We recently announced the successful outcome of the Popular Science-InnoCentive Education Challenge. The Challenge, which attracted more than 1,200 Solvers from around the world, asked for lesson plans that could be used at the middle-school level in each of five areas of science that will be vital in the future. Materials couldn’t cost more than $50, and the lesson needed to fit into no more than three, 50-minute classes. We asked Jacob Ward, editor-in-chief of Popular Science, to chat with us about the Challenge and results.
Hello Mr. Ward – thanks for joining us today. Could you tell us about the genesis of this Challenge and what you hoped to accomplish?
For our annual education special — the September issue of Popular Science — we look for ways to inspire a wide range of readers. Our audience runs the age range from 10-year-olds all the way up to retired grandparents. So Popular Science, in collaboration with InnoCentive, wanted to run a Challenge that could conceivably affect all of these people.
The Challenge asked Solvers to submit lessons plan in five distinct areas – Bomimetics, fuel cells, polymers, climate change, and “big data.” What led you to choose these specific areas?
In the end, we wanted to come up with lesson plans for the future of science, out beyond what people are teaching today. We consulted with educators, futurists, and other experts to settle on five areas of growing interest, and that we knew had the potential to really revolutionize their respective fields. Biologically-inspired (biomimetic) design is a growing trend at the moment, fuel cells could truly overturn the power mechanisms we rely on today, and everyone’s talking about “big data” — we figured that if we could engage kids today in these areas, we’d be helping to pave the way to some truly revolutionary work when those kids enter the workforce in a couple of decades.
You posted the winning solutions (i.e., lesson plans) on PopSci.com, along with details about the second and third place entrants. What drove you to open the solutions to the public and what’s the response been like?
With a Challenge like this, it was incredibly difficult to choose a winning entry for each category, because we received so many inspiring and revolutionary ideas. So we figured that even though not everyone could win, we wanted as many lesson plans as possible to get public visibility. There were so many useful lesson plans submitted, and teachers need new lesson plans so badly, why not put them all out there?
Of the dozens of InnoCentive Challenges that have been posted to the PopSci Innovation Pavilion, we’ve seen PopSci provide significant lift – both in terms of number of Solvers and their submissions. To what do you attribute your readers embracing open innovation Challenges and becoming successful Solvers? Read more