When JJ and I first started working on the Capital Robot Club and talking to parents of kids involved, we began to believe we had stumbled upon something special. We live in a nice Northern Virginia suburb of Washington DC and send our first grader to public school in Fairfax County, one of the best school districts in the country. And yet, we have not found many organized after-school activities that enable our son to develop his interest in building things and making them go. We started the Club a bit selfishly because we knew our son would enjoy it. But the reaction from parents caught us a bit off-guard. It turns out that in our community, at least, there appears to be a huge pent-up demand for programs that encourage kids to develop their “stuff-building” skills. While there is a seemingly never-ending supply of sports-related activities, math and engineering activities are harder to identify.
And so we have embarked on what we hope will be a great adventure – to improve and expand on our initial Lego robot club by creating a well-organized, curriculum-led, scalable program designed to build fundamental engineering skills and passion. But as we have started to put together the necessary steps to get this program off the ground, I feel like I keep coming across references about “garden variety” Lego after-school programs that make it sound like these have been around forever in schools around the country.
While this may be true, it signals to me that JJ and I need to be very clear about why this is not just another garden variety Lego club. Here’s what I think distinguishes us from other LegoÂ afterschool clubs:
- My impressionÂ is that many Lego clubs are designed to give kids a forum to play and experiment with Legos. While this is a fine objective, for us LEGO (and other media) are Â a means to an end. It’s not about the Legos in and of themselves – it’s what you can learn through playing with Legos.
- We are developing a curriculum with specific learning objectives. The goal of the curriculum is to help kids develop age-appropriate engineering skills as well as a passion for making things and learning how things work.
- We see great opportunities to use our own technology and business skills to create an organization that will scale broadly, efficiently, and effectively. We have been quite surprisedÂ by the lack of technical tools and sophistication used by the afterschool programs in which our son has participated. We would like to develop a unified technology-based platform that will enable us to bring the program to kids all over the country.
- Our grand plan is to bring our program to underserved kids in both the inner city as well as rural areas. I can hardly think of a more worthy use of time and resources than to give kids in underpriviledged situations an opportunity to develop skills that will provide options for them as they grow up.
It’s still early in the process and we have more market research to do, but our initial investigations and experience tells us that there is an idea here that is worth pursuing. Stay tuned as the adventure continues.