Destination Imagination: Worth the Effort?
February 26, 2015 8:53 PM   Subscribe

Does DI have any proven benefit? I can't find anything on it except its own materials and parents/schools talking about how their kids did in it. I'm skeptical, I guess, that these sort of open-ended "creativity challenges" actually accomplish anything. I am still struggling to answer "what is the point of this?"

DI is huge, HUGE, in our part of Texas, and presumably elsewhere. Private and public schools participate in large numbers. My kid's school included. They spend a long time coming up with their entries, and then go off to massive daylong competitions which can then go up to regional/national/international. It's a beating, honestly, and that's part of my reason for wondering, but also, no one can give me a clear answer as to why we are doing it, other than vague happy talk about creativity and teamwork. Who decided this was a thing that everyone needed to do? Is it a scam of some kind? What say you, Metafilter?
posted by emjaybee to Education (9 answers total)
I've coached a DI team, and it did present some opportunities for kids to solve interesting problems together and whatnot. Google Scholar has quite a few things you might like to read. Just glancing at the results, this one made some sense to me, suggesting it's just analogous to whatever kids get out of sports and other after school programs. That sounds about right.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:30 PM on February 26, 2015

I participated in Odyssey of the Mind (OM) and Destination Imagination (DI) in elementary school and high school. They're basically the same organization, and since I'm not up on the state of where they are, they might be at this point.

Honestly, it was a lot of fun for me. It's essentially like debate club or mathletes or It's Academic, but it's a creativity competition. I'm not sure why you would think it's a scam, but between the two organizations (OM and DI), it's nationwide.

As to why you're doing it? Why do any competitive thing? Part of it is the joy and fun, for me I enjoyed writing scripts, making props, performing, all while working under a tight budget. The spontaneous portion, which is essentially rapid-fire creative puzzle solving, could be challenging, which was great. I got to meet people and become friends with them, while doing fun things. What do you get out of learning a musical instrument, playing a sport, or any other extra-curricular activity? You compete because you enjoy doing it, and maybe even because you like winning. There's no great mystery to it.
posted by X-Himy at 6:40 AM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

I participated in DI when it first split from OM (oh god, like 15 years ago) with a strong group in high school that made it to the finals all four years and won some special awards.

The most tangible benefit for me was learning how to safely operate power tools and build things from scratch, but it also gave non-musical, non-athletic me a team to be on where I knew my participation mattered. I met people that I'm still good friends with today. I have sharper interpretive thinking on my feet skills, I'm an adept problem solver, I am really, really good at finding the weak spot in seemingly impenetrable obstacles, these are all things I can trace back to my participation in DI. As far as more immediate benefits: I was a smart kid but also kind of a troublemaker and it really gave me a focal point for mental restlessness. It is also tremendously fun. YMMV, but I think it's worth the effort.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 8:41 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I was a global finals champion, and a coach years later. I was in the creative problem solving programs for 6 or 7 years. As a person who wasn't athletic or good at making friends, Di provided me with the same opportunities as athletes and to be part of something I was actually good at. I feel like the program also teaches unmatched real world skills. Power tools. Team work. Independence (adults aren't allowed to help teams with solutions). Also, creative problem solving is rarely taught in any other context. It's helped me survive when I didn't have a job. It helped me to buy a house in college. The real question is.... What isn't the point? If it doesn't say you can't, you can!
posted by Kestrelxo at 12:18 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These are all good to hear and I appreciate them. I think some of my skittishness is because it's so big, it seemed to come out of nowhere, and it's hard to find any straightforward, non-marketing information on the program. I will look through the Google Scholar link Monsieur Caution provided.

What I'm looking for here is what drove the DI folks (or Odyssey of the Mind) folks to do this? What movement/ideology/educational theory did it grow out of? Where does their funding come from and where does it go? It's all very opaque. From a parent POV, all I get is "Oh hey, your kid is going to do DI with our class, have them here at this giant auditorium with 80 bajillion other kids and then they'll do something you see for five minutes and get graded on it by random folks and possibly win and then you'll have to take them to another auditorium somewhere else, repeat."

