In the superbly light and spacious main hall of Freedomlab, we gather around a standing table covered in brown butcher paper. The doors are held open by a heavy piece of rail: the Amsterdam welcome of the Global Children’s Designathon has started.
Emer Beamer, initiator of today’s gathering, is briefing her team of facilitators, bloggers and builders, whilst the video guy is quietly setting up his equipment in the background. A handful of children (mostly boys) are treating the sitting blocks as Minecraft material: building a green and purple cave home.
In five locations in the world (Berlin, Rio de Janeiro, Nairobi, Dublin and Amsterdam) groups of 30 children aged 8 to 12 will be working in parallel. They will be designing and building their (tech) solutions for our worlds most pressing problems around food, waste and the future of mobility.
Unexpect – Where Children Design Better Futures Using New Technologies – has organised this day. It is a one-day crash course in design thinking, new (exponential) technologies and societal problems, for children between 8 and 12. Because these kids can think, fantasise, dream, design and build. They actually care a lot about the issues we discuss today (we think). And they enjoy the sense of empowerment, the idea that they can come up with real solutions. In one day. Later today we will set up videoconferences with the other four locations. Teaching twenty-first century skills across three continents. Wow.
We are all pretty excited and hyped up. Floris is stretching the kids (literally) in a Name-Game warm up. Klaas is introducing the three themes (food, waste and mobility). Time to start. Let’s unexpect and allow the flow to emerge
Klaas’ introduction on the three themes already sparked some thoughts. “Today we will invent. You can invent something for a problem that you find important.” The kids (re)learn that ‘waste’ actually does not exist. It is just stuff, that you can do useful things with, like building a birdsnest, a bed, or a ukulele. One of the children mentions that plastic from packaging is a great source of oil. On the spot he invents an oil factory: he just needs to figure out how he will get all the plastic to his factory. Food can be printed, from chocolate or dough. Just add a bit of colour – plain white food does not look very nice. And drones are ideal to pick up stuff in the city. It is very handy that you don’t need a pilot to fly one.
The boys and girls organise themselves. Each first chooses one of the three themes to work on. As expected, the topic of mobility sparks most kids’ imagination.
Time to go creative. We enjoy a brief moment of quiet when the kids work their idea canvases.
Less than twenty minutes later they present:
- a chipped car that tells the traffic lights you are there, and which route ahead is least busy
- cars with onramps so we can drive on top of each other
- a remote-controlled robot that fishes plastic from the seas.
- a submarine that uses helium balloons for buoyancy, avoiding the noise from normal ships
- a greenhouse system as addition to the home to grow food and avoid its transport
- a street that splits in two during the night, so that the garbage falls into an underground waste collection bin
- a car in which the driver can only key in his destination (no driving) so that the car avoids accidents
- a mechanical tree that cleans the air and turns the pollution into 3D printed fruit
- a robot that collects rubbish and turns it into its own fuel
A little bit peckish, we go for a hearty lunch. Then we will go make.
Time to check in with each other. In a five way videoconference we see how the kids in Berlin, Dublin, Nairobi and Rio de Janeiro are doing. Everyone learned how we can use printers to make spaghetti. First a welcome by each of the countries hosts.
Then a quick presentation of some of the prototypes that the boys and girls are working on.
Now the best part of the day: building prototypes. Tables full of building materials are rolled into the main hall. Propellers, little electric motors, knex, carton, duct tape, plastic bottles, wooden wheels, solar panels, batteries. You name it – it is there. Here is where the facilitators’ real job comes in too. At times it is hard to tell who is more into it: the kids or the adult facilitators. After a couple of hours of building (interrupted here and there with a bit of running around), ±15 prototypes are ready.
16.00 CET Showtime
Whilst some of us quickly clean up the room, Emer and Marieke welcome Amsterdams Elderman for Sustainability, mr. Abdeluheb Choho. The parents, and some of the sponsors join us for the presentations. Fifteen working prototypes are presented. Flying cars, cars that hover on magnetic levitation, cars that drive on top of each other, helium balloon submarines, an in house farm, a road that doubles as a garbage removal system named the Sliding Street, just to name a few. Who wouldn’t want those things?