Bright Little Labs - a brainstorm into how to engage kids with Stem

Tech ambassador Detective Dot, created by Bright Little Labs, is a member of the Children’s Intelligence Agency – but how can the CIA be used as a platform to engage kids with Stem? 

I attended a brainstorming session to help Bright Little Labs founder and CEO, Sophie Deen, figure out just that.

Detective Dot, the nine-year-old protagonist of the first book to come out of Bright Little Labs, was intended to act as a role model, encouraging kids to use tech, to be adventurous and most importantly question everything.

But although it is mentioned she gains missions and intel from the Children’s Intelligence Agency (CIA), this agency still remains a mystery, something Deen intends for kids to discover on their own.

As I arrived and sat down in the meeting room of the Shoreditch tech accelerator that would be our brainstorming location, trying to ignore the axe-throwing session that was happening outside the open window (yes, really), I wondered: How can a room full of adults be responsible for creating a platform for kids that adults aren’t supposed to know about?

Luckily, Deen has always carried out a lot of work with focus groups in her previous endeavours, and so I’m sure whatever we come up with will be carefully vetted by some age-appropriate testers before a launch takes place.

Before the session starts, we’re reminded what values the CIA is meant to encourage: Truth, investigation and equality.

“My vision is that all kids should be able to access the CIA and be ‘spies’.” Deen briefed.

Our aim was to create an easily accessible platform to encourage kids to pursue science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) regardless of their background, country of origin, or level of access to technology.

By encouraging kids to question things and think creatively, it could save them from job automation in the future, and as Deen puts it: “If you can code but you can’t think about anything you’re like a slow robot.”

As well as teach kids tech-based topics, possibly through a gamified or rewards-based system, the CIA will aim to encourage kids to take part in activities that are not screen based – to get them exploring the world and interacting with each other as part of a secret club.

As it’s “so much easier for affluent kids” to have access to tech careers and roles models, Deen emphasise the CIA must be accessible to those unable to access “high tech” devices through means such as SMS, probably one of the most difficult parts of our planning.

We decided materials should be given free to schools, where possible, and features such as chat, digital hand-shaking and the ability to earn rewards were all marked up as a possibility for the mystery platform that we were creating before our eyes.

And how should kids access the information? Virtual reality, augmented reality, word of mouth, posters? So many possibilities.

To prevent us from getting ahead of ourselves, before we started our initial planning we were asked to dream up our worst ideas first – what was the most awful thing we might end up creating accidentally during our quest for good?

One of my worst ideas included gendered features that presented one set of activities or settings for girls and another for boys.

Many initiatives exist to help encourage girls to engage with Stem, with varied results, but Deen is adamant Detective Dot and the CIA are for everyone.

“It’s aimed at everybody. Boys and girls equally, this is not just a thing for girls and this is very important,” she said.

“The aim is for kids to grow up to be a bit more creative and to have more empathy.”

After three hours of sharing ideas and thoughts, we handed our scrap paper and post-it notes back to the Bright Little Labs team.

Like many other things regarding the Children’s Intelligence Agency, our plans for its backstory, features and functionality are TOP SECRET, but hopefully the children who become members will have as much fun being part of the agency as we had developing it.

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