Yarmouth students take problem-solving challenge

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YARMOUTH — On a typical weekend afternoon most kids are playing with friends or relaxing at home.

Others, though, can be found working through problems and using math and science to come up with solutions.

A group of third-graders and a group of fifth-graders have chosen the latter by participating in Destination Imagination, a project-based problem-solving challenge. The two groups will compete against their peers at the state level April 9 in Orono.

Destination Imagination is split into four categories: elementary, middle school, high school and college. At the state championship, groups in each category will compete against each other and winners will move on to the national championship.

In the fall, Destination Imagination groups around the state had to choose a project from options put forth by the organization. Groups will also be asked to perform instant challenges at the event.

Both Yarmouth groups, which are competing for the first time, have chosen to do “pace of change,” which means they need to make a vehicle move back and forth across a stage using two different methods. Parents overseeing the groups aren’t allowed to offer any ideas, clues, or suggestions.

“There is lots of creativity and they come up with lots of ideas,” Alison Rehnberg, a parent working with Yarmouth’s third-grade group, said. “One of the coolest things is allowing them a space to generate ideas and use the side of their brain they don’t always use after school.”

The third-grade group, which consists of seven boys, said there was a lot of trial and error when deciding how to move their vehicle across the stage. Ideas included an exploding soda bottle, water propulsion, a helicopter, and a zip line. They decided they will use a pulley system as one method and slide it across the stage as the other.

Al Raymond, a parent working with the fifth-grade group of five boys and two girls, said Destination Imagination teaches kids about problem-solving, teamwork, and project management skills, among other things.

“Very few activities at this grade level involve intensive team-oriented projects and very few have such long-term projects,” Raymond said. “It’s a level of insight into group dynamics that most students don’t get until they’re older.”

Third-grader Mateo Coury said he has learned a lot about teamwork over the past several months, and that he has learned how to “figure out others’ qualities and understand what to expect of them.”

He said learning how to work as a team has also allowed new friendships to form.

“We get to know each other by not excluding each other,” Coury said.

Janice O’Rourke, a parent working with the third-graders, said it’s important for kids to have opportunities to work as a team aside from the typical options.

“We think there should be alternatives to finding team work through sports, and most of these kids do play sports, but this allows them to use other skills,” she said.

Raymond said the project has also developed confidence in kids who were shy when the group first started working together. He said the students take pride in their ideas and in the work they’re doing.

“Light bulbs are going off in their heads,” Raymond said. “It’s the kind of accomplishment that I think kids should have the chance to have.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Yarmouth Elementary School third-graders Conor Setlow, front, and Graham Baybutt paint scenes in preparation for their entry in Destination Imagination, a statewide problem-solving competition for students.

A team of third-graders at Yarmouth Elementary School, including, from left, Owen Hayes, Lincoln Thorner and Mateo Coury, will be competing in Destination Imagination April 9, when they will use two different methods to move a vehicle.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.