ORONO, Maine — The students’ challenge was to make a device that could fit into a 20-by-20-inch box and be capable of placing and removing items from the top of an 8-foot tower. Students also to write and perform a skit to promote their tool.
A group of Orono Middle School students, nicknamed the DI Challengers, decided to create a “disaster” at the Penobscot Narrows Bridge as their play. They designed an accordion-type tool to “save” people trapped in the observation tower and to remove cars stuck on the broken span.
“We called it a scissor-jack,” Katie Sypher, 14, said of the device the team created.
The local team took top honors for its “unidentified moving object” Destination ImagiNation project at the DI Globals, held May 25-28 at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
The six-person DI team consists of eighth-graders Lily Koffman, 14, Anna Webber, 14, Emily Noyes, 13, Emma Peterson, 14, and Sypher, as well as sixth-grader Jake Koffman, 12.
Destination ImagiNation, formerly known as Odyssey of the Mind, is a nonprofit corporation located in New Jersey. Its goal is to foster creativity as well as problem-solving skills in young people based on the concept of divergent thinking — understanding that there is more than one way to solve a problem, the DI website states.
As the team’s skit began, Lily Koffman played a television news reporter who was covering the bridge disaster.
“I gave a newscast at the beginning that the Penobscot Narrows Bridge was collapsing and the mayor of Bucksport needed help,” she said.
The scissor-jack then was removed from its box and used to move eight items — a CD, a small plastic cup, a can, a 2-liter bottle, a bolt, a washer, a sponge and a golf ball — from a pool of water on the ground to the top of the tower, then return them all before being put back into its box.
“We had a claw — it was a giant clothespin — with a magnet attached to pick up the bolt and the washer and duct tape to pick up the CD,” Sypher said.
While team members used the scissor-jack to move the items, the skit continued with Sypher highlighting the usefulness of the tool to another teammate and other members acting as the TV camera operators, disaster victims and in other roles.
In the background was a model of the Penobscot Narrows Bridge created by the middle school students from PVC pipe, wooden dowels and rope.
“Moving the objects was very hard,” but the really challenging part of the project was “integrating your skit into the project,” Lily Koffman said.
The DI Challengers went up against middle-schoolers from all over the country and a team from Singapore.
“You’re going up against the best of the best,” said parent Scott Peterson, who is co-team manager with fellow parent Dave Koffman.
Team leaders and other adults are not allowed to assist the students with their projects; team members must solve problems that come up on their own.
Some of the other teams used tent poles to create their tool; others used PVC pipe and one had a remote controlled electric claw, Dave Koffman said.
“There was all sorts of different solutions” for the unidentified moving object project, he said.
The local DI team has worked together since the third grade. Its members are no strangers at the DI Globals — they have been to the competition four times in the last six years.
Lily Koffman said in that time the team has learned that “you can accomplish anything when you are working together and listening to everything — and you think outside the box.”
Dave Koffman said he has been impressed with the team’s progress.
“They actually listen to each other’s ideas and they can brainstorm,” he said. “They’ve really got it. It’s been amazing to see them develop as critical thinkers.”
“As a coach, that is what you would like to see — them developing as a team and learning to worth together,” Scott Peterson added.
Principal Bob Lucy said he was thrilled when he heard the Orono DI team took first place.
“I was very excited for them,” Lucy said. “They have worked very hard for many years in the program. They are just an outstanding group of students.”
The DI Challengers team will perform the skit next week for the Orono-Old Town Kiwanis Club, which meets at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday at the Black Bear Inn in Orono.
The skit performed at the national DI competition was supposed to end on a high note, but the eight-minute time limit expired before the local team could finish, Lily Koffman said.
“I had a line that everyone was saved, but we ran out of time,” she said.
Even so, the team impressed the judges and returned to Maine as national winners.