Eleven-year-old McKenna Lyslo is learning a lot about group dynamics and conflict resolution at school. But if you asked her, she’d probably tell you she just likes to build things with her friends.
Lyslo is part of a pilot project being run at four Yukon schools called Destination Imagination. She and her Grade 5-6 classmates at Christ the King Elementary in Whitehorse have been working together since November to tackle a number of challenges laid out by the program.
“It’s so much fun,” said Lyslo. “I think it’s the instant challenges we like the most. We’ve done challenges with structures, building things out of lots of different materials.”
Destination Imagination is being tested at three Whitehorse schools this winter – Christ the King Elementary, Hidden Valley Elementary and Elijah Smith Elementary – and the Ross River school. It aims to help foster collaboration, creative group problem-solving and conflict resolution for students. It is billed as a chance for students to recognize and tackle the creative process outside of the standard memorize-and-regurgitate formula of class time.
Students are presented with team challenges that are designed to take between two and four months to solve. The team challenges can range from building structures entirely out of glue, to writing plays that address social issues and building wind-powered kinetic art that explores renewable energy.
The teams work together once a week on their group projects, which are presented at regional competitions. Each team has an adult team manager, but it’s the students who manage themselves and do the creating. Along the way they also tackle “instant challenges” that can be completed in a matter of minutes and keep the kids on their toes.
For Lyslo and her classmates, the most difficult part of the challenges is working through the difficulties of group dynamics without their teacher assigning roles.
“I’m thinking actually the hardest part was when we had to work together. We’re all at the same level, but we have two different leaders on the same team. It’s sometimes hard when we all have different ideas,” said McKenna.
“We choose leaders by talents, skills. The leaders are mostly the ones who have more experience of helping people out with more things,” said 10-year-old Andrew Carleton.
Carleton said he’s happy to let others take the lead in challenges, but that everyone has a role to play.
Asked if they want the program to continue, the class responded with a chorus of “yes!”
Ross River is the only school outside of Whitehorse where the program is being run during class time instead of as an after-school program.
Kendra Haines is the teacher responsible for overseeing the Ross River program, and she said that after a rocky start things have been going very well.
“It’s had its ups and downs. We’re working through the motions and getting the kids working together. That’s been a bit of a challenge because they’ve never had to work together before. There have been a little bit of bumps, a little bit of grinds. Kids get angry at kids. You have to work them through the collaborative working, troubleshooting, problem solving but with a hands-off approach. They’re taking on the responsibility of managing themselves,” Haines said.
As well as working on the instant challenges, Haines said she has started integrating the other parts of Destination Imagination, including improvisation and artwork.
The program is similar to the “gifted” programs of the ‘90s, but rather than select and single out students, Destination Imagination focuses on including everyone.
“I think it’s extremely important. If this program would have existed when I was in school, it’s something I would have dived on. Right now, our students are focusing on getting from point A to point B without realizing that maybe they can go from point A to point Q and then back to point B. There’s more creative thinking in the classrooms,” Haines said.
While the current pilot only focuses on Grades 5 and 6, Whitehorse superintendent Mike Woods said the plan is to implement it across the board from Kindergarten to Grade 12.
“There’s actually a newly developed early learning component, which would be pre-school. We do have an early learning centre at Selkirk, and we would use some of the Destination Imagination as well,” Woods said.
The pilot will run through until early April, when teams will converge for a regional showcase competition in Whitehorse. After that, the program will be evaluated and will likely be implemented across the territory.
Destination Imagination has been an incorporated non-profit program since 1999. It has more than 125,000 participants annually in 30 countries around the world.
Contact Jesse Winter at