Thinking Outside of the “Box”
Over the course of the fall semester, our middle school class of 22 students looked at the world through the lens of innovation. We investigated the modern Maker Movement and culture that started it, agricultural innovations of ancient civilizations as well as literary innovations and movements.
Over the course of the fall semester, our middle school class of 22 students looked at the world through the lens of innovation. We investigated the modern Maker Movement and culture that started it, agricultural innovations of ancient civilizations as well as literary innovations and movements. We visited the Black Rock Desert, home of Burning Man, met with graduate students at the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies and saw the UC Davis Anaerobic Digester in action. We also took two trips to the Reno Generator, a huge maker space and a hub for the artisan community in Reno, where our students worked directly with artists and creators who call it their ‘office.’
As a culminating final product for our semester-long, inter-disciplinary curriculum, the students designed their own innovations, which were intended to solve real world problems the students identified based on their own interest and research. To complete this project, students wrote business plans, made prototypes, created marketing materials and wrote and filmed a TED talk that described the entire process. In short, they identified a problem and built a solution from the ground up.
With this in-depth, hands-on work in mind, it made sense for us to design a field study to Silicon Valley, land of the tech innovations. So, with some good luck and fantastic connections, we linked up with two tech giants, Box and Google, in order to help our students deepen their understanding of this topic, gain a firsthand sense of the inner workings of these tech innovators and bounce their own ideas off of experts and employees at these companies.
The mission of Box.org is to provide innovative platforms and tech solutions for non-profit organizations that are changing the world. This mission was perfectly aligned with our semester long product so a visit to this company was a perfect match.
When our 20 middle school students entered Box’s Head Quarters in Redwood City, they were full of expectation. Cathleen and three of her colleagues met us in the main lobby of their new building, which was not overstated but clearly state-of-the-art. It still had that new building smell, showed off some up-to-date technology like rotating security doors and felt as much like someone’s home as a work place. It resonated as a company that had made it to the big leagues and that was making big waves around the globe.
After a tour of some of the workspaces, which were quintessential Silicon Valley – casual, fun, open and abuzz with energy, we met Bryan Breckenridge in the snack bar, where our kids were fueling up on goodies. Bryan, the Executive Director of Box.org, has twenty years plus of experience in the tech world, but his energy was as youthful and playful as our middle school students’. His excitement for his work was evident, and he was equally excited to have our students there.
For almost two hours, Bryan and his team, Cathleen, Nick and Nate, gave our students insight into the genesis of their company as well as its influence around the world. Our students asked questions about Box’s competitors, markets and market share. They queried about work the company’s culture and identity. And a few of them also had the opportunity to share their own ideas and innovations with these experts, who gave insightful and honest feedback.
In all, the folks at Box treated our students like adults, and our students responded with a level of sophistication and maturity uncommon for teenagers, including themselves. It was an experience that certainly achieved our objectives and did indeed give our students insight into a world of endless possibilities.