A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this tween-oriented reality series follows two teams of high schoolers who match wits in machine-building competitions. The groups rely on collaboration and teamwork to design and create solutions to various engineering challenges, and they're always respectful of each others' ideas and willing to discuss lots of possible scenarios. What sets this series apart from other reality shows is the teens' positive attitude -- they don't get upset over losses, instead celebrating (and congratulating) their peers' ingenuity. Tweens with the building bug will love this smart series -- and with four girls in the cast, viewers will be reminded that engineering isn't just a guy thing anymore.
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What's the story?
Tween-oriented reality show DESIGN SQUAD features eight high schoolers who put their brains -- and sometimes their brawn -- to the ultimate engineering test in a competition to build a variety of machines. Sample challenges include building a dragster, a pancake cooker and flipper, a peanut-butter maker, and a pump to deliver water to an 11-foot water slide. The four boys and four girls are split into two teams to devise solutions to the challenges; over the course of two days, the teens brainstorm, design, and build their apparatus entirely by themselves, running performance tests, troubleshooting, and -- more often than not -- redesigning their creations when necessary. When their time is up, the teams' efforts are judged by a professional engineer. Each member of a particular challenge's winning team racks up points that accumulate throughout the 13-week competition (the teams are shuffled and reassigned for each new contest); the teen engineer with the highest point total at the end of the series wins a $10,000 college scholarship from the Intel Foundation.
Is it any good?
Design Squad proves that if it's done right, reality TV can be both fun and functional. Although it's a competition at heart, the show steers clear of the bad blood that the elimination process produces and focuses instead on celebrating the ingenuity and collaboration of its young engineers. Because the teams change with each new challenge, contestants must work with many different peers under ever-changing circumstances, and this results in a group that takes setbacks and losses in stride and even manages to -- gulp! -- heartily congratulate the competition on jobs well done.
If your tweens are prone to thinking outside the box (or, for that matter, if they need a nudge in that direction), this fun, fast-paced series is sure to get their creative juices flowing. And it's so entertaining to watch the teams' endeavors that you just might want to tune in, too.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what sets this show apart from other reality programs. Do you think it even qualifies as a true "reality" show? Why or why not? Which TV shows seem the most "real" to you? Families can also discuss the show's challenges. Tweens, how would you have designed a machine with the given specifications? What if you could change the rules? What other tools or supplies would you use, and in what ways? And don't forget to touch on teamwork. How do team members brainstorm ideas? Is it easier to develop a game plan alone or with other people? What are the benefits of working with a team? Are there any drawbacks? What are some important attributes of a good team member?