I watched an incredibly inspiring Ted video recently, all about the power of small actions. A market town in England has built community and changed mind sets by simply planting edible food in spare areas of land. What particularly appealed to me was the fact they did it with the minimum of fuss and no endless discussion — they just did it! Everyone who wants to be involved can be — it is completely inclusive — if you eat you can be involved. The town has strengthened their community, schools and local business and the wonderful thing is that it all sounds very easy to set up. One of the particularly interesting aspects, to me, is that young people engaged in the scheme have learned all sorts of skills they might never have learned otherwise and are actually heading towards careers — real jobs— in the field (pun intended!). The incredible edible movement has spread in the UK and I hope it catches on elsewhere in the world. What a great way to ignite children's passion and give them something they can carry with them all their lives.
My daughter's teacher recently brought this amazing YouTube video to my attention. It's about a young boy who uses his creativity and imagination to build his own arcade out of cardboard boxes. Caine's dream of owning an arcade takes on a life of its own and he ends up creating a worldwide phenomenon! I urge you to watch the (beautifully filmed) video by Nirvan and then check out Caine's website — should inspire all kids to follow their hearts and persevere!
We are very fortunate to have recently interviewed Katie Robbins, VP Educational Marketing and Partnerships at Figment, the online place for young people to gather and talk about and publish their writing and other projects. When we first heard about Figment we were just so excited! We love finding new ways to inspire creativity! Wish there had been something like this around when we were kids! Read on to hear more about Figment and follow the links to see some amazing examples of writing by young people!
Can you give us a bit of background to how Figment was formed and why?
Figment was inspired by an article that one of our co-founders Dana Goodyear wrote for the New Yorker about the popularity of cell phone novels in Japan. She was astounded by how this community of teens and young adults were connecting by sharing stories through this unconventional form. She and Jacob Lewis, our CEO, wanted to bring a similar spirit to the US, giving young writers the tools to write and share and publish their own works in a vibrant online community.
What age young people contribute and approximately how many?
Since launching in December 2010, we've built a community of about 90,000 users, who have created an ever-growing library of more than 200,000 "books" on the site (a book can be anything from a sonnet to an essay to a screenplay). Figment is open to anyone 13 and over, but the vast majority of our users are between 13 and 24.
What are some of the good things that come out of Figment?
The fact that in a year this community has written more than 200,000 books is staggering. And moreover that our users take the time to read and reflect on each others' work with tremendous care and empathy is even more heartening. Figment was founded to help inspire a new generation of readers and writers, and we hear from regularly from our users that the site has made reading and writing addictive. It makes me grin just thinking about it.
What is your goal for Figment for each young person? What do you want it to help them do?
We had one user who told us that he used to be what he called a "closet writer" but that by connecting with his peers on Figment, he was able to open up and to think of himself as a writer. I'd love for each young person to have a similar experience. We're not all going to be professional writers, but each of us is a writer — with stories to tell and ideas to communicate. We also hope that our users will grow as writers, both by being in the habit of regular writing and by taking advantage of some of the opportunities we offer on the site to interact with professional writers through contests, q-and-a's, and other special programming.
Could you ultimately put writers in touch with young illustrators/movie makers etc?
We do see some young writers connecting with artists in other disciplines. For example, users design and create their own book covers to pair with each of the books they publish to the site. We see a lot of budding illustrators offering their services to help writers design those book covers.
What is your long term plan for Figment?
We're excited to have more educators working with the site. This fall we added a new function called Figment Groups that allows teachers, librarians, and other educators to create private groups on the site. We think of them as "virtual writing workshops," where classes can work on all of the phases of the writing process in a closed, safe space before publishing them to the entire Figment community.
And we just want to keep growing the community of young writers and readers. Every day about 1000 new pieces of original writing are added to the site. We want to see that keep going, and even increase!
Is Figment just for users in the USA?
No, though some of the writing contests we run are only open to users in the US.
Do you know of any similar service for younger kids?
Online communities are difficult for younger students because of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which many social media sites from hosting kids younger than 13. The National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has some great services for younger students through its Young Writers Program.
Thank you so much, Katie!
Click these links to read some of the writing young people have posted on Figment!