Category: schools/formal education

Where primary school kids have “jobs” and “rent” their chairs

An Australian after-school program has set out to teach kids the value of money by putting them into a hands-on “mini economy” reports  At Kids at Switch, children (aged 5 to 12) choose jobs and do work, such as app developers, authors, small business owners or website coders.

kids own the shop and buy and sell goods
kids own the shop and buy and sell goods

Their work in the simulated learning economy earns “money” to pay rent and bills. For example at the program they must either rent a chair to sit on or save up to buy one. They can even buy a second chair to rent to classmates. Kids also run a shop during each session.

The program helps kids develop financial literacy. For example, students divide their money into categories for investing, spending (according to a budget), saving, and sharing (donating). Their online accounts are accessible during the program and from home.

What would be interesting from a sustainability perspective is teaching kids about how our “money” economy currently doesn’t account for damage to natural resources—like the air we breathe or the ground water we drink. How would these lessons look in a “green economy” complete with collaborative consumption (the sharing economy) and carbon pricing? !

This story reminds us of how one school district used the building of a new school to involve kids in hands-on STEM learning form professionals working on the school, ranging from plumbers to architects. Read the post here.

Skydive to teach STEM to second graders (no kidding)

You might think that skydiving is too dangerous for kids, but what about indoor skydiving?


You don’t use a parachute or fall from great heights, instead you’re in a wind tunnel. But unlike a horizontal tunnel that might test airplane shapes, the indoor skydiving tunnel is vertical. The wind blows up at you, suspending you in the air as though falling from a plane.

Turns out that this is a great tool for capturing kids’ attention with the science of flight.

Scott London, of iFly  explains (via the Chicago Tribune) how the company helps students learn about science and engineering concepts,

“We use our wind tunnels to teach students about drag, or forces exerted on solid objects by a moving object. We can customize the program to suit grades 2 through 4 where we might do concepts for the presentation and a demo with very little mathematics to it. Then we go all the way to 12th grade and advanced.”

And as you can imagine, when they make their “dive” they can feel the principles they’ve learned about.

It’s making me wish that our forthcoming picture book had included indoor skydiving! But we’ve included tons of other action that appeals to kids, ranging from skateboarding and sandboarding to dancing and bicycling. Check it out here. And who knows, maybe indoor skydiving is up next…

do kids believe in Earth Magic?

WASSUP is the magic word with a lost meaning. In the Earth Magic program of Northern Education for Sustainability, 7 and 8 year old children discover the lost meaning is “Water, Air, Soil, Sun, Animals and Plants.”

They spend a day in the field to uncover this meaning and then a term of school time investigating how human activity is affecting the environment. The program, like many others, focuses on pupil’s own behavior change in daily life to help protect the environment. At the end they are certified “Earth Magicians” and, hopefully, beginning a lifelong mission to keep earth magic working smoothly.

Earth Magicians, via the Northumberland Gazette

I like many aspects of this program, especially its experiential and hands on approach. But I think it could really benefit from the “wow” that art and design could lend to the topic. Yes it is important to know which of our personal behaviors we can change to improve environmental sustainability.

But we also know that everyone doing a little adds up to a little (see this short argument by David JC MacKay). Even worse, our existing social and city structures mean that for many households, common sense sustainable behaviors are not practical choices.

We need to be introducing bigger ideas about redesigning how we live, including at the spectacular, gee whiz scale. These disruptive design ideas will do a lot more to help children carry an interest in sustainability into the future.

Here are some examples:

how can we reuse the “big things” like washing machines that we live with:

superuse-cafe superuse-cafe2
Espresso Bar *K by Superuse Studios


What if we could grow gardens on buses?GARDENBUSSAL_640
rooftop bus experiment in Spain


Where else could we use wind up power?WindUp-Chair-PegaDesign-4
Pega Design and Engineering’s chair with windup battery charger via Inhabitat


What if power cords lit up to remind us of how much energy we’re using?lightup cord
Static, from the Swedish Interactive Institute

Should 8-yr olds review scientific articles?

Yes they should! Science should be written in a language that everyone can understand. That’s the idea of Professor Robert Knight, at the University of California, who has started a new scientific journal on brain research where kids from 8-15 are involved in reviewing the articles for publication.

Knight and his team at Frontiers in Neuroscience for Young Minds are on a mission to “engage the next wave of scientists.” They see the benefit in bringing kids into the process of scientific research while also gaining input for scientist who want to reach a broad audience.

a popular article from Frontiers in Neuroscience for Young Minds

A more detailed review says that kids involved to date are aged from 5 to 16 years old, and some of the initial articles include:Facebook, being cool and your brain: what science tells us

The scientific significance of sleep talking

As science officer Spock would say, “Fascinating.”