An Insider's ExperienceSecondarySarah Marie Catalana

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I remember the night distinctly. My mom came home late from a parent's interest meeting for Destination Imagination. I had never seen her so excited. She tried to explain this "awesome new activity" to me...something about making skits, thinking out of the box, working on teams, and solving problems in new ways. I was the typical eager, over-committed child who wanted to try everything. My brothers assured me that I was the top member of the NOA, otherwise known as the "Nerds of America". Until I found Destination Imagination, I only saw myself as a nerd. I loved to learn new things, but my enthusiasm for school and learning on my own wasn't normal. I'd participated in , piano lessons, church choirs, Girl Scouts...you name it. But, I still felt different. Destination Imagination taught me that being "different" is a good thing.
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This was my first instant challenge. To this day, I still find myself brainstorming reasons why Fuzzy Wuzzy isn't fuzzy...for the first time in my life, I was encouraged to be different. My team members and I were supposed to think out of the box! Destination Imagination taught me to embrace my love for learning and creativity.
Throughout my eight years in the program, I had the opportunity to research ancient Egypt, compose music for a skit depicting the life cycle of a butterfly, research and recreate an anonymous work of art, lead an imaginary trip to Australia, form a band and perform music, research the effects of acid rain, construct a pendulum, and solve mysteries from ancient Japan. I played the a part of an Egyptian slave, a famous musician, a pawn on a chessboard, a teacher, a hand (from Jamaica, to be exact), Mother Nature, and a sophisticated Japanese woman.
At school, I often pressured myself to be perfect. However, Destination Imagination taught me to see the potential in imperfection. I am currently a graduate student at the University of Georgia in the department of Educational Psychology. My emphasis is in Gifted and Creative Education, and I am continually struck by the lasting impacts that Destination Imagination has had on my life. I trace the following life lessons back to experiences I had while participating in Destination Imagination:
There is always more than one answer to a problem.
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  • An old shoe box came to life as I constructed the "Mummy Mail Man" for my team's solution when I was in third grade. Our team decided we wanted the Mummy Mail Man to move on his own, but we were baffled by motors and had no idea where to start. As I sat on the porch and created the Mail Man out of my old shoe box, I considered what else could fit inside beside shoes. Why, a remote-control car, of course! The next meeting, my team members and I rigged a way to fit an old remote control car inside the shoe box. The Mummy Mail Man was moving on his own in no time.

  • Even when I'm presented with problems in my graduate level classes,I challenge myself to think of alternative solutions. I've learned to question the status-quo and engage in research that will help me form my own opinions. Sometimes the solution doesn't have to be complicated-why construct your own motors when you can disguise an old remote-controlled car as the Mummy Mail Man?




  • Don't be afraid to seek help from experts in the field.
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When I was in eighth grade, my team and I participated in the challenge "The Plot and the Pendulum". The challenge required us to construct a working pendulum that triggered a change in the skit. As a group of six fourteen-year-old girls, we were eager to make costumes and scenery...but we had no idea how to construct a pendulum. After spending hours attempting to research on our own, I remember googling "What is a Pendulum" and stumbling upon a website. After attempting to make sense of what seemed to be another language,I decided to email the author and see if he would be willing to help. The next day,I was surprised to find a long email in my inbox...complete with advice as to how to construct a pendulum and several questions about the Destination Imagination program. Throughout the year,I built a lasting relationship with the author through email,as he mentored my team and me about the science behind pendulums. When our team placed first in the state and progressed to Global Finals, he came to meet us in person. He taught me to tackle challenges that are out of my comfort zone, and to not be shy in seeking help from others.
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Destination Imagination taught me to appreciate challenges and to be willing to seek help from others. I remember being shy about expressing my confusion in academic environments when I was younger, but now I realize the importance of embracing difficult challenges and seeking advice from those more experienced.

Learning is about the process, not just the product
Every Destination Imagination meeting was an adventure. Each time has a budget of $100, but we always joked about the money we wasted with experimenting. Does dry ice give off colored smoke if you put it into colored water? Does spray paint work on Styrofoam? How exactly does a drill work? Since Destination Imagination has a strict "No Interference" rule, I quickly grew accustomed to learning through experimenting. Even if it took us several tries to produce the final product, I learned to appreciate making mistakes and learn through experimentation.
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A healthy and supportive environment is key to successful learning
After my eighth grade team finished competing at Global Finals, I remember coming home and sleeping for almost two days straight. How was it that I hardly had fun at Global Finals, when I lived for those awesome five days each May? As I caught up on sleep and started to take care of myself, I realized that in my obsession with performing well at Global Finals, I had neglected to remember to take a break and enjoy the moment. I often come back to this experience during stressful times in graduate school. If I pressure myself to be perfect, I actually lose the passion I have for learning.
Creativity is a group effort
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Although I participated in Destination Imagination for eight years, my team members were constantly changing. I remember sitting in front of the computer during the summer, starting to solve the challenges before my team had even been formed. The first few years, I tried convincing my team members to play entirely by my rules, but I gradually learned that teamwork was the key to success. I learned to be both an effective leader and team-member.


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Be proud of your accomplishments
This is my favorite picture that I have from my entire Destination Imagination experience. I am so thankful for the support and encouragement that my mom gave me as our team manager each year. My fifth grade team was quite the challenge...the year was full of drama, and our team placed last in the regional competition. However, after much hard work our team pulled out a first place win in the state competition just one month later, and progressed to Global Finals for the first time. I will never forget how proud I felt when we received our trophies and medals.
Never stop playing
Mid-way through each D.I. meeting, our team took a snack break and played a myriad of silly games outside. It was during these times, when our minds were at ease and we were enjoying ourselves, that we came up with some of our best ideas. I'm not the type to stay cooped up in the library. I've learned that learning can occur in all types of circumstances, and I value my time to relax and enjoy myself. You are never too old to have fun!


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Find beauty in imperfectionThis is one of my favorite props that I ever helped build. The pendulum represents mankind's heart, and triggered a series of events in our skit. I remember spending countless hours working to make it look perfect. However, a quick glance at the back of the prop shows that we learned to be lenient in our design...why waste time perfecting the side of the prop the audience will never see?
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I am forever grateful for the experience that I had with Destination Imagination. The program truly awakened my "creative spirit" and inspired me to conduct research and teach in the field of creativity and educational psychology.
Excerpts from my many scrapbooks depicting my D.I. Experiences.Scrapbook Page 1.png
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References

All images and content are the personal property of Sarah Marie Catalana