With sports or UIL-type competitions, it's about "acquire X skill and compete against others who have also acquired it." With DI it appears to be "Be creative in a nonspecified way in reaction to several challenges and we will then use our proprietary/subjective criteria to rate that creativity." Which is just...odd to me. Why would I want my creativity rated? Or my kid's?

I am fine with my kid doing it as long as he enjoys it, I get that it can just be a fun thing to do. But it is marketed so heavily and run on such a large scale, that it bewilders me.
posted by emjaybee at 12:55 PM on February 27, 2015

DI came about in 2000 (I think), it split with the longrunning program Odyssey of the Mind after some sort of lawsuit about...something. The bottom line is that OM is for-profit and DI is non-profit. So if you want to look into the origins and theory, you might have better results searching for OM. The programs are (or were when I was doing it, but a quick perusal of the site looks like there have been no substantial changes) pretty similar, just with different names for things (instant challenge vs spontaneous, etc).

Here is a basic appraiser (judge) guide that may shed some light as to how creativity is scored.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 1:20 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

What movement/ideology/educational theory did it grow out of?

Formally speaking, it seems easy to place in the same camp as progressive education. The instant challenge stuff and the entire improvisation track (see column D in the list of old challenges) also has something in common with improv work, and handling that kind of thing without freezing up is not a bad skill to have. I assume the judges have some sort of semi-legitimate though arguable rubric developed in advance, but honestly, I would only worry about that if it looked like competitions were truly, systematically unfair, which didn't seem to be the case.

I wouldn't be surprised if any organization involved in extracurriculars had some issues, but I'd have more questions about those that have a significant impact on peoples' futures, like ETS. Like you, I was surprised to see educators making a big deal out of DI, and really, I was surprised that there's any phenomenon here at all, much less the gigantic whooping rally of a thing that I saw. But, as I suspect you've considered, if someone's going to mass-market a quasi-academic activity for kids to get involved in, it's probably easier to approve of that than all the other people mass-marketing frequently sedentary/unchallenging non-academic activities to them.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 1:33 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I can't speak to where it came from, but I did a DI group last year as a coach and the biggest benefit I saw from it was that the problem solving solutions had to come entirely from the kids. You would believe how challenging that one aspect is. Kids are so used to being told what to do and adults to telling them. It was frustrating challenging, but ultimately all their own.

I would say I've been told this is just the new Odyssey of the mind, but I don't know first hand.

TL:DR this is a completely opposite experience from standardized testing and for that alone IMO preferable.
posted by aetg at 4:43 AM on February 28, 2015

Best answer: What I'm looking for here is what drove the DI folks (or Odyssey of the Mind) folks to do this? What movement/ideology/educational theory did it grow out of?
While I cannot speak to which specific theory it grew from, the focus of DI is child led creativity and teamwork. Children do everything except the paperwork (and at the high school/college level they do that as well).

Where does their funding come from and where does it go?
Funding comes from tournament fees, t-shirt sales, and whatever additional scrimmages/fundraising your region chooses to put on. Everything goes back into the region - DI is entirely volunteer driven. Fees are used to pay for the tournament, scholarships for underprivileged teams, etc. (Note that OM is different from DI in this aspect.)

With sports or UIL-type competitions, it's about "acquire X skill and compete against others who have also acquired it."
With DI it's "Here is a problem and some guidelines. What can your team do to solve the problem and wow us?"

Why would I want my creativity rated? Or my kid's?
It's less about rating creativity, and more about teaching kids how to think outside the structure that schools place on them. The benefit isn't the final performance or the score - it's learning to work as a team on a long term project. No adult help.

Please feel free to memail me if you want to chat about DI, I have been very involved with the organization for almost 20 years and am not too far from you.
posted by peasandcarrots at 9:32 PM on March 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

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