Bucking Screen Time With Ingenuity - Aliso Viejo Students Earn a Coveted Spot to Compete at Destination Imagination Global Finals

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As society struggles with the detrimental effects of school aged children facing excessive electronic device screen time, one group of Orange County, California middle school students has set aside their devices and found a healthy alternative by successfully competing together in the world's largest celebration of creativity. Team Button's unique success has advanced them to Global Finals on the world stage.

"The pressure you experience from working on a project for months and then having to distill it down, and perform it all in only eight minutes is inexplicable, yet at the same time, exhilarating." - 6th Grader, Connor Wong

Studies show excessive electronic screen time leads to kids becoming chronically depressed, irritable, and unmotivated. It’s time to find alternatives to these degenerative pathways.

One group of middle schoolers from both Van Damme Academy and Vista Verde K-8 formed their team, “The Buttons,” consisting of four dedicated students who found an educational solution by focusing their attention on an engineering performance project for the past seven months. Two hundred and eleven California teams participated in the state tournament that took place on Saturday, April 6th, in Clovis, California. Of the fifteen state engineering challenge middle school finalists, just two other top-scoring teams along with The Buttons advanced to the global competition scheduled this year for May 22 through 26, 2019 where they will compete amongst 1,400 teams spanning 30 countries, in the world’s largest celebration of creativity.

Their task? To perform effectively as a team in crafting a standout solution and live presentation to a competitive engineering challenge. 7th Grader James Chow recalls his initial hesitation, “This is our rookie year in DI, and there is no chance we’re going to beat these veteran teams.” But as they progressed up the ranks, advancing to state, “[James] realized the potential developing in us, as we worked successfully through several technical malfunctions.” James came up with the idea for the script, and wrote it, with his teammates helping edit. “Our story includes a monster and our engineered structure, and a malevolent scientist attempting to turn humanity into zombies, but Thomas and his ally Kai, stop the scientist. Our structure represents a Zombification machine, that Dr. Ace, attempts to utilize to weaponize global humanity into zombies.”

Destination Imagination (DI) attracts more than 150,000 students annually in international, regional competitions, where teams of students, ranging from kindergarten through university levels, solve challenges in STEM fields, Technical, Fine Arts, Science, Improv, and Service Learning, and present their solutions at tournaments. Most importantly, the kids need to be self-reliant, as DI Challenges are all about allowing kids to create on their own without help from any adults or non-team members. 6th Grader Wilson Song talked about his experience, “Initially, my team started building paper structures, which were strong as long as there were many layers, but heavy in weight. So, I researched online to find solutions for this challenge. I experimented with different materials - ultimately using balsa because it yielded ideal results. Our balsa wood structure was the strongest and lightest amongst all 15 State team finalists.”

As for the presentation portion, 6th Grader Lauren Lee, is no stranger to the spotlight or to rehearsals, commenting, “Our team had to spend a lot of rehearsal time to get our skit just right, but I think the time I spent working in a big play like "A Christmas Carol" really helped to show me how much practice time is needed for a successful performance.” Lee also noted, “It wasn’t easy putting together the technical part of our challenge and then merging it into a storied performance, but the more difficult it became, the more rewarding it was, especially when we pulled it off!”

Of course, technology can be used to enhance our lives. 6th Grader Connor Wong enjoyed incorporating tech into their presentation by designing an autonomous gong device. Connor shared, "I also worked to fabricate a digital background. We created and edited a video so that the digital background would enhance our skit and integrate with other live action props.”

Furthermore, at the tournament, the team receives an instant challenge and the raw materials to solve it. The team members must think quickly on the spot and work together to solve it within just minutes.

Team Buttons has risen up by advancing successfully to the top of both Regional and State Tournaments and earning their coveted spot culminating in competition on the World’s stage, in the upcoming prestigious Global Finals Tournament in Kansas City, Missouri.

Connor Wong reflects on the overall experience: “Destination Imagination has given me the opportunity to face a new challenge with my friends. The pressure you experience from working on a project for months and then having to distill it down, and perform it all in only eight minutes is inexplicable, yet at the same time, exhilarating. I still cannot believe that 7 months ago I barely knew one of our teammates and we each knew nothing about DI. To make it to Globals is one of my proudest life accomplishments and I am glad to share it with my teammates."

Certainly big things lie ahead for these junior engineers who may become future NASA Astronauts, Medical Professionals, or Social Scientists, working tirelessly to solve problems and embrace technologies to advance human kind.

In true team problem solving fashion, the Buttons will be hosting a local garage sale in Irvine on Saturday, May 18, 2019, as they continue to fund raise to help offset Global Finals expenses, including travel and lodging. Team Managers, Monica Wong and James Emmi couldn’t be prouder of Team Buttons spirit, cohesiveness, and journey as they proceed to the International competition.

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Randy Scott
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