Kids can build our most impactful 10x Solutions

Schools should be harnessing the unbridled nature of kids towards solving humanities toughest challenges through 10x thinking.

Have you ever had to tell a kid to “Think bigger!”? Neither have I. Kids are naturally unbridled. Yet, we have to constantly tell intelligent adults during our Exponential Sprints to think bigger — to stop settling for incremental solutions and to start thinking 10x.

So what happens during our school years that our thoughts shy away from the ambitious and radical? You’ve likely heard one explanation is that our schools inhibit creativity. But maybe lack of creativity is not the only problem.

In the summer of 2015, I placed my then 5-year old daughter in a robotics camp that a friend recommended to me. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was certain that she’d complain about it in some way — from how boring it was to there being too many boys in the class, and so on. I was definitely not ready for what I saw when I picked her up on the first day. She was happy. Energized. And proud to show me all that she had built.

A sample of the robots made at The Brooklyn Robot Foundry by a 5 year old.

At the end of a week of robot camp, my daughter had around 20 robots which she had built and was steadily talking about LED’s, motors and axles. Her robots were personal. She’d assembled them piece by piece and then given them color and decorations using basic craft items. I came to learn that the kids sit in teams and collaborate as they build their individual robots. The instructors are kind and helpful, and hold nothing back while teaching the kids mechanical and electrical engineering basics — and they easily absorb the information. The kids become ‘Robot Experts’.

A sample of the robots made at The Brooklyn Robot Foundry by a 5 year old.

The experience was transformative… for me. You see, my daughter thinks it’s perfectly normal and not amazing at all that she built a remote control car. Despite my belief in the creative power of kids, I was stunned by seeing first hand that children truly are capable of handling complex challenges. And when admiring her growing menagerie of ~40 robots, I can’t stop wondering, ‘what would happen if this was her full-time educational experience?’ If these kids continued on this path of being increasingly challenged and at this pace, what would they be building by 12th grade and what problems could they be solving?

We set out to answer that question.

Through Exponential Education (#10xEdu | 10xEducation.org) we are building an open source 10x educational framework and curriculum that asks kids K-12 not ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ but rather, ‘what problem do you want to solve and what do you want to build now’. We start the school year with teachers and parents guiding the students through research exercises that help them discover the difficult problems facing humanity and to decide which of the problems they are passionate about solving.

The reality is that despite all of the skills we can teach kids and all of the creative freedom we can give them, if we don’t teach them problem solving strategies, then they won’t know how to implement and use what they have learned and what they are good at.

Students then participate in an Exponential Sprint that helps them ideate solutions to the problems they want to work towards solving. Once they select a 10x solution and path, through the guidance of teachers and parents, students breakdown the proposed solutions into milestones and a pilot project. They then spend the rest of the school year prototyping and developing the pilot.

Throughout the year, the various lessons and subjects they learn will be oriented around their pilot projects. This means that if they are learning reading and writing, algebra, art, physics, chemistry, poetry, etc., then they can directly apply the new knowledge to their projects and advancing their ideas. No longer will kids feel compelled to ask “why am I learning this and when am I ever going to use it?” since they will be too preoccupied building and implementing their newly discovered knowledge!

As the kids are pursuing their projects, they will learn valuable skills, including: research, collaboration, leadership, presentation, persuasive speaking, and basically everything you need to know to get anything done. They will also learn how to raise capital in order to purchase the materials they need to build their pilot projects, and for that they will have to convince potential investors (e.g. parents, friends and relatives) during a pitch event to find value in their projects. Kids will experience failure of all sorts, but they will also learn how to pick themselves up and move onward — primarily because they are working on something they are passionate about.

With Exponential Education, there is also the opportunity to incorporate programs like the robotics camp to help kids build their solutions using various technical and non-technical skills. With such rich and hands-on experiences, by the end of the 12 years some of these kids will likely have built the high-impact solutions that the world desperately needs.

The reality is that this generation of kids that’s in elementary school now is potentially the last generation that can help us solve our toughest challenges. With climate change dangerously underway, we may only have another 100 comfortable years left to live on this earth. We really need kids in schools working towards the solutions for their future, and if we’re going to make it we’re going to need all hands on deck.

Exponential Education is an easily recognizable and relatable curriculum that any school can implement. It’s flexible, it doesn’t require teachers with special backgrounds — only that they are loving and supportive in guiding the kids in finding their way. It’s free and open source and any materials to implement are inexpensive; Exponential Sprints run on post-it pads and sharpies, and by definition prototyping requires builders to be scrappy. One of the reasons we loved the robot camp was because they taught kids to build robots using basic commodities (including popsicle sticks, standard dc motors, hot glue, wires, etc.). And there’s no need for fancy color coded electronic kits going for hundreds of dollars — kids can learn to build from scratch!

In the end, the kids will have tangible results with a project that they have put their heart and soul into building. They will be proud of themselves and what they have accomplished, they will have learned invaluable skills and they will have worked towards solving important challenges. Who wouldn’t want that for their kids?

When I asked my daughter what problem she wanted to solve, she said she wants to build a robot that can build houses for individuals with disabilities (or in her words “people without hands and feet”). I was thrown back by her answer because it wasn’t anything we had discussed before, it’s an idea she had — a solution for a problem her 5 year old self had identified. So, together we set out to do a little research on existing robotics solutions to see what we could innovate. Of course, we ran into a little set back. She didn’t know how to spell robot yet so that we could search the internet! And so our first step in solving the world’s challenges became figuring out how to spell robot. :)


Exponential Education (#10xEdu) is in the development and pilot stage. Sign-up for updates and visit 10xEducation.org for the open source details.
Thanks to Team Exponent (R Antonio Herrera and Trisha Goyal)
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