Kids at work on their innovative ideas. Paul Haberstroh

BETHEL — On Saturday, Nov. 16, Bethel was one of only two places in the United States to participate in the fifth edition of the Global Children’s Designathon. The Designathon took place in the Ideas Center, which is located in the basement of Hanscom Hall at Gould Academy.

“The Designathon is an initiative of Designathon Works. With this unique teaching method, the children developed skills, such as creative and critical thinking, communication, collaboration and digital literacy.”

Twelve local children between the ages of seven and 13 showed up for the event, which ran from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Paul Haberstroh, who is in his first year as Director of the Ideas Center at Gould, was the lead organizer of the Designathon. When he first laid eyes on the Ideas Center he knew it would be an ideal spot to have a Designathon.

“The Ideas Center is a phenomenal facility,” Haberstroh said. “You need the infrastructure to properly host and facilitate this event.”

Haberstroh has been involved with the Designathon for four years. On top of heading the Ideas Center, Haberstroh also teaches four different engineering electives each trimester at Gould.

Each year the theme of the Designathon changes, and this year the focus was on food and climate.

Children were shown a slideshow explaining the themes and were also provided with a worksheet with questions that “stimulate creativity.” 

At the conclusion of the slideshow, students were divided into four groups of three. In each group, using the designed thinking method, they sketched out their plan on how to come up with an idea and what a possible solution might be.

“They picked a particular part of the theme and then came up with an idea on how we (as a whole) can be better at it. I think they understand how import food and climate are,” Haberstroh said.

Once Students figured out a solution, they drew their idea and then decided how they were going to make their prototype. They had many options when it came to building materials, such as, wood, cardboard, Styrofoam, PVC pipe, string, batteries, LED lights and hot glue.

In each year of his involvement with, Haberstroh has seen a feasible idea come out of it. And this year was no exception.

Two ideas in particular caught his eye.

One group came up with a floating freshwater farm, that would be sent out on a large lake. The farm would be terraced like a pyramid and it would rely on solar power to pump water from the lakes to water the crops. The floating farm would also have lights on it so boats would not run into it. By being the terraced, as the sun moves around, all the levels of the structure would be exposed to sunlight.

“You’re not taking up any land. Your water is there. Your solar power is there. So there’s really zero greenhouse gasses being created in producing your crops,” Haberstroh said. “It’s a very feasible idea.”

Another design was an app aimed to help people reduce their amount of food waste. When people are in the process of putting away their groceries, they would take out their phone and scan the item on the bar code, which is the expiration date. As the expiration date gets close, the app would send a text notifying people that their food is about to spoil.

“All the ideas were great. The students had fun,” Haberstroh said.

The children had the chance to share their great ideas to other Designathon groups across the world. The students communicated via Skype with a school in Clearwater, Fla. and a school in Costa Rica.

Clearwater was the other city in the U.S. to take part in the event (Haberstroh was involved with the event in Clearwater). Other notable places that participated included Brussels, Montreal, Tel Aviv, Hanoi and Beijing. To see a complete list of participating cities/towns go to and click on “What We Do.”

Forty cities/towns engaged in the Designathon overall. Haberstroh said that the number of participants has increased each year.

At the end of the session, students presented their ideas to all who attended the event.

Parents provided positive feedback about the workshop, according to Haberstroh.

Being able to work among themselves was one of the primary benefits of the Designathon.

“It was very independent. They had some help, but at the end of the day these ideas were completely out of the minds of the children,” Haberstroh said. “It’s crucial that children of this age are given the opportunity to freely create and event things for the world.”

Haberstroh added that some of these ideas may come to life soon.

Organizers of the Designathon compile an annual report on some of the ideas each year. The report is usually released in January, according to Haberstroh.

“It is very possible that some of our students ideas could end up in the report,” he said. “Every locations ideas will most likely get mentioned and then some will get highlighted.”

The recognition will not only be great for the students but also for Gould Academy, Haberstroh added.

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