TomTod is a unique and quirky organization. We’re the first to admit it! Working with middle schoolers, we strive to make our DNA as fun, whimsical and energy-surged as the students we serve! Today, we answer your most puzzling TomTod questions, in Part 1 of a 2 part series.
Okay, Okay. Who’s Tom? Where’s Tod?
Great question! Curiosity peaks when an organization’s name could be classified as two first names. But, TomTod really stands for Tomorrow’s Ideas, Today! Society typically views middle school as an awkward transition time from childhood to adulthood. Middle schoolers are often projected to be leaders once they mature and age. We believe that middle schoolers are equipped to be leaders today and TomTod exists to release their potential.
What exactly does TomTod do?
We empower middle school students to launch absurd ideas that enhance the common good. We accomplish this mission through 4 different programs:
Idea X: 6-12 month long experiential mentorship adventure. We walk with middle school students through an ideation process, starting with an application & interview experience & continuing to team building, idea development & launch. Read more about our Idea X projects.
Canton Dreamoratory: A week-long summer camp for middle schoolers centered on the assets and challenges of a specific city center. Students develop ideas to make Canton a better place & then present their ideas to community leaders.
Grasp. Go. Grow.: An in-school program that walks students through the ideation process. In the 2014-2015 school year the program is at The Early College Academy & The College & Career Readiness Academy at Lehman.
When did TomTod begin?
TomTod started in the hearts and minds of middle school students that Joel Daniel Harris hung out with in a decade of youth ministry. The very first TomTod project was the Shack-A-Thon, in the fall of 2011. In August of 2012, JDH left his job to pursue launching TomTod full-time. The three new projects were launched in the fall of 2012 and TomTod received our 501c3 certification in February of 2013. New things are starting up all the time in the land of TomTod, so in some ways we’re always beginning again.
Check back next Tuesday for Part 2, when we answer more puzzling questions!
19 May / 2015
[Barbara Ross’ daughter, Aurora, attended the Dreamoratory last summer. We asked Barbara a few questions about Aurora’s experience and why the week is important for middle schoolers].
TomTod: Why did you want Aurora to participate in the Dreamoratory?
Barbara: I felt that it was important to add a counterpoint to her perspective, which at the “middle school” stage of development can be very “Me”-centric, with information and experiences embracing the larger world in which that “me” operates.
TT: What were Aurora’s biggest learnings from the week?
Barbara: That there is much more in time and space than what can be gained from split second glances.
TT: How was Aurora challenged by the Dreamoratory?
Barbara: I think she benefited from the experience of being enveloped into a work group of people, topics and goals that are unfamiliar but immediate.
TT: What would you tell a parent who has a student interested in the Dreamoratory?
Barbara: I would say that they should not expect “camp” in the sense of a traditional cabin by the lake scenario. Their youth will gain a more urban vibe and the experience will be more of a “scamper” going through a new land that that of a “camper” on a predictive trail.
TT: Why is the Dreamoratory worthwhile for middle schoolers?
Barbara: I think it models team building and problem solving systems while fostering a sense of adventure and an expectation of the wonder of things unexpected.
This year’s Canton Dreamoratory is July 12-18, open to students leaving grades 5-8. Register today at www.tomtodideas.org/summerdreams.
05 May / 2015
[Post written by TomTod’s Chief Ideation Officer, Abby Shaub].
Failure is exhausting. When an idea goes awry, it is easy to feel defeated and completely abandon the process. Although, it is through failures that impactful ideas can emerge.
Did you know that Thomas Edison failed thousands of times before perfecting the light bulb? Steve Jobs’ Apple I & II computers barely lifted off the ground but now he is remembered as one of the greatest tech geniuses of all time.
I recently read a quote from TED that captured this concept perfectly: “We have to be willing to fail, to be wrong, to start over again with lessons learned.” (Angela Lee Duckworth)
All ideators and imagineers have ideas that don’t work out. Instead of fixating on the failures, we must first admit that the idea was a flop. The pivotal moment occurs when we begin again with fresh eyes because of what we’ve learned.
