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Destination: one of Jupiter’s moons, then state tournament

  • Gill Elementary School students Maia Castro-Santos and Nadya Baum present their winning play from the “Destination Imagination” competition about the lava pools on Io, the fifth moon of Jupiter, to the rest of the school recently.<br/>(Recorder/Paul Franz)

    Gill Elementary School students Maia Castro-Santos and Nadya Baum present their winning play from the “Destination Imagination” competition about the lava pools on Io, the fifth moon of Jupiter, to the rest of the school recently.
    (Recorder/Paul Franz)

  • Elsie Almeida, Althea Tierney and Maeve Beck, from bottom, have difficulty containing themselves while demonstrating the proper use of a teleportation portal. Standing, from left, are Alexis Dimitriou, Maia Castro-Santos and Nadya Baum. The Gill sixth-graders are headed to the state finals of Destination Imagination with their space portal and associated equipment. <br/>Recorder Chris Curtis

    Elsie Almeida, Althea Tierney and Maeve Beck, from bottom, have difficulty containing themselves while demonstrating the proper use of a teleportation portal. Standing, from left, are Alexis Dimitriou, Maia Castro-Santos and Nadya Baum. The Gill sixth-graders are headed to the state finals of Destination Imagination with their space portal and associated equipment.
    Recorder Chris Curtis

  • Gill Elementary School students Maia Castro-Santos and Nadya Baum present their winning play from the “Destination Imagination” competition about the lava pools on Io, the fifth moon of Jupiter, to the rest of the school recently.<br/>(Recorder/Paul Franz)
  • Elsie Almeida, Althea Tierney and Maeve Beck, from bottom, have difficulty containing themselves while demonstrating the proper use of a teleportation portal. Standing, from left, are Alexis Dimitriou, Maia Castro-Santos and Nadya Baum. The Gill sixth-graders are headed to the state finals of Destination Imagination with their space portal and associated equipment. <br/>Recorder Chris Curtis

GILL — Sixth-graders Alexis Dimitriou, Maeve Beck, Elsie Almeida, Althea Tierney, Maia Castro-Santos and Nadya Baum built a teleportation device to send them to Io, the lava-splashed fifth moon of Jupiter. Being mostly cardboard, no one expected it to work, which it didn’t, but they also didn’t expect the project to send them to the state finals of an imagination competition, which it did.

“I don’t think it’s normal for first-year people to ... ,” said Tierney. “... Move on (to the state competition),” finished Baum. The six 11- and 12-year-olds are the sort of friends who finish one another’s sentences.

“This is a really, really tight group. Most of us have been together since kindergarten,” Almeida said.

This is the first year Gill Elementary has sent teams to compete in Destination Imagination, a nationwide creativity competition that follows the science fair model.

The next stage is today.

Gill Elementary School fifth-grade teacher David Grout introduced the concept to his students last year, and this year asked if anyone wanted to sign up. Thirty-two did, fielding five teams for two regional competitions. Most did not move on, not surprising for first-time competitors, Grout said, but the sixth-grade Io team won first place among seven middle school teams at the regional competition in Millbury this month.

The competition puts contestants through mental gymnastics beginning with the creation of a presentation to meet one of the menu of challenges and themes presented that year. The teams then get together at the regional level to make their presentations.

The Gill girls chose the theme of extreme environments and worked their way from there to a moon of Jupiter.

“First we wanted to do a volcano but we decided that ...” Tierney said. “ ... It wasn’t very original,” Castro-Santos added. “So we looked at some moons of planets that have lava lakes,” Tierney finished.

Io won. Props for the presentation included a model space portal for interplanetary travel, helmets — one equipped with flashing lights — and a painted backdrop. A model oxygen tank is filled with plastic stand-ins for mutant plants that would recycle carbon dioxide into oxygen on long voyages. There was also singing. The group incorporated song, dance and theater in their lunar exploration presentation.

Originality is a good part of the point of the competition, which is designed to challenge only the students; no one shows up with a volcano made by their parents.

Grout said competitors sign contracts at the outset agreeing to do all the work themselves. They may ask adults for lessons in specific skills such as carpentry, but adults may not help, offer ideas or suggestions.

The next step of the competition is a surprise challenge the team must complete on the spot at the competition. The challenge itself remains a secret until Memorial Day, when all the competitions are over.

Grout said he has participated in Destination Imagination, as a competitor, then a volunteer, since he was in middle school — when it was known as Odyssey of the Mind — and he was surprised to find there were no regional competitions in western Mass.

Grout would like to change that, and asks that anyone interested in starting a program at their school email him at david.grout@gmrsd.org.

“This is the program that I think western Mass. needs, because personally I think creativity in the state of Massachusetts, it’s really in the western part of the state. We are so artistic, so creative, so scientific, it just shows. I started this program that no one had ever heard of, and I had 32 kids sign up, right off the bat, and all of them want to do it again,” he said.

The Gill team said they went into the first stage of the competition looking to have fun, not win, and now that they are heading for the state competition they are hoping for a finish in the top three, which will bring medals. If they win or place second they win a spot in the national competition.

The state finals are at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

The Destination Imagination Global Tournament is May 20-24 in Knoxville, Tenn.

You can reach Chris Curtis at: ccurtis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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