Build Empathy and Find Joy—How to Combine Making and Entrepreneurism in...


Build Empathy and Find Joy—How to Combine Making and Entrepreneurism in Your Classroom

from Autodesk

By Kelli Anderson     Jul 31, 2017

Build Empathy and Find Joy—How to Combine Making and Entrepreneurism in Your Classroom

You know how they say antipathy is the mother of invention? Five years ago Karen P. Kaun, founder of Makeosity, was running a New York City-based nonprofit that helped teachers bring hands-on STEAM projects into their classrooms, when she started thinking about how much some kids really hate school. “They just can’t relate to it," says Kaun. "You go to school so you can go to college so you can get a job. But that seems so far away to them. What they learn in schools is so unrelated to what they learn online or what their daily lives are like. But,” she adds, “everybody wants to make money.”

That sparked an idea. It’s one of many Kaun—a one-time marketing professional who has a doctorate in education—has had in a long career of finding innovative ways to bring technology to the classroom. What if she could combine Making and entrepreneurism and show these kids that they could take all the tech tools they were learning and start making a living with them, right now? Wouldn’t that change the equation for a lot of them?

Kaun has gone on to inspire thousands of disadvantaged kids to think beyond the walls of their daily lives, imagining new possibilities and gaining the confidence and skills to pursue them. She does this through her own innovative work with students, and by advising other educators.

Here are some of her suggestions for teachers who want to combine design, fabrication and entrepreneurship to help their students forge a path to success.

Encourage Resilience

“When I'm making things—such as robotic mechanisms with children in classrooms—I often hear one or more call out, ‘I need help’ before they've taken the time to think the problem through,” says Kaun. But given a little time, they often figure it out. “This is one of the best gifts we can give students—time to work out problems themselves. This supports them in working toward mastery, which gives them a feeling of self-confidence.”

Take budding tycoons 15-year-old Shakeena Julio and 14-year-old Allieberry Pitter. They were in fifth and third grade, respectively, in the after-school Maker program Kaun had launched at PS 107 in the Bronx when they hatched an idea to build a wooden scooter that could charge a cell phone while moving.

But creating a prototype that actually worked wasn’t easy. After numerous iterations and with help from an engineer and designer at Autodesk, engineering students from Olin College, a parent carpenter and Kaun, the girls eventually produced a working model. Fast forward. Shakeena, a rising junior at Frederick Douglass Academy, and Allieberry, a freshman-to-be at the Young Women’s Leadership School, recently won $3000 in funding on Rachael Ray’s Shark Tank and are now awaiting the blue-ribbon copy of the patent for their energy scooter.

“The project taught me a lot about engineering and a lot about patience because it took forever to get where we are,” says Shakeena. But by sticking with it, she found she has a real talent for engineering, which she plans to pursue in college. Dr. Kaun “kept pushing and pushing and just would not let me give up. Eventually it became a passion for me.”

Adds Kaun, “this process, of working it out for yourself often through trial and error, builds resilience because when the going gets sticky, you have confidence that you can find a way. And if they worked it out one time, they can work it out another.”

Build Empathy

Empathy, stresses Kaun, is crucial to entrepreneurship. “Entrepreneurs often begin their journey through identifying a problem that has personal meaning and then thinking ‘what if’ leading toward a quest for a solution,” she explains.

Kaun encourages educators and students to begin with a project that addresses a community or personal challenge, building students’ capacity for empathy as well as their Making skills.

Recognize Opportunities

For example, a few years ago she read about a contest—building a self-contained ipad-type system for kids in Africa that taught literacy and numeracy—which prompted her to push the education envelope again.

Kaun enlisted a group of Bronx Science students to improve on the intended project and instead develop a platform and game to teach kids engineering skills that could lead to actual products. “Think Minecraft, but where you build and can create real inventions online and offline to sell and make money,” she says. The students, several of whom are now in college, hope to have, as Kaun puts it, “a rockin’ awesome demo that will knock people’s socks off” by the end of the summer.

“I really believe children can have these entrepreneurial opportunities right now,” she says. “They don’t have to wait.”

Create Connections

Given current employment and automation trends, Kaun thinks everybody needs some grounding in STEAM education. “What I like about it is that it really is broad; the E is there for engineering, but E could also be there for English language arts,” she explains.

Her own students stress the importance of teamwork, explaining that “it’s really important to be able to articulate, collaborate, argue, and discuss if you want your invention to succeed.”

Recognizing the role parents play in encouraging their children’s aspirations, Kaun has been building connections between school and community. Last year her initiative, launched through the NYC Department of Education Family and Community Engagement (FACE) program, trained 80 parents in 20 elementary and middle schools in robotics. Kaun enlisted robotics coaches from RoboFun, which trains educators and runs programs for students. “We had retired teachers, MTA engineers, mechanical engineers, industrial designers. It was a rainbow of talent and skills and passion—passion for the children.”

Find the Joy

But Kaun doesn’t just think of Making as a launch pad for tomorrow’s entrepreneurs. She also believes that making “leads to joy.”

“If you have a vision for an invention and have the time to think about it and immerse yourself in its design,” says Kaun, then “the pure joy of making in itself leads to perfection which leads to innovation,” she explains. “Steve Jobs was a perfectionist. His attention to craftsmanship led to the design of a product that is in the hands of 700 million people.”

Kaun says there’s nothing she’d rather be doing than inspiring kids to be creators rather than consumers. “I see a Steve Jobs in every school, in every classroom,” she adds. “The potential is there.”

Entrepreneurial Making: Tips for Teachers

For educators looking to combine Making and entrepreneurship in their own classrooms, Kaun suggests starting with a personal passion—whether it’s gardening, robotics or vermiculture. Some of her favorite resources include:

Toys from Trash project ideas from Arvind Gupta
Maker Ed vast resources for educators
Instructables user-created DIY projects
Eight Entrepreneurship Values You Should Teach Your Kids from Entrepreneur magazine
Design Thinking for Educators toolkit from Stanford’s and IDEO
K12 Lab Network design thinking to educators from Stanford's
4-H STEM programs
Nuts and Bolts of Business Plans for teachers who want to learn more about the business of entrepreneurship from MIT OpenCourseWare
Introduction to Scrum for teachers who want to delve into the product development process
The Agile Coach a deeper exploration of product development
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