Challenges can in fact provide great inspiration, as through evaluation new ideas emerge from the rubble.
At TomTod, we believe in gutsy stick-to-itiveness. Throughout the ideation process, ideas may be unfeasible. Rather than being paralyzed by failure, we encourage our students to view failure as an opportunity to launch something new that is wildly successful.
Middle schoolers are overflowing with dreams and by moving forward in spite of challenges, ideas emerge that truly enhance the common good.
07 Apr / 2015
[Guest blogger Josh Harris has been a fan of TomTod since its beginning in 2012. An entrepreneur with over 15+ years of business experience, Josh has navigated three businesses in the marketing and tech sectors from start-up to acquisition. Josh recently joined the Stark County District Library as Interim Marketing Director, helping the institution tell its story to the community. When away from a computer Josh, his wife Kate, and their daughter Maddie enjoy biking and other outdoor activities.]
I take a lot of things for granted without realizing it. And while sometimes those assumptions are seemingly harmless, they subtly color my perception of the world and unwittingly influence the way I navigate through it.
Take, for example, the common orange: staple of soccer team snacks, unofficial juice of American breakfasts, and seeming cornerstone of the citrus family. Heck, it’s even where we got the name for the color. So oranges must be one of those fundamental foods that have always been around, right?
Except that the orange doesn’t exist in the wild. They’re a human-cultivated hybrid of two true citrus ancestors. In fact, the entire citrus section of your local grocery store is a messy family tree of hybridization, cultivation, and cross-breeding going on for centuries. As common as oranges are today, they aren’t some fundamentally immutable member of the food pantheon. They only exist because an enterprising farmer in ancient China one day thought to himself, “I wonder if?”
So while assuming that the omnipresent oranges have always been so is a harmless – if tasty – error, contemplate a world in which Paddington Bear doesn’t have orange marmalade, and the crayon between red and yellow in the box is called “carrot.” It’s like apples and… oranges.
Which gets me to wondering… how much of what we assume “just is” or “always has been” or “can’t be changed” isn’t actually a forgone conclusion? And once you discover that most of what surrounds you isn’t inevitable, you start to realize that the world as you know it is much more open to your influence than you thought. In fact, if you squint your eyes and look past what is, you may just catch glimpse of the world as it could be – if you choose to ask “I wonder if?”
Oh, as for those citrus progenitors… ever heard of a citron, mandarin, pomelo, or papeda? They’re the only original citruses and the source from which all of the lemons, limes, grapefruits, and oranges that we take for granted derive. Which just goes to show that you don’t have to be well known or in the headlines to make a difference. But that’s another bad assumption for another day.
24 Mar / 2015
[Lucy Burick, an 8th grader at North Canton Middle School, participated in the Canton Dreamoratory last summer. We asked Lucy a few questions about her experience. We are thrilled that she is joining us again this summer! Read Part 1 of her story here.]
TomTod: Explain your group’s final idea/presentation.
Lucy: My group’s final idea/presentation was to create a community garden. There would be herbs, vegetables, fruits, and flowers. I do not remeber if we pin-pointed a desirable location, but I do remember taking a trip to a church and looking at a very grassy area.
TT: How did receiving feedback from community members at the Community Ideation Celebration help you?
Lucy: Receiving feedback helped me understand how we could accomplish our idea and what things we would need to think over more clearly.
TT: Describe a field trip you took during the week and what you learned.
Lucy: A field trip I took during the week was going to Goodwill. I learned that there were many organizations in the Goodwill. I do not remember the name of this organization, but people could come into the building and get free food. Also, people could come in and talk someone if they needed to.
TT: If you could describe the week in one word what would it be?
Lucy: If I could describe the week in one word it would be extraordinary.
If you know a middle schooler in Stark County, encourage them to register for the Canton Dreamoratory, July 12-18, 2015!
