experiments, instruments & measurement book

Empowering Young People to Change the World: How Surrounding People with a Culture of Innovation Leads to Amazing Results


By Suri Jacknis

My colleague Sara Shapiro Plevan just highlighted this article in her posting yesterday on JEDLAB… and when Sara posts, I pay attention. This is an article about an 11 year old girl, Lily Born, who notices that her grandfather was spilling his drinks due to his Parkinson’s disease and committed herself to inventing a cup that would be age appropriate (not a sippy cup) that would be virtually “spill-proof.” Notably, this 11-year old girl grew up in a household with a culture of experimentation (her father is an inventor and plays an important supporting role in this story). When Lily identified this problem she immediately felt that she could come up with something that could solve this problem. In the article, Lily speaks about her many failures in order to get a successful design out of the right materials. She succeeded in the creation of the Kangaroo cup, a cup with multiple legs for maximum stability, with a bottom that does not touch the table (so no need for coasters!) Now she is on a quest through kickstarter to crowd-source her cups so that she can pay for ‘tooling up’ the plastic factory to mass-produce her them.

This story is so inspirational on so many levels. Talk about empowering young people and people of any age to feel that they can see a problem and keep working toward a solution. It is also a story about identifying resources, especially other people who can collaborate and offer their perspectives, ideas and suggestions in order to help refine a solution. This story also highlights the role of marketing in order to help your ideas reach a wider audience through crowd-sourcing.

Sara also points out that this story is ultimately a story about the key value of honoring one’s parents and grandparents. Lily loves and honors her grandfather and wants him to be able to drink his beverages with dignity. She also honors her father’s tradition of invention and asks for his support to refine her idea and connect her to others who can help. It is so special to be able to connect the ‘drive to invent’ to a core Jewish value of tikkun olam… making the world a better place both for your own dear ones as well as for the broader community.

We can expect Lily to continue to invent now that she feels empowered to be able to change the word through inspiration, collaboration and hard work. It is so great that she has received such positive reinforcement and appreciation at her young age. As educators, our power of encouragement can not be over-estimated in its influence to have long-term impact on learners and indeed, to contribute to changing the world.

A few years ago, I challenged one of my classes by asking them to think about what they might want to invent to change the world: Some of the examples that they mentioned included have talking clothes labels for the blind to help them know the color and style of the clothing in their closets, a house that had appliances and environmental controls that respond to voice commands for people that have trouble walking or touching or are visually impaired and would have difficulty setting the thermostat or oven temperature. I remember being “blown away” by the students’ level of awareness and sensitivity in identifying what may be difficult for people with different challenges. I remember being even more “blown away” by the ideas/inventions that kids had for ways to deal with these challenges.

Imagine the power that we all have as educators to cultivate supportive cultures of experimentation that empower our young people to change the world.

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