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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 5, March 2006

Destination imagination

by Greg Murray

I believe creativity can be taught. There are many examples of this in our daily lives. Many adults have tried sketching something in later years and discovered that it looked good. Previously they thought they could not draw. Singing, drawing, painting, and writing are only small examples of a very large group of skills that are inherently present in every human being.

If this were not the case, then Steven Hawking would have never written books, Helen Keller would not have become a public speaker, and we would not have a paraplegic man as the mayor of Vancouver.

You never give up the dream. Tenacity means finishing what you start, however small the start is. Too often we place barriers in our way without realizing it. We see an astronaut reaching for the stars and say to ourselves, I could never do that. The model airplane they built as a child, sits on the mantle. We hear a guitarist play a beautiful piece and say to ourselves, I could never do that. The guitar they played their first notes on is propped against the wall, for you to pick up.

If you look around you will find the tools to make your dream real—a used recorder, an old paint set, a pencil and a piece of paper. It is your decision whether you pick up the tools and start down the road to fulfilling your dream.

That is what destination imagination is all about. It lets people be themselves and gives team members a chance to shine in an arena where they know they are valued, they are special, and they are talented in so many ways, some of which they realize only now.

Over the years I have seen the glowing faces after a presentation—wonder at their own accomplishments recorded in their actions, and happiness in each team member’s success.

For this reason I have included destination imagination activities as part of my flexible daily timetable. Although we have a fixed and printed timetable, there are so many interruptions, changes, deletions, guests, performances, assemblies, and observers throughout a typical school day that I created a flexible timetable. It is at the front of the classroom and I place the various activities for the day on the front wall. When the students enter the room, they simply look at the timetable and adjust their supplies accordingly—a working and effective system. You see, creativity can be taught. It can also be learned.

As adults, when we are short of money and have to pay bills, we create. When we are backed into a corner, we create. Destination imagination provides the means by which we can avoid some corners. As a team member, it enhances, grows, and ignites the talents already hidden within you. In the classroom I provide the time, the necessity, and the tools to accomplish this goal. Then I stand back and let the kids do the wonderfully creative things they do.

Destination imagination is an all-encompassing invention (graphic, design, and drama group) where students are placed in teams of five to seven people.

Each team is given a problem to solve within a specific time frame. They are supplied with tools such as a box of 20 items, a roll of masking tape, and a pair of scissors. They are to use only these items to complete the task. They get no outside help. Team members create, construct, and complete all items and activities by themselves. This theme is critically important. All parents can relate to this if you have ever helped with a project at home and the time is running out. The team members have to cut, glue, form, attach, and construct everything as a team.

In our classroom the time frame is broken into thinking time, creating time, and production time. Each team member has to have an active part in all three phases, including a speaking part in the presentation phase where the scoring is done.

Throughout the school year I incorporate "short snappers" into daily activities. These are one-minute activities where the students have to write or say a list of items based on a category, i.e., make a list of all the four-legged animals you can think of. This teaches them to categorize, which is a major science IRP goal and a very useful activity in enhancing creativity.

Team members are actively encouraged to help each other, to assist the shy members, to support the weaker skilled and to applaud every attempt. It is an incredibly positive event and can easily become a philosophy in daily living. Over time, team members learn to go home and say I’ll help with the dishes or Let me do that for you. No one tells them to do this. It is not an assignment. It is a self-fulfilling idea.

In today’s stress-filled classroom, where large student numbers, lack of supplies, and ever-increasing demands on the teachers and the students is a daily event, remember these goals. Remember the philosophy behind destination imagination. Whatever you call it, use it. Encourage the behavior-problem student to be a team member. Encourage the reluctant parent to participate. Phone home and tell the parents some good things about your class and their kids.

Teaching is one of the most creative professions in our world. Teachers learn to be "self-reinforcers" early in their careers. We learn, mostly on the job, to avoid those "corners." Tenaciousness occurs daily. Faced with an overloaded classroom full of independent skills and individual learning goals, modified programs, and adapted learning styles, we are forced to create, often on a minute-by-minute basis.

Remember to encourage yourself. Teachers are fixers. We learn to make do with less. We learn to accomplish without proper supplies. We learn to construct and present because we are a conscientious lot. It is in our nature to provide the means to succeed. We do it because the goals need to be finished. The rungs on the ladder need to be built. We do it because we can see our students, as adults, facing the terrors of the real world.

We do it because we love teaching.

Greg Murray teaches at Eagle View Elementary School, Port Hardy.

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