At the Future Design School, disrupting the tenets of traditional classroom education is a thriving new business model
By John Barber
Now a year old, Future Design School (FDS) develops programs to transmit the gospel of entrepreneurship and innovation throughout the elementary- and secondary-school systems.
“We’re focused on empowering the next generation to solve the world’s most pressing problems,” explains FDS director of education Sandra Nagy.
It’s no small ambition, but neither is the opportunity any small thing. “Our goal is to get this type of programming to every teacher in North America,” Nagy adds.
Elementary and middle school provide the ideal setting in which to build creative, problem-solving skills, according to the FDS philosophy. But it’s also the place where what Nagy calls “divergent thinking” slowly yields to creeping conformism. “We feel that they do an amazing job in kindergarten, so how can we create that sandbox for learning that allows them to keep being curious and resourceful and mindful of how they can help the world?” she asks.
Creativity is as valuable as numeracy and literacy in the FDS program. “We know that, if we think about changing the world, we need to focus on developing kids’ creativity and ingenuity,” Nagy says.
But the basis of the program is entirely practical. Its goal is to teach repeatable skills in problem-solving using ideas suggested by students themselves. “We guide the kids through a process of ideation, validation and rapid prototyping,” Nagy says, “teaching them a real skill-set for problem-solving.
“They develop a degree of creative confidence that they wouldn’t otherwise get in the classroom.”
The variety of projects that FDS students have undertaken already is nothing, if not imaginative: One student designed a system of electric-car- charging stations that would allow homeowners to sell electricity, while another team created an online game to raise funds for a robot arm to collect space debris. Two others focused on delivering clean water to remote communities, and a number of students developed apps to address social problems — from bullying to illness.
While FDS works to expand its reach, the next few months will be spent on conducting a series of evening programs and Young Innovators Camps throughout Ontario, often in partnership with local innovation centres, including MaRS, where it is a tenant and a venture client of the Work & Learning cluster.
“By being at MaRS, we have ready access to lots of entrepreneurs who want to talk to kids about their journey,” Nagy says. “We have a community of innovators that come out to hear the kids pitch, and it’s amazing.”
The response among students and educators to the young company is equally heartening, she adds. “It’s been a true labour of love for us but, more importantly, we’ve seen amazing things.
“You can have a business that does well and does good. We want to demonstrate that to children, too.”
This article appears in Issue 1 of MaRS, a journal conceived to reflect the creative spirit of our urban innovation hub, as well as the cultural and economic diversity of Toronto, the singular city in which MaRS is based. The mission of the magazine is to examine both new ways of thinking and new ways of doing things, from scientific research to technological advancements, always with a view to improving the human condition. MaRS maps innovation and highlights how it touches our lives.
This content was originally published in MaRS Magazine.