Engaging learners deeply takes more than just juicing up the current model of education. It takes transforming it into a system that starts with the learner—their interests and passions included—and allows their innate love of learning to come to life.
This week, I had two experiences with my own kids that truly brought this concept home for me. This past Sunday, we went to the 2016 USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, DC. We had spent that Saturday reviewing all of the exhibits to identify which ones we didn’t want to miss. This hard work all but went out the window when we arrived—there were so many fabulous and engaging activities for kids (and adults) to engage in.
The kids bounced between examining a real brain in formaldehyde, flying a Navy Jet on a computer simulator, and learning all about bubbles. They built circuits, played with Raspberry Pi, and made things on a 3D printer. The kids loved the whole day and left excited and full of energy.
My son Tucker (8 years old) left most excited about the 3D printer. To understand why, you have to know that, for the past two years, he has been obsessed with making enough money to buy a pontoon boat for fishing. In his entrepreneurial mind, he concluded that if he could buy a 3D printer and then sell what he printed, he could earn enough for the boat. I suggested that he see if there was a market for such items before he invested $1,000 on the printer and “ink.” He could barely go to sleep that night in anticipation for his market research the next day. He came home on Monday with the list of orders from his class—including “my face as a zombie, $3.” All told, they were willing to buy $45.45 worth of things. After discussing it, he realized that was a long way from $1,000 and went back to his much less capital-intensive business of selling rainbow loom necklaces and bracelets.
I know each of you have a million stories like this one. Just today, I heard from the Superintendent of Alamo Heights ISD in San Antonio, Texas about one of their educators whose Systems Go Aerospace Studies program has transformed the lives of his kids. Check out his TEDxTalk here (link). It’s inspiring, invigorating, and humbling to learn of the work that you all do to jumpstart kids’ passions and grow their abilities to be self-driven learners—and I can’t wait to spend this coming weekend with my kids on another learning adventure!