Chicago Public Library teams with Dyson to get kids to learn how to make mistakes
Monday, June 18, 2012
This is what James Dyson wants kids to do: get frustrated.
Then he wants them to think about how they might alleviate that frustration - how they might solve a problem that frustrates them.
Then he wants them to build a prototype.
Then he wants them go to engineering school. And, you know, make the world a better place.
The Dyson Foundation and the Chicago Public Library system is teaming up to teach kids how to turn frustration with everyday problems into opportunities for changing things. Their 90-minute "Design, Build, Test" workshops will immerse kids in a collaborative process in which they will design a solution to an everyday frustration using cardboard, glue and bits of Dyson machines.
And the basic rule is that you have to make mistakes. Mistakes are the best way to learn.
James Dyson knows this. He made plenty of mistakes inventing his now revolutionary vacuum cleaner. It took him five years, and more than 200 prototypes before he finally had a working product, which removes fine dust by using centrifugal force rather than vacuum bags.
But Dyson almost didn't make it as an engineer. He was a designer. Then he took a product design course at London's Royal College of Art that changed his life. Dyson has designed high-speed cargo boats, the Ballbarrow, and other products that have answered questions that most people weren't even asking.
In fact, the idea for his vacuum came when he visited a sawmill and noticed the cyclone in the back. The contraption spun sawdust out of the air, collecting it in a chamber. Dyson thought the same idea might be applied to vacuums.
The library workshops, which are scheduled through the end of September, are modeled after a Dyson Foundation after school program. The foundation, itself, was launched in the UK in 2002 in order to introduce kids to the concept of engineering as hands on and fun, rather than a bunch of equations. In 2011 the Foundation was expanded to Chicago - which is the home of Dyson's American headquarters.
The goal is to create more engineers. And to keep them in this country.
"The U.S. is losing it's engineering workforce," says Erin Webb, manager of the Dyson Foundation in the U.S.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, less than 5 percent of college kids are getting engineering degrees in the U.S., compared with 33 percent in China. Moreover, many of those engineering grads aren't U.S. citizens, so they get all this experience and then take it back to their own countries to put it into action.
Webb wants those kids to put their engineering ideas to work in the U.S.
The first library workshop, held earlier in June at Albany Park, was actually over capacity - with 32 kids taking the 25 allotted spaces. And it ran long.
"The kids actually weren't ready to stop prototyping," Webb says
There are eight more workshops through the end of September. And Webb and her colleague, Valerie Gardner, are more than happy to entertain ideas for creating more after school programs. They also want teachers to know about their other programs, like the Engineering Box - a kit that includes a Dyson vacuum, tools and instructions for taking the vacuum apart and putting it back together. To contact the Dyson Foundation, click here.