Quarto Kids | 28 May, 2020
Meet the Author: Brett Schilke

Brett Schilke, co-creator of The City X Project, stops by to talk about how educators can get the most out of his debut book Adventures in Engineering for Kids – 35 Challenges to Design the Future – Journey to City X – Without Limits, What Can Kids Create?

Where did the idea to create Adventures in Engineering come from, and what is the City X project?

The inspiration for the book is the City X Project, a design thinking and creative problem-solving curriculum that I co-created several years ago. That curriculum has now been used in over 75 countries, was the basis of a nationwide design challenge for children in China, and has even made its way to the international space station with a special competition for one child to become the world’s youngest space engineer. The story of City X, and this book itself, is about helping kids dive into the challenges that we face in the world, and see themselves as part of the solution to them. 

The book includes lots of lessons and practice with the basics of engineering, design, and creativity, but it is really about a lot more than engineering and invention. I want to help kids envision the future that they want to create, and then develop the skills and understanding they need in order to make those visions come to life. A big part of that is learning things that aren’t part of most education experiences – lessons about real world innovators, world-changing technologies, and companies that are dramatically redefining humanity.

Although at its core this is a book about engineering, there’s a lot more to it than that! Can you tell us how you envision educators and students using this book?

The book itself is actually a complete Common Core-aligned curriculum that can be used over the course of a semester or even a year as a way to talk about real world issues, practice STEM skills, and even tackle 21st-century literacy along the way. The original City X Project has been used by teachers around the world in everything from workshops that last a few days to year-long experiences that tie in other subjects like science, math, and social studies. This book is a significantly expanded and improved version of that original curriculum, building on six additional years of research and learning, and could also be the basis of camps, summer programs, library programs, and even just used for exploring and learning at home!

As someone who has been so entrenched in the education sphere for so long, what challenges were you faced with when it came to actually sitting down and writing a book? What surprised you most about creating it?

I think for me, the biggest challenge I faced writing this book was that I wanted to include EVERYTHING that I’ve researched and learned through 15 years in education development. I had a giant wall in our spare bedroom covered in hundreds of Post-Its, each with an idea, activity, or lesson. Many long hours were spent in front of that wall trying to decide which ones are the most important, or would just be the most fun. And that’s a big part – having fun. I think learning for kids should be fun, empowering, and sneakily educational. So taking all these lessons or examples that I might think matter, and making them part of the story that’s engaging…that was a fun task for me.

I think what surprised me the most about creating it was just how many people are really part of bringing a project like this to life. Writing a manuscript and choosing what to put in is just a very small part of it. I think learning just what it takes to make a book like this makes me appreciate all the books I voraciously consumed as a child even more!

What advice would you give to aspiring engineers?

I think one of the most important things for an aspiring engineer to know is there engineer ring is not just about technology, it’s not just about coding, or design, or knowing angles and materials. Engineering is about people. If you want to create things the world will use, you need to be in touch with the world. I always tell young people who are thinking about a career in engineering or technology to also remember to study their users – psychology, behavior, communication, even emotion. If the things you engineer really fill a need for someone, really make them feel, then you will be unstoppable in creating your own irresistible future.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself (career, background)?

I grew up in Wisconsin, and I’ve lived and worked all over the world. I spent many years in rural Russia leading a nonprofit organization that worked in education and civic development, and after that, started an education design company – that’s when we launched the City X Project – and worked with governments from the US to the UAE on education for social impact. For the last five years now, on the faculty of Singularity University, I’ve shifted my focus to the future of education and how rapidly advancing technology is changing the face of how we teach and learn. My work has taken me to 30-some countries now, mostly working with schools and governments to help our next generation be ready for tomorrow. My current project is helping launch The Museum of Solutions, a new 10-story children’s museum in central Mumbai.

I love learning languages. I’m obsessed with emoji and gifs and pretty convinced we’ll speak exclusively using them by 2050. My free time is filled mostly with bicycling, drawing, taking very long walks with the dog, and making ridiculous puns.

About the author

Brett Schilke is a globally-recognized expert on the future of learning and the future of work, and is the co-creator of the City X Project, a problem solving, design, and engineering course for kids that’s used in over 75 countries and nationwide in China. He is an advisor to multiple education startups, and has designed future-focused curriculum and learning experiences for the United States Congress and the UAE Ministry of Education. Brett also currently leads the Task Force for the Future of Work for the G20 Engagement Group on Youth.Currently serving on the faculty of Singularity University in Silicon Valley, Brett designs and leads initiatives to redesign the global K12 education system. He regularly writes on education and the future of youth on various media properties and averages over 30 global speaking engagements each year. Design Genius Jr. Engineering: 40 Challenges to Design the Future as You Journey to City X is his first book. He lives in Palo Alto, California.