MADISON — They call themselves Infinite Velocity and they’re on their way to Destination Imagination’s Global Finals in Knoxville, Tennessee, billed as the world’s largest celebration of student creativity.

And they’re all home-schooled.

The group of five middle-school-age students, members of the Somerset Homeschool Co-op, came up with a physics challenge that uses an ordinary power drill, pulleys and rope to haul a box on dolly wheels across the room. They won the 2017 Maine Destination Imagination competition in their category and earned a trip to the University of Tennessee May 24-27 for the Global Finals, which involves about 8,000 students from 30 nations around the world.

A spokeswoman at Destination Imagination said there will be several other teams from Maine going to the Global Finals in different categories, but the complete list will not be released until May 3.

Somerset members will compete in the Show and Tech category, one of seven open-ended challenges that require students to apply science, technology, engineering and math — STEM — skills, in addition to their talents in improvisation, theater arts, writing, project management, communication, innovation, teamwork, community service and social entrepreneurship, said Vicki Merrill, one of the adult coordinators.

Team members are Ashton Umbrianna, 13, of St. Albans; Carter Houle, 14, of Vassalboro; Sarah Hatfield, 12, of Solon; Isaiah Simoneau, 13, of St. Albans; and Mackenzie Merrill, 12, of Norridgewock.

“We learned what we can do with just average things, like a drill. We never would have thought that you could pull a car with 200 pounds in it with a drill,” Isaiah Simoneau said. He said the system the team devised pulled a homemade car made of cardboard and plywood across the floor with two of the kids inside.

“As you turn the drill on, it just winds it up just like a winch,” he said. “We learned the science behind pulleys.”

Destination Imagination has had a positive impact on more than 1.5 million students who have taken part in the program, according to program promotional material. This year, 150,000 students have participated in tournaments throughout the U.S. and 30 countries in hopes of earning a spot at the Global Finals competition in May.

Infinite Velocity is one team among more than 8,000 students representing more than 1,400 teams that will advance to Global Finals 2017.

“I think it’s super exciting to make it to globals,” said Mackenzie Merrill. “We had to build a stage — it’s a car — that would move one person from one side of the room to the other. We were given the challenge by the Destination Imagination board.”

Isaiah Simoneau said by adding pulleys, the stress on the rope and the load it was pulling was divided up, as in a physics equation, and the drill was able to pull the weight.

The state finals were held March 18 at the University of Maine. The team meets and continues to improve on the device’s performance at Crossroads Bible Church just off U.S. Route 201 on White School House Road in Madison.

“It’s been very interesting,” Vicki Merrill said. “What started out as a co-op class has really turned into a huge adventure for these kids. These kids became state champions — first year, first home-school group, as far as we know.”

They went up against public school kids from all over the state. The group also had to do what was called an instant challenge, in which they are put into a room with a variety of items and challenged to make a bridge or a tower. One of the challenges involved a menu of words from which they had to compose a crossword puzzle and then write a skit and perform the skit in less than a minute, but all of the preparation work had to be completed in three minutes.

At the finals in Tennessee, the kids will perform an opening act, using musical instruments and lights, based on “The Star-Spangled Banner” in tribute to the military and emergency responders. The headline act is the power-drill moving car, complete with a skit involving two robbers, a jewelry store and a police officer.

Key words in the kids’ efforts are collaboration and team building, Vicki Merrill said.

“These kids have really learned to work together as a team,” she said. “They really have to think on their feet and work together as a team. We started in September. They’ve had to figure out each other’s strengths, each other’s weaknesses, each other’s personalities — who does what best. It’s really been huge. It’s really been feeling each other out and respecting each other and their limitations and their abilities.”

Another operative word for the group is leadership, added Misty Simoneau, team manager of Infinite Velocity.

“What has been most fabulous is watching these kids grow in their talents — some newly realized — in their leadership,” she said. “Some didn’t know they had it in them, and in their teamwork abilities ­— it is not always easy to have to settle for something that is not your favorite idea for the good of the whole.”

The mission of Destination Imagination is to develop opportunities that inspire the global community of learners to utilize diverse approaches in applying 21st century skills and creativity, according to the group’s website.

“The Destination Imagination program is a fun, hands-on system of learning that fosters students’ creativity, courage and curiosity,” Chuck Cadle, CEO of Destination Imagination, said in promotional material. “Collaborative problem solving, risk taking, project management and thinking on your feet are just a few of the important skills learned in our program.”

Merrill said what the kids are learning in the group will add up to life-long learning experiences to apply in school, college and beyond.

“These kids have learned lessons they will carry with them through the rest of life,” she said. “Teamwork has been huge. Also thinking outside of the box.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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