Advent School and MIT Hit the Road Together with ‘Pedal Power’

June 26, 2012

“We’re definitely making energy with this bike,” a second-grader announced with delight as she realized she could use pedal power for new inventions, not just bicycle riding.

On day one of The Advent School + MIT D-Lab (Development, Design and Dissemination) collaborative engineering program, 8- and 9-year-olds experimented with materials and tested out their hypotheses. Although they rapidly figured out how some parts of a bike function, on day two they deconstructed bicycles to deepen their understanding and discover much more. The goal of the two-week summer program, a pilot for future collaboration with the MIT D-Lab, is for burgeoning young engineers to create an original invention using pedal power.

“Something powered by a bike is more environmentally friendly!” students instantly realized.

With an assignment to make something that moved, students constructed models using ramps and waterpower. Finding a viable solution to the problem was more difficult than they’d envisioned. Engineering a new design means experiencing frustration, which comes often and definitely before success.

Many iterations into their model it became clear to some that, “If you’re inventing something, you need a diagram!” Each one of the children is recording his or her ideas in a design notebook or journal, because going back to observational drawings and notes provokes new thinking.

Advent children are working with MIT engineers in their SMART Lab and traveling across the river to MIT¹s new D-Lab space in a partnership in which adults are learning just as much about the process of sharing big ideas with elementary school children as students are about science.

Everyone is swept up by the high-powered nature of this project, realizing that we¹ve got to get children thinking smart from the start if they are to believe in their power to engineer the future.

A program for younger children on Toy Making is happening simultaneously and with equal success. For more information, contact Nancy Harris Frohlich at

Search The Back Bay Sun