When I was a kid, Earth Day was the one time a year that my school focused on the environment, tasking us with making posters about turning off lights and turning off the water while brushing our teeth (never mind the reams of paper we used in the making of these posters). Other than that, I took for granted that the Earth would hum along as it always had, the big blue marble supporting everything that lived on it. But today’s kids are reminded of the fragility of our planet every day, bearing witness to (and experiencing) one climate consequence after another.
Like education and so much else, the effects of climate change are not experienced equally by all. People from low-income communities and people of color are often hit harder by climate-related events, and they have fewer resources to enable them to bounce back afterwards. Creative solutions that address climate change and climate inequities are desperately needed, and attainable. With environmental problems getting more severe each year, it’s on our kids to one day create these solutions — and it’s on us to prepare them to do so.
Our signature program, the Invent the Future Challenge, asks middle school children a central question: what will you make to protect life on this planet? The ideas the students come up with range from drones that remove trash from the ocean to portable water filtration systems. And who knows? Maybe one day these inventions will actually be made. But our goal is something even more valuable. While students are building a cardboard model drone, or programming tiny bee robots to pollinate plants, they are gaining the essential skills that will prepare them to tackle real-life challenges: how to think critically, how to innovate, how to collaborate, how to learn from failure, and, importantly, how to employ empathy in solving large-scale problems.
In the coming weeks, hundreds of Invent the Future Challenge students will showcase their environmental solutions to parents, peers, and a team of judges. Each year, I’ve been overwhelmed by the creativity and compassion they display — like the 7th graders who prototyped a portable heat and light source to help hurricane victims, or the 8th graders who developed a sensor system to combat the forest fires that have displaced so many in recent years. They’re learning that empathy and innovation are inextricably linked. Many of our students come from communities more likely to bear the brunt of global warming, and they’ll bring their own diverse perspectives and experiences to the table when solving real-life environmental problems one day.
These kids know that caring for our Earth means so much more than making a poster about turning off the lights. They’re learning now to be the innovators and problem-solvers the world so desperately needs.
Come see for yourself! We invite you to join us for the Invent the Future Challenge Summit on June 3. Details to come.