The question posed to 15 kids from Boise was so fuzzy and expansive that it could have floated away, carrying a bunch of befuddled teens with it: "What is the future of stuff?"
Instead, the students spent part of their summer break harnessing their imaginations, determined to answer that question. All they knew was they were supposed to create at least one product capable of being introduced into the market.
The students who took part in #BreakerBOI - a program tied to the national Project Breaker and for which the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation provided a grant - visited local "makers" who offer unique products or services in various industries, such as Micron and Idaho Candy Co. The students learned about the businesses and their challenges. Then they broke into groups to solve problems or meet needs they heard about during their site visits.
In the process, some students discovered an entrepreneurial mindset they didn't realize they had.
For students such as Talei Reimers of Borah High School and Isabella Fregoso of Boise High School, it was an eye-opener to a new kind of education - where "yes/and" takes the place of "no/but," and barriers can be overcome with enough creativity.
"I think we have a responsibility, as a generation, to know the world that we are going to be running someday," Fregoso said. "We need to learn how to think differently before we can inherit the world."
"It gave me a new perspective (on) what our future's going to look like," Reimers said. "And how different it would be if we applied the 'design-thinking' method to schools right now."
Bishop Kelly High School student Bella Ludwig honed skills she believes she'll use in college, then in her career.
"It sounded like a very interesting way to test myself," said Grant Koehl, who also attends Bishop Kelly.
For a group of high achievers, it was a brush with constant failure. The teens poured time and energy into more than 20 ideas, only to scrap almost every one. To spark creativity, they changed the scenery - taking their work to a park or a coffee shop. They rescued themselves from mental exhaustion with a dance party in their workspace at the Garro Building in Downtown Boise.
They emerged on the other side with four ideas, then spent Tuesday putting finishing touches on their prototypes.
They are set to unveil those ideas at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Skaggs Hall in the Micron building at Boise State University.
WHAT DID THEY INVENT?
Here's what the teams settled on, as of the day before their pitch:
Business owners want graduates with science, technology, engineering and math education. To get kids interested early, one team wants to create an after-school program for fourth through sixth grades that revolves around a 3-D printer. Students start out making simple items with the printer, such as chopsticks or a spinning top. By the end of the year, they can code and are designing items as complex as a musical instrument or a pinhole camera.
Boise has a shortage of low-cost transportation. How to solve it? One team wants to create a Boise bike-share organization, putting hubs around the city where customers rent bicycles. Those bikes would come from donations, then repaired by people taking bike-repair classes. The team's inspiration - and its hypothetical partner - is the Boise Bicycle Project, a nonprofit bicycle cooperative that offers just those kinds of classes.
A similar idea is already in the works. A division of Valley Regional Transit, Boise Bike Share plans to open a membership-based network of 140 bicycles in and around Downtown Boise. Its $324,000 launch, funded in large part by a federal grant, has been delayed until 2015.
Businesses want to reach teen consumers. Teens want to use social media. Why not hire teens to do social media for businesses? That's the idea behind one team's prototype, "Now: The Solutions Firm," with the tagline, "We are the market." The idea has traction, says the team. Members walked into Downtown Boise businesses to see if there was interest; they left with business cards and an offer.
There's a growing movement to support "makers" and small, creative businesses. One team wants to create a monthly subscription service where customers receive a box of universally useful products from "makers" in each state. For example, a box delivered in June could include wood-framed sunglasses made by Idaho's Proof Eyewear - a Boise business the #BreakerBOI students visited in the past week.
MEET THE BREAKERS
"Shifting Gears," a bike-share project
Logun Buchanan, senior, Rocky Mountain High School, Meridian
Carter Gilton, junior, Riverstone International School, Boise
Jake Gruber, junior, Rocky Mountain High School
Talei Reimers, senior, Borah High School, Boise
"Now: The Solutions Firm," a social media project
Grant Koehl, senior, Bishop Kelly High School, Boise
Bella Ludwig, senior, Bishop Kelly
Davis Plumlee, senior, Boise High School
Kate Simonds, senior, Timberline High School, Boise.
Afterschool STEM program using a 3-D printer
Isabella Fregoso, junior, Boise High
Diana Lu, junior, Boise High
Jesse Remeis, junior, Boise High
Jose Torres, junior, Capital High School, Boise
Danny Takeuchi, junior, Centennial High School, Boise
Bryce Wachtell, sophomore, Choate Rosemary Hall boarding school in Connecticut (He lives in Boise when not at school.)
Eric Yoon, junior, Timberline High
Audrey Dutton: 377-6448, Twitter: @IDS_Audrey