This presentation on working with DI teams in the workshop was created by Bennett Macaluso, a multi-year NYDI Team Manager and Appraiser.

Tools and Rules


How to work with teams in the workshop

  1. Teaching students how to properly use tools is not interference. It is part of the learning process and ensures safety for everyone. Your team is allowed to seek out experts in fields related to their projects. For example, many teams who select the building challenge choose to interview architects or engineers about structures and which are stronger and why. Learning to use tools is the same thing.
  2. Every student who works with me learns the lesson: “Plan your work and work your plan”. I do not let students just show up in the workshop and verbally tell me “We want to build this thing”. All of them have to sit down and at least draft or draw what they want to build. They don’t have to decide what materials they would need or how they would build it. They just need a plan of what they want to build. Example: One experienced team had the challenge to have something totally transform from one thing into another. They came to me and said, “We want to build a wall that will turn into a washing machine.” I’m thinking “no way”. I handed him a sheet of 8 ½ by 11 paper and told him “show me”. He asked for a pencil, a ruler and a pair of scissors. He carefully drew eight squares (4 top and bottom) and then cut the sections so they folded one way or another. Then he proceeded to fold each panel in different directions so that it became a cube at the end. He made me a believer. That team then built each panel 3 by 3, so the wall was 6 feet high and 12 feet wide. Using hinges, it folded into a cube.
  3. How to decide on materials: Once they have a plan, I ask them to name different materials that can be used. The one that everyone gravitates to is cardboard, which is fine, especially for some of the younger students. Generally we look around the workshop at different materials and than take a field trip to Home Depot to look at materials. Once there, they learn about PVC pipe, fasteners, hinges, pulleys, etc. They can ask you or the Home Depot people how to cut things and assemble things like PVC pipe.
  4. Rules for Tools: Every student must learn the name of the tool they are using. The more impressive the final product the more questions the appraisers will ask. “How did you cut this and what did you cut it with?” What type of screwdriver? Etc…. So as they work, I continue to quiz them on the type of tool.
    Demonstrate how the tool is used. Show them the proper way to hold the tool and use the tool. Let them practice on scrap materials first. When using power tools (like a power drill), I usually let them run them in their hands in the air, just so they can feel the weight and vibration, then let them use it on the scrap material. Tell them what may to go wrong and what to do if something goes wrong. For example, if a scroll saw jumps in the wood, just let go of the trigger and keep a hold on the saw. Best advice for the student, if something starts going wrong, let go of the trigger and just STOP. This is an obvious example but easy for them to understand.
  5. The Rules for Safety:
    In no particular order…
    • Give them adequate space to work in. Don’t ask them to build something in a cramped space, or cut a piece of pipe on a kitchen table.
    • Divide and Conquer: Generally, two pairs of hands per item that is being worked on. Use your judgment when assigning tasks. Assign tasks based on skills, e.g. art work to the artistic, script to those who like to write. In the workshop you will see after a couple of weeks who has the right skills.
    • The flip side: Teach them to ask for a team member when they are attempting something and then need another pair of hands. “I need a team member over here please ! “
    • The proper tool for the proper job. Overly obvious example: don’t have them cut cardboard with a butter knife. The proper tool produces the proper result.
    • Adequate supervision: Parents are welcome and most times are very helpful, especially with the “Divide and Conquer” theory. Essentially divide parts of the project so that you can divide the students. You don’t want seven kids trying to cut one piece of wood. The parents just need to be advised not to interfere or lead them to the conclusion.
    • Eye goggles for certain tasks in the workshop. Goggles are a “MUST” for power saws.
    • Shoes or sneakers; no flip flops or sandals!
    • Long hair tied back.
    • No loose chains or necklaces.
    • No loose clothing. Dress for working in a workshop.
    • Wear the right clothes for painting.
    • Gloves where appropriate.
  6. Rules for accurate results: Besides “Plan your work and work your plan”, every student must learn “Measure twice, cut once”. When working with materials, many times they get the measurement wrong and this could be tragic if it is the last piece or the most critical piece.
  7. Wherever they work, teach them respect for the tools and the workshop they are in. Last 10 minutes of every work session should be for cleanup and putting tools away. Start this from the very first meeting. Set the tone day one or you will find yourself cleaning up after your team.
  8. (deleted)
  9. Interference: You cannot hand them a material and ask them “Will this work ?”. You cannot lead them to the answer. This is the hardest part and the trickiest part of the whole process. You can see the answer but they cannot. Part of DI is trial and error. They will fail at some things but will learn from that failure for the next attempt.
  10. You can never start too early: Don’t wait until after the New Year. Get started now. Set your objective to finish at least two weeks before the competition so the students can rehearse and get the solution presentation perfected as a team. Avoid the last minute pressures if you can.
  11. Research: If this is your first time, try to see other teams’ use of materials within your school district. Look at how scenery is used at plays or shows. See if you can get some videos of past teams, especially teams at your level. Check YouTube.
  12. The day of the competition, be prepared for emergency repairs. Have the basic tools and materials you think you will need. Duct tape, the all purpose building material, is an essential. If something is delicate but critical (e.g. a mirror), have a spare if possible. If something breaks they will have to fix it. They will figure it out and they will fix it.
    Your team will be in the public eye the moment you arrive. Parents and relatives will be all around. They mean well, but may cause your team a problem if they interfere. Be careful that a parent or relative does not jump in and give them assistance, direction or even a suggestion. Parents are allowed to help carry scenery, etc, to and from the building. That is all.
  13. The Wow factor: I always like the team to have at least one wow factor in their solution. Something that makes the appraisers go “wow”. You need to ‘wow’ the appraisers.
  14. When valuing materials for the challenge, use the dollar value for only the material used not the material you purchased. So if you bought an eight foot board and used three feet, than use just the value of the three feet. Value used materials at a yard sale value or for a larger item check ebay. Check the rules of the road for musical instruments and equipment borrowed from the school. Normally not valued but check the rules.
  15. After the performance the appraisers will ask questions. Have the student who built the piece stand next to it. Seems like common sense until one student tries to answer questions about something they did not work on.
  16. They can do their research on line but I generally do not let them do it during the meeting. Assign some or all the issues they are trying to solve as some homework. Have them bring the research to the next meeting. The web site I referred to is:, but there are better web sites. is simple for kids to use, but they need to sort through the results.
  17. Read the challenge several times and make sure you read it over again as the team works on the solution. Get the team to read it over again as well. It amazes me how many things teams miss because they just did not go back to read the problem.
  18. Have fun!
  19. DI is a learning experience not just for now, but for life. Learning to use tools is just part of that experience. I tell each team member that when they are grown and out on their own in their first apartment or house, they won’t be nervous about picking up a tool because they have learned what it is for and how to use it properly.

Bennett Macaluso

Granite Springs (Somers), New York
[email protected]

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