10 Mar / 2015
[Lucy Burick, an 8th grader at North Canton Middle School, participated in the Canton Dreamoratory last summer. We asked Lucy a few questions about her experience. We are thrilled that she is joining us again this summer!]
TomTod: The Dreamoratory is awesome because…
Lucy: The Dreamoratory is awesome because you can learn so many new and interesting things. Another reason it is awesome is because there is no limit to where you can use your imagination. The Dreamoratory also lets you explore the world around you.
TT: What did you learn about Canton throughout the week?
Lucy: There was a lot that I learned about Canton throughout the week. First, is that on Cherry Ave there used to be an abundance of shops, it was a very small community. I also learned about what the Lighthouse organization and how they help kids over the summer and after school. Plus, I learned that there are community gardens in Canton!
TT: What was your highlight from the week?
Lucy: My highlight from the week was going to the Onesto Hotel. It was amazing to see what Steve Coon had done. The architecture inside the hotel was phenomenal. Though going into the elevators was a little scary, it made the trip up to the top floor worth it. There was a beautiful view of Canton.
Read Part 2 of Lucy’s Story on this blog next Tuesday!
24 Feb / 2015
[Post written by Hillary Gerig, TomTod Board Treasurer. Hillary is an Accountant IV at First Energy and adds spunk and financial insight to TomTod.]
I admit it. I am an emotional woman. And by emotional I mean, I cry a lot. I really hate falling into that stereotype, but the more I rebel against it, the more true it seems to become. I find my eyes welling up at commercials, reality shows, and even during the montage of “One Moment in Time” at the end of the NCAA basketball championships! That just can’t be normal, can it? Sometimes I feel like I have this reaction to anything I see that is kind or generous or loving because there is so much of the opposite in the world that it really affects me when I see acts of kindness and compassion. Or, even just general happiness and celebration for someone who has trialed through so much. I volunteer in the café at my church and a few weeks ago I was ringing up the order of a family who appeared to be new to the church. One of the family members was a young man who was wearing his ROTC fatigues. As they were getting ready to pay, the man behind them in line stepped in and offered to pay for their entire order as a way of saying “thank you” for their son’s decision to serve. The mother was clearly shocked, yet grateful. Tears welled up in the back of my eyes immediately and I had a really hard time completing the sale without letting them all come flooding out. I was moved by his kindness because, let’s be honest, overt kindness like that is few and far between these days. We’re constantly surrounded by hustle and bustle and self-centeredness, and kindness and compassion gets lost.
But then there is TomTod Ideas. One of TomTod’s core values is Compassion and Justice – we seek to enter into a broken world, equipped with love and selflessness, to create hope and repair. Boom. It hits me so hard every time I read it and it’s what I love most about being a part of the TomTod team. What’s more is that TomTod is trying to bring these values into the forefront of the minds of middle school students. That is no easy task! At the risk of sounding cliché, these students are our future! What WE sow into them now, WE will reap later. This past summer I attended the community celebration for the Canton Dreamoratory and got to hear about the projects that the teams of middle school students created in just one week. I was blown away by the creativity and the others-centered focus of each of the projects. Several of the projects were aimed at repairing a broken world and helping those who are not equipped to help themselves. Needless to say, I was brought to tears! (shocking, I know) When I was that age, I was more interested in re-runs of “Charles in Charge” than I was with developing an idea that would positively impact a community. Scott Baio may have had the good looks and charm, but he was never going to inspire me to change the world. It was at the end of those presentations that I really understand what TomTod was about and why I was a part of it. I’m hopeful that someday kindness and compassion will run so rampant that I won’t even feel the slightest sting of oncoming tears when I see it lived out in front of me. I owe a piece of this renewed hope to TomTod and I look forward to what is to come.
