How do you teach a concept to a child?
For Jeremy Boyle and Melissa Butler, the answer is to put in their hands. That’s the idea behind Children’s Innovation Project, the duo’s program that introduces public school children to the world of technology and innovation.
Boyle is resident artist at Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab and Butler is a kindergarten teacher. When the two met in 2010, they realized that children needed to learn how to be innovative and creative, and in this world that meant technology. So, they formed the Children’s Innovation Project with the purpose to familiarize elementary school children with technology and set them “on a pathway” of comfort and understanding of it, reports the Atlantic.
Boyle and Butler determined that the best way to start was to focus on one area, so they chose electricity and circuits. Boyle designed all of the tools — wires, blocks and accessories — while Butler created the curriculum, which contains precise language and building the habits of asking questions, critical thinking, perseverance and coherent explanations are the cornerstones of the curriculum.
The Pittsburgh Allegheny K-5 public elementary school is an example of the project at work. In one kindergarten class, all of the students sit in an “innovation” circle each holding a length of wire bookended by small alligator clips on each end. The children are then encouraged to analyze, play and explore the wire to determine its purposes and uses. Collaboration is encouraged as the students work with each other and their teacher to experiment.
Throughout all of the activities, students must use the correct language. For instance, “clips” must be referred to by their name, not “these things.”
Students continue with the program through elementary school, and as they progress through the grades, tasks become more difficult. Around fourth grade, students actually start building their own schematics, according to the Atlantic.
While the practical and tangible skills are important to Boyle and Butler, it’s the intangible ones that are the most important. Through the program, Boyle and Butler are trying to instill the qualities of curiosity, inquisitiveness and wonder. In some of the older grades, students will even bring in old or broken toys and take them apart just to observe the parts and understand how it works — demonstrating how important that childlike sense of wonder really is.
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