A Car That’s Powered by Tweets and Built by Kids (VIDEO)

This Kansas City nonprofit helps at-risk kids make the most of their education.
Jun 1, 2013· 2 MIN READ
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

No one doubts that science will play a large role in our future job market, which is why an increasing emphasis is being placed on science-based education for kids.

But subjects like computer science and engineering are often seen as the exclusive domain of The Straight-A Students—the ones from well-funded school districts whose parents can afford the exorbitant cost of a private, four-year university.

In reality, science is for everyone, and where there is willingness and focus, there can be mastery.

Proving that point is MindDrive, a Kansas City-based nonprofit that uses experiential learning to teach at-risk kids a variety of subjects through the framework of scientific pursuits.

This year, the program’s 21 high school participants built an electric car from the bottom up, starting with the burned-out frame of a 1967 Karmann Ghia. And as their proof of concept, they’re in the process of driving that car all the way to Washington, D.C.

If that weren’t impressive enough, the vehicle is rigged to function only if there’s enough social media buzz about it.

The Arduino hardware installed in the vehicle is attached to the car’s drivetrain; it’s programmed to move forward only when an internal tablet detects enough MindDrive-related social media activity on channels like Facebook, Twitter or Youtube.

That social media component makes the kids responsible not only for the car’s construction, but also for its marketing.

Located in Kansas City’s urban core, MindDrive works with a handful of local high schools. The students who participate in its after-school program are considered to be “slipping through the cracks” at those schools, academically or behaviorally. The organization’s hope is to utilize hands-on learning and mentoring to get these students inspired about their education and their future.

Beginning last fall, the students started their journey with just a battered car frame, and reconstructed the vehicle with a lithium-ion battery pack and electric motor. They then repainted and outfitted it with accessories, including the internal hardware that tracks their social media buzz and controls the car’s ability to move.

But D.C. is not the end of their road. The prototype car is expected to roll into production, where the students will build about one-per-month as for-sale car kits in order to help fund the program.

It’s a model that’s increasingly cropping up around the country. An offshoot of the “makers movement,” it uses the building process to reach kids who are struggling with emotional or behavioral issues and can be surprisingly effective.

Part of its success may be due to the fact that it engages kids in a way that lectures can’t. Instead of sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher theorize about subjects that can feel far removed from their daily lives, kids get the chance to practically apply knowlege in a way that directly impacts them. Suddenly, education becomes real to them and important—and they have something tangible to show for their efforts.

A similar program, Girls at Work, teaches at-risk children to build wood pieces like rocking chairs and tables, as a way to prove to them their ability to focus and accomplish. For the kids who participate, it can radically alter how they perceive themselves.

If you’d like to help the MindDrive kids fuel their car all the way to D.C., visit their homepage to start fueling their social media buzz.

Would access to a program like MindDrive have changed your high school experience? Let us know in the Comments.