Trading Pins

As I indicated yesterday, we were in Knoxville, TN last week for Destination Imagination (DI) Global Finals.  DI is a program that teaches creativity, problem solving, teamwork, and public performance.

There’s also the notion of pin trading.  Each Affiliate (state or country) develops a pin or a set of pins that commemorates their participation for that year.  Some regions and individual teams or schools do as well.  People can buy pins from their Affiliate, including sometimes grab bags of leftover pins from previous years, and then trade them with people at competitions.

I first experienced pin trading at State this year (it’s not part of the Regional competition).  Last year, Daryl went with his team.  This year, I accompanied him since his team wasn’t with him.  He wouldn’t let me get more than a few feet from him and seemed tentative.  It was frustrating.

It was also very difficult to offload the dozen pins he had from his Region, since the market was flooded with kids hawking the same pins.  The same problem didn’t hold at Globals.  His first trade, he freed himself of one he still had in order to secure a Doctor Who Tardis.  The person was excited to get it.  He quickly offloaded all of them.  If we had only known!

It was also an interesting study in human behavior.  Part of me worries that the pin trading is a huge money making scam of sorts.  Only “official” pins are supposed to be used and they are all made by one company.  Nice tidy profit for them!

But as I watched, I saw a lot of benefit to the children.  They were learning bartering, speaking to strangers, being respectful, assigning value, making choices.  Yes, it’s certainly a money-making opportunity for the manufacturer of the pins, but I think the kids learn a lot from it.  And at our State competition, they separated the elementary kids from the older kids to ameliorate the problem of older or more experienced kids taking advantage of the inexperience of others.

Pin trading at Global Finals is another thing entirely.  It’s massive and intense and takes place everywhere, not just at the handful of designated spots.  And Daryl took to it like a fish to water.  I don’t get it – he was everything he was not at State.  It was a sea of people so thick that I often couldn’t find him when it was time to move on to something else.  But he was hooked.  Looking for that special deal to get something he really wanted.

Pin Trading Tent

Finding your child, who is likely crouched over a table, in this crowd is a challenge!

That was one of the fascinating parts of the process.  Kids would display their pins on towels that they would lay out before each other.  Someone would point to a pin or pins that they were interested in and then the owner would study the requestor’s towel to see what they would accept in trade.  If it was acceptable to both parties, they’d remove the pins from the towels and trade.  If it wasn’t, a counter-offer might be made or they’d apologize and part ways.  Most of the kids that I saw were impeccably polite.

What was interesting to me was that they didn’t all value the same things.  I mean, some things, like the California dragons, were undeniably universally valued.  Yet, Daryl was still able to acquire three of them.  And with trades that he thought were near steals.

Speaking of steals, Divergent themed pins were also popular.  I was sitting with Jane when a girl approached to ask if she was willing to trade.  Jane pointed to her Divergent pin.  The girl studied Jane’s towel and pointed to a Tardis that slides open to reveal “OK DI” on the inside.  I could see Jane’s body begin to buzz with excitement.  She paused for effect and then agreed.  They made the trade and then Jane quietly asked if she could return to the Oklahoma Affiliate Director freely trading the Tardis pins to cheaply acquire another.  I nodded with a smile.  Ironically, the woman was gone but she was still satisfied by the deal.  So the key, as I saw it, was to find the people to whom those pins were not valuable, that is, the people from the Affiliate that had produced them.  Find them and your trade was easy.

Another thing that interested me was that some kids parked themselves at a table or on the ground and let people come to them.  Other kids roamed the tables looking for deals.  I thought that you could probably draw some conclusions about their personalities if you took some time to consider it.  I suspect the sitters are more relaxed, more confident, probably more experienced.  The walkers are more excited, more eager, more concerned about missing out, and are probably looking for specific pins.  The system really needed both types for it to work and there never seemed to be a shortage of one or the other.

We spent a pretty penny acquiring pins ahead of time for our children to trade.  When I saw the benefits though, I think it was worth it.  Besides just the sheer joy they had in the hunt, I saw them gain a certain amount of confidence.  My kids are not shy.  At least, most people wouldn’t describe them that way.  But they do hesitate considerably when it comes to interacting with new people.  I could see them confidently interacting with others during pin trading.  Perhaps it had just become another situation familiar to them.  Or perhaps their reticence has lessened and made them more proactive people in general.  I’m hoping for the latter.

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