My memories as a kid in school weren’t the best. I am the kind of person that always questions everything, and when I say everything I mean it in a literal way. That was a problem for my teachers. Even with the best of the intentions you have a program to follow in a regular school. The kids have to listen, understand and pass tests. You can’t manage to explain each one of them everything they want to know. Kids eventually stop asking questions, they learn to listen. That is a problem.
In Niekée, a school in Roermond, in the southeastern part of The Netherlands, they believe that kids’ questions are the best way of learning. The name of the school comes from the ancient Greek mythology goddess Nike. The goddess had wings; she flew around battlefields giving glory to warriors. In the school they believe in giving wings to the students.
Inside Niekée there is a place called Agora, in greek it means square. In ancient greek it was the place an assembly took meeting. There students have space to exercise their curiosity and find all kind of answers they are looking for.
I spoke to Jan Fasen and Guido van Dijk, two of the creators of Niekée and Agora. They introduced me to the concept of wondermoments and why they are so important. Wondermoments are the instants you see, hear or feel something that appeals to your hearts and awaken curiosity, creating new questions as why is the sky blue? How is it that the moon doesn’t fall from the sky? How much ice cream do I need to fill the entire swimming pool? Those could be results of wondermoments.
What they do in Agora is encourage kids to have wonder moments. It could be any question; from how does a youtuber make money to how does an atomic bomb works. Teachers don’t give you the answers right away, they are facilitators who coach kids how to get the answers they are looking for themselves.
They measure the student’s development with the taxonomy of Marzano by evaluating the method and processes children are using to get their answers. To check their progress they use the scrum table, commonly used in startups. In the process of discovering their answers you start having more questions related to the first one. It is a continuous process. When kids learn how to get to answers they are on their own then they can do it forever. It is applicable to any wonder moment they have through their life, from “how do I do taxes?” to “how do I create an app that can change the world?”
In the school there is a Seats2meet location. Entrepreneurs with new ideas can go there and work, in the mean time talk to these kids and get a feedback. What better early adopters for a new product than kids who ask questions? Who are curious and were born with all gadgets at their disposal? What is the future for us is the present for them; therefore they are probably the best people to give you feedback.
When I was in Niekée I was in the company of the tech experts Jurjen and Samir, initiators of the Permanent Future Lab. They brought all kinds of futurist gadgets and it was fun to watch how kids reacted to them. At first they were shy as Jurjen was explaining me how Dot and Dash work; two robots who were made to teach kids how to code. But in half an hour there were students using all gadgets, and at some point they didn’t even need you to explain them anything, they just did.
One of the students, who wanted to be an architect, designed a building and a tent with a 3D pen printer. Another one took my gopro 4 and asked me how long is the range of the wifi that connects it to my iphone. I never actually asked myself that, so I didn’t know the answer. Before I noticed he was running around the school to find out. At the end of the day students were talking about managing their own Permanent Future Lab inside the school.
If you are looking for early adopters for a new product that is the place, as Kanye West said during his legendary speech on the MTV VMAs 2015: Listen to kids, bro!