Fifth-Grade ‘Mind Masters’ Imagine Way to Eighth Place in Global Finals

The Mind Masters at the Destination Imagination Global Finals in Kansas City. PHOTO: Amanda Rockow

A team of Park Cities fifth graders has earned top marks in Destination Imagination’s Global Finals for a recyclable-recreation of the State Fair of Texas — complete with fried root beer, popcorn, a giant corndog, and State Fair icon Big Tex.

The Mind Masters won third place in their grade level of Destination Imagination’s Fine Arts challenge at the 2024 Lone Star Finals, then captured eighth place at the Global Finals in Kansas City. Destination Imagination is a nonprofit that aims to build students’ problem-solving skills by tasking them to work together to find creative solutions to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) based challenges. 

McCulloch Intermediate students Brady Thibodeau, Callum Sinclair, Anna Burdett, Lorelei Parma, Violet Rockow, and Hunter McCombs, and Cistercian student James Yen, were limited by tournament rules to spending $150 on all the props and costumes for their eight-minute presentation. They dug out old theater supplies headed for the trash, scrounged through recyclables, and even dumpster-dove behind HomeGoods.

The students combined their used and unwanted materials to tell how Big Tex was once Little Tex, who they recreated as a kid-size puppet made from fabrics and old sheets. 

The team broke a CD in half to make Little Tex’s mouth and repurposed a pencil sharpener for his nose. The puppet’s skeleton was made from popsicle sticks, hot glue, and zip ties. As Little Tex grew up, the team used Velcro to extend his arms and legs.

The Mind Masters created their own replica of the Texas Star Ferris Wheel out of hula hoops and takeout boxes, then powered it with an old drill. The wheel took home a special honor at the regional competition — the Renaissance Award, which recognizes outstanding design, engineering, execution, and performance.

The team started working on their challenge in December and spent more than 200 hours on the project, coach and co-team manager Hillary Sinclair said. Adults taught the students new skills and kept them on track but were not allowed to assist with the project. 

The students tackled how to use a sewing machine, iron, and drill to complete their work. Along the way, they also learned “not to speak over people,” Thibodeau said, “and let other people speak.”

Rockow and Burdett co-wrote the script. Making the set, Rockow said, involved trial, error, lots of persistence, and some of her sister’s old sheets. 

“We had to measure the exact length and we had to use a lot of Velcro,” she said. “And we had to keep reapplying the Velcro because it kept falling off the set.”

Parma, Burdett, and Yen spent a long evening finishing the Ferris Wheel, which involved drilling holes into hula hoops and removing the beads inside. “We decided to just figure something out and hot glue it together,” Parma said.

A team from Boone Elementary also brought home an eighth-place finish in the technical challenge at the Global Finals in Kansas City.

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