Exo Labs is creating technology that ignites curiosity and makes education more engaging for the next generation.
When does curiosity begin to fade? Is it just a part of growing up, or is our education system optimized for qualities other than curiosity and creativity? One of the greatest joys I've had as a new father is experiencing the world through the eyes of my 2-year-old, Trevor. He is, like most kids his age, intensely curious. On our many trips to the beach, Trevor is always stopping and pointing to a leaf, a snail, or turning over a rock to watch the crabs scurry away—things that I wouldn't typically stop and look at. When I crouch down to see things from his level I realize how amazing all of this life and diversity is. I am not sure when (or how) we lose the kind of curiosity Trevor has, but I'm determined to do something about it.
Mike Baum and I co-founded Exo Labs because we are passionate about creating technology that ignites curiosity and makes education more engaging for the next generation. Together we assessed our strengths as engineers, our values and desire to make a difference, and came up with our first product, the Focus Microscope Camera. The way the Focus Camera works is you insert it into the eyepiece of a microscope and then connect it to an iPad. Then students and teachers can take pictures and video, make measurements and annotations, and share it all with an entire class through our app. By utilizing the iPad and offering up a high resolution view of the microscopic world, we hope to foster that sense of wonder that every kid has.
We've done a lot of listening to teachers, students, and key stakeholders as we've worked to bring this device to life, and we used that feedback to develop it, but now we're working to improve the student experience of using it. To that end, we've launched a Kickstarter geared toward getting 40 of our cameras into K-12 classrooms. That'll help us learn what helps students and teachers make the kind of connection with the natural world where it just stops you in your tracks and all you can say is, "Wow!"—just like my son on the beach.
One area we are especially interested in is accessibility. In the very first in-class demo we tried at Seattle's Cleveland High School, a student with cerebral palsy approached us. She was intensely curious, but had never been able to participate in microscopy because of the fine motor control required. Once the image was captured on the iPad, she was able to explore in a way previously unavailable to her. We opened a door that had been shut to her, and she beamed with pride after circling the eye of the mosquito larvae on the screen and emailing it to her teacher. It was inspiring and moving for us—these are exactly the connections we want to help create. That's why one of the first recipients for our Kickstarter is Project DO-IT at the University of Washington, which helps prepare high school students with accessibility issues for college.
As an engineer, I know first-hand the power of scientific thinking. You don't have to be a scientist to think like one. If we can help teachers combine kids' innate curiosity with systems and tools that empower them, we'll know we're making a dent in the universe.
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This project will be featured in GOOD's Saturday series Push for Good—our guide to crowdfunding creative progress.
Images courtesy of Exo Labs