FARMINGTON —  Children appeared to be having a great time testing their mettle and solving problems at McGee Park Convention Center Wednesday at the Instant Challenge Fiesta.
In its third year, the event expanded to two airplane hangar-sized buildings. One was for elementary kids and the other for middle and high school students. The buildings barely contained the frenetic energy the timed activities generated.
More than 600 students from 24 schools participated. Teams composed of two to seven members had to complete at least four instant challenges. Many sported creative and colorful names such as Einstein's Homiez, Los Imaginarios and I Moustache You a Question.
The “thinking-on-your-feet” challenges were either task- or performance-based, everything from acting out a skit depicting a mysterious disease to constructing a 3-foot snowman out of shaving cream and cotton balls. The teams had 10 to 15 minutes to produce a solution for each challenge.
Students devised the on-the-spot activities themselves in the months before the event and were judged based on their creativity, teamwork, critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
“One of the neatest things is that the students' creativity shines through,” said Emily Foose, the gifted program coordinator for Farmington schools. “They are having fun and practicing their 21st century skills at the same time.”
The students never looked like they were having anything less than fun as a teacher or volunteer parent kept score with an evaluation sheet and a steely eye on the clock.
Robert Kemp, a parent and airline pilot, was in charge of a “Name That Word” problem that asked teams to create words using only the middle letters of their first names without talking. He was impressed with the students' efforts, though he was less than prepared for his role for the day.
“I was told by my daughter that I would be chaperoning a field trip,” he said. “I may have been led astray.”
A team from Farmington High School named The Truth scribbled down more than a dozen words on a legal pad as Kemp looked on. Nathaniel Paulik, 17, admitted afterward that the problem had been tough. “That was a really good challenge,” he said. “Pretty difficult, actually.”
Park Avenue Elementary fourth grade teacher Rachel Warren challenged teams to compose and perform a skit depicting a mysterious disease using only four sheets of red paper and some mailing labels. Warren, who was judging for the second year, said she was impressed with both the increased numbers of participants and their determination.
 The Instant Challenge Fiesta is a branch of Destination Imagination, a national nonprofit organization that creates children's educational programs that instill creativity, patience and build confidence. Top-scoring teams from Wednesday's event will advance to a state tournament in Albuquerque in April.
The event was born in 2009 in Central Consolidated schools to help improve students' problem-solving skills, Foose said.
First-place winners got to take home a trophy. The Truth claimed one in the high school category. Nerds on Dirt, from Hermosa Middle School, their first time participating, took first. The MLT Team, from Country Club elementary, won the other first place.