As a teacher for the last 18 years, Krista French is an advocate of empowering children to be the best they can be. She is currently an enrichment teacher at Cayman International School in Grand Cayman and leads its Global Destination Imagination programme, a volunteer-led, worldwide educational non-profit organisation that teaches 21st century skills and STEAM principles (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) to students from primary to university level.
The programme’s purpose is to inspire and equip students to become the next generation of innovators and leaders, mainly by means of problem-solving challenges that help develop creativity, curiosity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication skills.
“CIS is a very progressive school,” says French, adding that the aim of the Destination Imagination programme is to make students aware of their ability to influence and help make positive changes in their world, as well as the entire world.
French grew up in Canada where she completed an undergraduate degree in psychology, followed by teacher’s training in Australia before teaching in England and Canada. She then obtained her masters of education and moved to Grand Cayman with her husband, residing here for the last 18 years.
The mother of three also completed an online Montessori qualification while her children were young, and taught at a few other schools on island. Currently she is enrolled in the University of Connecticut’s online graduate “Gifted Education and Talent Development” course.
“In all my learning and growing as a teacher and mother, I am always fascinated with the variety of strengths and abilities of people, both little and big. Through talent development, people make their best contributions to society. I hope through encouraging people to find and follow their dreams, they will make the world a better place,” says French.
GLOBAL DESTINATION IMAGINATION
French was introduced to the Destination Imagination programme five years ago when her children were invited to join. She immediately saw the benefits for all children and decided to get involved.
“I became a team manager, then organised the training and support for other teams, organised annual tournaments on island, and liaised with head office,” she says, adding that she also included the programme in her own classroom, which inspired her to share her thoughts with the Cayman International School administration.
The DI programme includes all grade levels, and is separated into categories: Kindergarten to Grade 2; Grades 3 to 5; Grades 6 to 8; and Grades 9 to 12. The programme takes two to three months of planning and building, and includes two sections: instant challenges and central challenges.
Instant challenges are given as fun classroom group activities and include tasks, performances and combined tasks and performances. For tasks, children build something with limited resources based on open-ended criteria; performances allow for a brief amount of time to plan a skit based on given criteria before being presented; for combined tasks and performances, students build and plan a performance and then perform it.
Central challenges are run as an after-school club and led by team managers (some of whom are teachers) and can take six months to complete. Students make and plan an 8-minute presentation based on an open-ended problem in one of many areas that include technical, engineering, fine arts, improvisation, scientific, service learning and early learning. Whether a time or commitment pressure, French says these types of challenges are ones we face as adults in our everyday lives, and that children learn to use their time wisely since most challenges end within 10 minutes.
“Students with different skills shine in different areas. Some students will be great planners or builders but encourage others to present. It shows the importance of different skills within a team,” she says.
The programme is completely student-oriented, with limited adult involvement; the children even choose their own teams and find their own team managers.
“The team managers are to support and encourage, but not give ideas or help them solve the problem — the responsibility is all on the students,” she says. “Parents must also sign an ‘interference contract,’ which states they understand they are not allowed to give ideas to the students.”
The teams present their solutions at a local tournament on Feb. 3. A visiting team from the United States will also be competing. The winners of each category will then be eligible to compete at the Global Finals in Knoxville, Tennessee, from May 22-27, along with teams from 48 states and 30 different countries.
“The children spend five to six days in Knoxville at the University of Tennessee where an amazing world is introduced to them,” says French. Her favourite part of the process is seeing the students’ growth and enthusiasm.
“The children start to self-regulate and provide thoughtful and considerate feedback to each other,” she says, adding that they start to push themselves and take charge of their learning. “They know what they can produce and are proud to do it. I am constantly amazed at how capable young people are when they are given the opportunity.”