On 19 May 2019, during an opening address at the Collision Conference, Toronto (the largest tech gathering in Canada that brought 25,000 people together), Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke about how our tech future is going to be disruptive and that we will need to train our children to adapt to it. He called for more coding classes in elementary and middle schools. The future is bright where the people of our country understand science and technology, and how to engage the next generation.
Children are born learners. They learn by observing, by being inquisitive, and then by doing. This is learning – fun, natural and lifelong – if we preserve our curiosity. So how can we Hack our Curiosity to remain lifelong learners?
Having participated in 27 hackathons in the last 5 years on a range of topics has given HotPopRobot an insight on how project-based learning works and how it turns us into makers, inventors, coders, scientists and communication and outreach personnel at the same time.
The first hackathon we participated in was the 2014 NASA SpaceApps Challenge Toronto at the Ontario Science Centre where we built an autonomous Mars rover that could guide itself and transmit data wirelessly using Arduino. It was an amazing experience: trying to solve a space-related challenge in 40 hours, being surrounded by mentors in different areas (coding, engineering, communication) who were willing to share their knowledge, and being thrown in an environment which was competitive but people were collaborative and friendly. Our project won a NASA SpaceApps Toronto award and ended up being top 5 globally in People’s Choice Award.
This positive experience put us on a learning path and pace of our own from one hackathon to another. Learning became fun and not limited to classrooms. It also inspired us to co-found www.HotPopRobot.com to share the joy of science, space exploration and learning new things with others.
If we distil our experiences, then there are 5 steps to "Hacking your Curiosity" that allows everyone to learn anything and everything to prepare for the future which is going to be disruptive.
How to Hack your Curiosity: 5 Steps
1. Be Curious and Commit to it
Progress happens when we are curious. And being curious means not being afraid to ask "Why" or "How". So, start with being curious. Start with an idea which excites you and will make you happy.
Commit to your curiosity by penning down your ideas. Make a sketch, compose a poem about your idea or write a few points about it. This is the first step.
All our ideas have generally started with paper and pencil and sketching.
2. Be Creative, Innovative and Dream Big
We are still in the ideation stage. So, think big and think broad. Move away from the conventional thinking of profits, marketability, financing, and advertising. Instead, be innovative and futuristic. Think of game changers: think of benefits to the society, think of the next generation, think of climate change and global heating, think of more equitable and just societies, think of our Universe and the future of humanity. How can your idea, product or service become such a game changer?
Do not be deterred by how little you know. Instead, be inspired by your goals and vision, how much you want to know and how far you want to go. Do not copy other ideas as there is little point in doing something which has already been done.
3. Learn Everything by creating your own Learning Path
Break what you do not know into smaller pieces and work on them. There is no one way of learning something. Learning is a journey.
Creating your own learning path and pace using multiple mediums. Do some reading, take some online courses (edX, Udemy, Open Courseware), watch YouTube tutorials, attend some MeetUp group meetings, participate in hackathons, undertake a small project. And sometimes take a break from the learning for understanding to seep in.
In our case, we have tried to make a new project based on whatever we have learned every few weeks/months to get the feeling of success and being able to share our learnings with others.
4. Become a part of a Community
Learning is exponential when you can discuss with others and get feedback. Becoming a part of the community keeps you interested and updated about topics that are of interest to you, be it space, robotics, machine learning, astronomy, robotics or rocketry. It motivates you to keep learning instead of getting frustrated and giving up on learning new things.
Some of the communities we are a part of:
Science and Space: Ontario Science Centre, Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, NASA SpaceApps
Coding: Coderdojo, Kids Code Jeunesse, hackathons, meetup groups
Rockets: Cambridge Rocket Society
BattleBots: Bot Brawl
Outreach: MakerFestival, digiFest, FITC, Science Rendezvous, StemKidsRock
5. Teach Others
There is a difference between knowing the name of something and knowing that thing. A good way to know when you have mastered a subject is when you can teach it to others in a simple language.
When you have made a project from the start, then you know every bit of it including the easy parts, the difficult parts, the challenges you faced, the lessons you learned, and how to fix it when things go wrong. You can then communicate these learnings to others - confidently, correctly and in a simple language. You are now a teacher in that area.
Education does not need to be limited to schools and colleges. School teachers and college professors are not the only educators. Anyone and everyone can be a teacher. Age is not a barrier. Kids are teachers too. They can teach other kids and adults.
In our case, we like to do several outreach events each year bringing our projects to thousands of kids and families at the Ontario Science Centre, MakerFestivals, Science Rendezvous, MakerExpo, Libraries, Schools, Toronto International Film Festival, and more! There is a joy in learning which is multiplied when we share our learnings and inspire others.
In the words of our Prime Minister, if the future is going to be disruptive, it means that the jobs of today are not going to be there tomorrow, and the jobs of tomorrow do not even exist today. So, we must be prepared to Learn Anything, Learn Everything.