Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

Explaining the picture and other ramblings

Fresh when it gets here from Julie Barrett
Saturday, February 18, 2006

It's hard to tell from the picture posted below, but that water is actually ice. It's not always easy to tell ice from water unless you have a frame of referece, such as some snow or frost or the classic icicles hanging from the roof. This is what also makes ice so dangerous to drive on. In Texas they call it black ice because it looks just like a thin coating of water on the asphalt.

Apologies in advance for typos tonight. It's COLD! And I'm dead tired. Okay, 22F isn't cold for a lot of people, but in North Texas this kind of weather is quite unusual, even in the winter. Our offical high was 34F, but I never saw the temperature where I live get above 29F. I also spent far too much time out of doors today. Yes, I had to get a picture, but we also had to take the DI team out shopping. One week before the tournament, and they're still putting things together. This is so not good, yet it is typical.

What is DI, you may ask? It stands for Destination Imagination, a creative problem solving program. If you've heard of Odyssey of the Mind, then you have an idea of what this is about. For the uninitiated, students form teams. Generally speaking, teams are sponsored by schools, but in the last couple of years it has been possible for parent groups and businesses to sponsor teams.

Each team has to solve a long-term challenge and an instant challenge. The long-term challenge is usually complex. In past years my teams have made a roller coaster to transport tennis balls, created live special effects, done improv presentations, and put together a radio show, among other things. This year the challenge involves a hat that changes the wearer somehow, and some sort of a disaster which is caused by technical means. I can't describe it much more without giving away what they're doing.

If I sound paranoid, it's because I am. One of the basic rules of DI is that a team doesn't share any aspects of its solution with anyone - especially other teams - until the presentation date. It's not like I'm guarding state secrets, but I'm big on respecting rules.

Speaking of guarding secrets, the other part of the program is an Instant Challenge. In the IC, the team is given a challenge that they have to solve on the spot - generally in under ten minutes. The challenge varies. They may have to build a structure, create a skit, find a way to communicate information without words, or any combination of those elements. The team is given the necessary materials to solve the challenge. These ICs are usually quite difficult. The thing about ICs is that we're not allowed to reveal the challenge until after the Global Finals in late May. Other teams may have seen our presentation, but they don't know what we did in IC. The Instant Challenge part of the competition is a bit of a leveling device. We can practice ICs until we're blue in the face - and we have - but we'll always find a new twist when we reach competition.

The presentation of the long-term challenge solution generally runs eight minutes, but teams put an incredible amount of preparation into their presentations. The nature of the challenges demand that they do research into various things. For this year's challenge they have to research at least one other country, not to mention the research, design, and execution of the technical element. There's also a skit involved, which means a set, props, and costumes.

Oh, I forgot to mention that there is also a cost limit on each challenge. The cost varies with the challenge. In most cases, this means a very tight budget and teams are forced to scrounge for parts and items for props and costumes. The cost is another way of leveling the playing field. Otherwise, it's possible for a parent to "buy" a solution, or at least provide high-end parts that other teams couldn't afford.

Another interesting rule is that no interference from the outside is allowed. I can teach my team members a skill. I can show them how to sew, for example, but I can't make a costume for them. I bring this up because a team member made an error on a costume. To be honest, I'd have made the same error. But the team member has to figure out a way to fix it.

One thing about DI is that it does require a commitment, and this is where I have my problem with some team members. If this was a sport some of my team members would have been out of the program a long time ago. As it is, they have to juggle DI with everything else, including having fun. We try to make this fun. Yet I am continually frustrated because as a team manaager I make my place available for meetings. I also spend quite a bit out of my pocket for supplies and snacks. Some of the team parents have been kind enough to help with expenses this year. You know who you are, and you have my undying gratitude.

But I have to say it's frustrating when kids say they'll be at a meeting and then they don't show up. They don't call and then they get defensive when asked why they didn't come and why they didn't let the team know. Like a team sport, every member counts. When someone can't participate, that sets the project back. Gads, I'm sounding like a corporate manager, but in this case it's very true. So now here we are, one week before the competition, and these kids haven't even done a run-through of their skit because all of the physical elements are still not in place.

My only whine here (and I think it is justified) is that when someone makes a commitment that they should honor it. I'm honoring my commitment by making a space available and providing what support I can as a team manager. There are days I don't get work done so I can supervise their meetings. It seems that the least that they can do is respect my commitment.

But I'm really afraid that I am asking too much.

Oh, well. I've rambled enough tonight. It has been a very long day indeed and it's time for Britcoms.


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