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featured maker: megan smith | middle school

Meet Megan Smith, the first woman Chief Technology Officer of the United States and inspiring tech-activist. Learn about collective genius and use it to create an invention of your own.


On September 4, 2014 Megan Smith became the first woman Chief Technology Officer of the United States, leading our country’s quest for tech innovation until 2017.

Megan spent her career before serving in the Obama Administration working for tech startups-turned-giants like Apple and Google, where she was vice president of new business development.

Since her time as CTO, Megan has kept her focus on harnessing technology and innovation for good. She is the CEO and founder of shift7, a company that uses the collective genius of community to build innovative solutions for economic, social, and environmental challenges. Learn more about Megan here.

So what is collective genius? The concept of collective genius is that our best ideas come when a diverse group of people solve problems together. We can put small pieces of ideas together like a puzzle to build our final, innovative solution.

Watch Megan Smith talk about collective genius and using technology for good.

Need more inspiration? Watch 11 kid inventors break down their greatest inventions.


Imagine you want to solve a problem in your community using collective genius. After learning as much as you can about the problem you could try these techniques to find idea pieces for your final solution puzzle:

  • Listen to the people in your community who want the problem solved. Ask questions to learn more and get new ideas.
  • Find other people who are trying to solve the problem and learn from what they have already tried.
  • Research other communities that might have faced a similar problem and explore their solution.

Inspired by Megan Smith and the power of collective genius, design a new invention that is a combination of ideas.

  • What is the purpose of your invention? What problem will it solve? Who will it help?
  • Where will you turn for inspiration? You can combine ideas from different people, places, industries, fields, or time periods.
  • How can you use the collective genius of the people around you to make your idea better? Ask family, friends, teachers, and other members of your community for their feedback and input on your ideas.


After you’ve collected your idea pieces, it’s time to put them together to create a prototype of your invention! A prototype is a rough draft of your idea that helps you share your design, test how well it works, and even spark new ideas. Think about how you can show the details of your design, and consider these two kinds of prototypes:

A works-like prototype is meant to work like the final version, to make sure everything functions the way it should. You could build a works-like prototype using a block programming language like Scratch.

A looks-like prototype is the right size and shape of your invention, but might not work like you envision or even at all! Consider building your looks-like prototype out of cardboard, a reusable and easy to find material. Check out these videos for some tips to get you started:

Be sure to send any pictures and files for your prototype to us at!