Saturday, April 7, 2007

Cool kids

In a previous life, just a few years ago, I used to work for Sally Ride, America’s first woman in space. Sally’s San Diego-based company is Sally Ride Science, and she’s dedicated to supporting girls’ and boys’ interests in science, math and technology, but particularly in making a difference in girls' lives, and in society's perceptions of their roles in technical fields.

One of my responsibilities was to manage TOYchallenge, the coolest program for middle school girls and boys to design and build their very own toy or game. It was the best way we could introduce kids to the wonders of engineering and the design process. This is TOYchallenge’s fifth year, and when I took it over in its second year, I had the great honor and pleasure of meeting four very smart kids, Alyssa, Amy, Kaycee and Nicholas, who called themselves the Waveriders. Their prototype toy was “Boogie2Boogie”, and Janice, mum to Alyssa and Amy, was the team’s unstoppable coach.

The team figured that body boards, commonly known as Boogie Boards, were not well designed for kids, if at all. Older riders ride on the face of waves, farther out from the shore. Kids enjoy body boarding the breakers, the "white water," near the shore. So the team designed a board specifically for riding those breakers. Shaped almost like a boomerang, kids fit easily ‘into’ the board, adding to their safety. What’s also fun is that two boards can be strapped together via Velcro pads, so that friends can boogie together. And what’s really cool, especially for parents who often yell themselves hoarse trying to get their kids’ attention, is that each board has a red signal light on it. Parents just push the signal box they hold in their hands, and the red light flashes on the board.

Needless to say, the team co-won the 2004 National competition for best toy. Their prize was probably one of the best any child, or adult, could receive. Hasbro, founding sponsor of TOYchallenge, made each of them look-a-like dolls, right down to Amy’s glasses and freckles.

Since Boogie2Boogie’s debut in 2003, the team and its toy has gone on to international acclaim. They’ve been written about in books, on websites and on TV, including the BBC and CNN interviews with Miles O’Brien and Sally Ride. By Kids For Kids is even marketing Boogie2Boogie, hopefully soon to be hitting a shelf near you. And what is just amazing, is that the actual prototype boogie2boogies are currently on display at the California Museum for history, women & the arts.

A few months ago Alyssa and Kaycee were interviewed by Disney Movies, to highlight kids who are inventors. That snippet is just out now on the Internet, and I’d be very proud if you’d all take the time to quickly view the short segment. Click to access Disney's Movie Surfers website. Then click the right-hand ‘Spotlight Adventure’, “Meet the Robinsons”.

Aren’t kids cool?

Photo 1: The team displays their prototype for the very first time in 2003 at TOYchallenge 2004’s regionals, held at ASU, with Sally Ride. Photo 2: The Waveriders and their Hasbro look-a-like figures.


Michael said...

I wish you hadn't mentioned the part about the red light. My wife wants one on my kayak now... Such fun to see kids get an idea and go with it. That made my teaching life such a joy!

Capt'n "O" Dark 30 said...

OK Kiwi, This is getting too cool. What a great activity. What a great event. You crushed the toy box on this one.