How to Become a Technical Challenge Pro

By: Michael Broetzmann, DI Alum

For the past 15 years, I have been involved with Destination Imagination (DI) as a participant, Team Manager, Appraiser and Challenge Developer. Most of it has been in the world of the Technical Challenge. I am a true techie through and through. The Technical Challenge can be a tough one to take on for new and old teams alike. However, here are some tips to help you succeed.

Ask, “How does that work?” for everything!

One of the most difficult parts of this Challenge is figuring out how to make your technical stuff… technical. Whether you’re a participant or Team Manager, this is going to take time and patience to develop. You can only design and construct technical devices if you know how other technical objects are made and constructed. With that said, the best thing you can do is to start learning asking “How does that work?” to anything and everything technical. Or, “What makes that move?” One of my personal “aha” moments in DI was inspired by simply looking up while riding in a carousel and observing what made the lion I was riding move up and down. That is just an example, but that same idea can be applied to just about everything: How do the arms move on windshield wipers? How does a leaf blower move air? Why makes a light bulb illuminate? As a Team Manager you might not have all the answers, but you can certainly learn with the team members and help feed their curiosities. If they have some real stumpers, speak with an engineer or a mechanic who can explain the process. All of those little nuggets of technical information are going to be stored for a date when the team member has the “Tada” moment.

What might be good to lead into that activity is some basic lessons (elementary through high school) on: Electricity (AC vs. DC, Basic Circuit Design), Magnetism, Gears, Electric Motors, Hydraulics, Pneumatics and Simple Machines.

Save everything! One person’s trash is another person’s treasure

Team Managers and team members need to train their eye for the “good stuff” in what is seemingly garbage and junk. When a laminator at school broke, I can recall a team they asking if they could have it. They used the shafts, rods and gears on the inside to create their solution. Another team used the electric motor from an old table saw to power a vehicle.

If it is garbage or junk, take it apart and find out what is inside — you just might find something that could be useful. The old bike in the garage is good for a few wheels and some sprockets. Perhaps there are some pulleys or belts that can be salvaged from a washing machine that had its final spin. By getting the expensive technical items from garbage, scrap and junk, you can save the money from the budget for the things from the hardware store that cannot be found or recycled.

                                                 DI alum, Michael Broetzmann, in 2001.


Wait, back up the bus… you want me to save EVERYTHING?!?

Well, yes and no. Save everything, but only the parts and objects you think you may use. Also, be sure to stay organized while you do it.

At the end of the year, break down your old props and store them in labeled plastic bins (i.e., Electrical Stuff- Wires and Switches, Wheels, Motors, Gears and Chain, Nuts and Bolts, and Weird Stuff) and keep it in the corner or on a shelf until the next years Challenges come out.

As a Team Manager, you want to build a good inventory to let the team members imagine and experiment with their solutions. If you have a few teams in the area, consider having a swap meet where they can explore other teams’ supplies and trade parts.

Use tools but remember, SAFETY FIRST!

There can be a lot of anxiety that comes with teaching kids how to use tools. As a high school shop teacher, I deal with this every day. However, it’s important to remember that every time a new tool or procedure is learned, another light bulb going is going on in a team member’s mind.

Every team is going to have a different set of tools and parents that can help teach them. Don’t feel pressured into trying to create a huge workshop for DI. If you are a Team Manager, survey other team members’ parents to see what skills, tools or resources might be available. If you are a student, find out which tools you have access to at school and sign up for the courses so you can learn how to use them. Remember, you can learn a new skill with each tool you learn how to use.

Uh oh… It doesn’t work, now what?

The only thing you can do if it doesn’t work is to try again, redesign and remake. It can be the most frustrating, yet rewarding, part of taking on the Technical Challenge. Whether it’s a small piece of a large technical device or the large technical device as a whole, you are going to have to try something different to make it work. Teams have completely rebuilt solutions between competitions to make it better or to make things work. It is truly amazing how quickly a team can reinvent a solution when they put their minds to it.

The Technical Challenge can be an exciting roller coaster with ups and downs that will let your imagination work through your hands. Dream big, build bigger and aspire to be the team that makes others scratch their heads asking, “How did they build that?” I promise that at the end of the year, you will be amazed at what your mind is capable of thinking and building.

Good luck, teams!


Meet the alum: Michael Broetzmanm has been involved with Destination Imagination since 1999. He competed for 8 years and has volunteered as an Appraiser, Team Manager, Challenge Master and Challenge Developer. He also serves on the Board of Directors for Wisconsin Destination Imagination.  Outside of DI, he teaches automotive technology and repair at the high school level and small engine rebuilding at a technical college.