K-12 Education

The Power of Play to Solve Problems

June 7, 2016  • Jessica Matthews

(Photo Credit: istockphoto)

Twenty teams from Chicago Public Schools will compete with each other and present their solutions for a chance to attend the Aspen Ideas Festival. Jessica O. Matthews is the inventor of the SOCCKET ball, an energy-generating soccer ball that provides off-grid power for the developing world. Below she explains how the power of play can unleash the creativity needed to address critical issues. More than one billion people around the world — almost one-fifth of humanity — do not have access to clean and reliable energy. For these people, when the sun goes down, their day is over. They lose their light — literally and figuratively, as they are unable to do homework, or complete other key aspects of daily life we often take for granted. At Uncharted Play, we believe power is a human right. It influences every aspect of life — from education to economic opportunity and gender equality.

Sometimes the best way to bring people together on serious issues is to start with something where people can see the tangible impact. This is why we believe in the power of play. Through play, we not only find ourselves more open to learning: we are able to engage in one of the most underutilized forms of renewable power: kinetic energy.

I was only 19 when I took the college class that led to the invention of the SOCCKET. I never would have imagined that a simple class project could have such an impact all over the world. As a company, we have distributed over 50,000 SOCCKETs and PULSEs (our energy- generating jump rope) worldwide just in the past year.

As a Nigerian-American, I have seen firsthand how young innovators in Nigeria and across the developing world have the passion and fearlessness that come with the lack of inhibitions of youth. All young inventors need to believe in their creative power, no matter how old they are. I believe that through the power of innovation, the utilization of STEM education, and the creativity of design thinking, young people are the key to challenging how we think about energy and electricity to consider new ways to power our lives.

Studies have shown that when students are in the second grade, nearly 95 percent of them believe they are creative. By the end of high school, this statistic changes, leaving only 5 percent of high school graduates feeling equipped to creatively take on the world’s challenges.

The fewer people who feel confident trying to address the world’s problems in unique ways, the less likely we will be able to solve them. This is where the Aspen Challenge comes in: by encouraging and inspiring youth to get involved in solving problems in their communities, and in teaching them how to do so, we see young people across the US unleashing their creativity and using it for good.

It is also what Uncharted Play aims to address through our education platform, UP, which uses the SOCCKET and the PULSE as tools with our custom STEM curriculum, “Think Out of Bounds,” which works to cultivate social entrepreneurs. So far we have impacted communities in more than 20 countries by exceeding education goals and promoting environmental sustainability and health.

The Aspen Challenge and Uncharted Play’s commitment to global citizenship is not just a trend in business. It is a new way of thinking for our generation and future ones. Profit is not enough, and I love that. The game has changed, and we can’t wait to play.