When I was 11 I loved making web pages and playing Sim City. My parents and teachers didn’t recognize these skills as valuable, so neither did I. Actually, I began to feel guilty for using my computer so much. In high school I stopped making websites altogether to focus on sports. It wasn’t until college, when strapped to pay my tuition, that I picked it back up and started making sites for small businesses. I graduated and teamed up with a few others I knew with these skills and moved to New York City to work on the Internet for a living. Three years later, in 2007, we sold our company, Vimeo, to a larger, publicly traded one. That passion I first developed quietly by myself, that went unnoticed by my parents and teachers, proved to be extraordinarily valuable to the economy just ten years later and the focus of many ambitious people today.
Childhood passions that seem like fads, sometimes even totally unproductive, can be mediums for experiencing the virtuous cycle of curiosity: discovering, trying, failing and growing.
It’s difficult to predict which skills will be valuable in the future, and even more challenging to see the connection between our children’s interests and these skills. Nothing illustrates this better than Minecraft, a popular game that might be best described as virtual LEGOs. It’s easy to do, but we should resist underestimating games; Thanks to Minecraft, an entire generation is learning how to create 3D models using a computer. It makes me wonder what sort of jobs, entertainment or art will be possible now. Cathy Davidson, a scholar of learning technology, concluded that 65% of children entering grade school this year will end up working in careers that haven’t even been invented yet. I bet today’s kids will eventually explore outcomes and create businesses only made possible by the influence of Minecraft in their lives.
We created JAM the and it’s the thing I wish I had when I was a kid. Our members have access to a library of courses that help kids get better at the kinds of things kids are already passionate about. The courses are made by passionate experts who are really good at explaining new skills. In response, kids try challenges in order to learn them. They keep a portfolio and share pictures and videos of their progress, and by doing so they attract other kids who share their interests and offer feedback. We have all kinds of courses – including a Minecraft course. 🙂
Our objective with this wide-ranging set of skills is to give kids the chance to practice whatever makes them passionate now and feel encouraged . It’s crucial that kids learn how to be passionate for the rest of their lives. To start, they must first learn what it feels like to be simultaneously challenged and confident. It’s my instinct that we should not try to introduce these experiences through skills we value as much as look for opportunities to develop them, as well as creativity and literacy, in the skills they already love.
Childhood passions that seem like fads, sometimes even totally unproductive, can alternatively be seen as mediums for experiencing the virtuous cycle of curiosity: discovering, trying, failing and growing. We’ve created a way for kids to explore hundreds of skills and to understand the ways in which they can be creative through them. Often, the skills are unconventional, and almost always the results are surprising. I don’t think it’s important that kids use the skills they learn on JAM for the rest of their lives. What’s important is that kids develop the muscle to be fearless learners so that they are never stuck with the skills they have. Only this will prepare them for a world where change is accelerating and depending on a single skill to provide a lifetime career is becoming impossible.
Every family can try JAM free for 14 days.
A version of this article was first published by edSurge on May 26, 2015.