17 Feb / 2015
[Blog post written by TomTod fan, Jean Paddock. Jean recently participated as a panelist at an Idea X Community Ideation Panel. Jean is currently employed by Aultman College as its Vice President of Academic Affairs. She additionally teaches chemistry and science both at Aultman and in the community. She and her husband Thomas reside in Bolivar, Ohio where they can be found with their puppy, Linus, when they’re not out adventuring!]
When I was in middle school, I was charged with dropping an egg out of a 2 or 3 story window and having it survive the fall as an intact egg. That was the assignment. No rules. No limits. Just figure it out. I don’t remember working out ideas or drawing up a plan. I remember being at home with an egg in some kind of cushioned container and attaching it to a parachute made out of a disposable plastic shopping bag. I remember knowing that I needed to drop it from a high distance to practice and not being sure how to do that. I remember my dad saying “Well, let’s get on the roof!”. No hesitation – just get on the roof. (And we did! It was awesome! Dad kept me safe, and that’s how I practiced my egg drop ideas.)
How many of us do that for curious kids? Do we tell them to get on the roof and facilitate their exploration OR do we make them pause? Do we tell them to rethink the beginning idea? How many of us encourage curious adults? How many of us challenge the norm in projects at work? Do we embrace new ideas or do we inadvertently squash a new approach or trial? Are we too afraid, bound by process, legal fears, regulations, and requirements? Or, do we just try it, make it work, and see what happens?
Today, I think we’ve become rule-bound and regulation-driven. It’s an easier approach to regulate and legislate to minimum standards that protect what we worry about. (There are some rules and regulations that are valid and necessary, but I think the pendulum has swung too far.) I believe that holding on so tightly to the minimum is partly responsible for leading us, as a nation, to lagging outcomes (economically, educationally, etc.). I would argue that dependence on rules and regulation doesn’t propel us toward long-term success. Long-term success is harder and more nebulous. It arises from creativity, encouraging and empowering new ideas, channeling them (in an ever increasing world of connectivity) to trial, and challenging the status quo for the greater good. Sometimes we see success and sometimes we see failure – both are equally valuable!
So what can I do? What can you do? I don’t know if the egg broke or not, but that’s not the point of the story. The point is that my dad encouraged and empowered me without hesitation. How am I an agent of encouragement and empowerment? How do I personally or through my interaction with others encourage ideation, empower a thoughtful idea, channel ideas and dreamers toward each other, and most importantly, help myself and others find a way? Let’s do it! See what happens! Learn and grow! Seek long-term success! Get on the roof!
10 Feb / 2015
[Post written by TomTod’s Chief Ideation Officer, Abby Shaub].
The sheer utterance of the word can make us shudder. When “constructive” is attached to the front it softens the hit. Ultimately though, standing vulnerable before others is an intimidating task.
The easy solution to the intimidation is to shut others out and not ask for their feedback on our ideas, projects or work. But, cowering away is a sad existence. In order to grow, we need to live with our ears open to the insight of others.
Marketing guru Seth Godin wrote a poignant blog post on this topic. He explained 3 different ways we can react to feedback. We can see it as an attack, pass it off to someone else or show gusto and choose the third option:
“One other option: you can care even more than I do. You can not only be open to the constructive feedback, but you can savor it, chew it over, amplify it. You can delight in the fact that someone cares enough to speak up, and dance with their insight and contribution.”
At TomTod, we believe in constructive feedback. A few weeks ago we held Community Ideation Panels for our Idea X students. During two separate panels, Kyle & Isaiah presented their idea to a group of professionals within their idea’s topic. After the presentation and Q&A, panelists wrote down what is awesome about the idea and potential obstacles.
Following the panels, the students met with their lead mentors to go over the feedback. They received it very well, as they listened and used the insight to enhance their ideas. Instead of being defensive, the students accepted the constructive criticism as an opportunity to create better developed and others’ focused ideas.
It’s time to view feedback as a catalyst to improve our ideas and build character. People give their insight because they value our success. Embracing it shows we value them too.
05 Feb / 2015
One of our core volunteers, Bryce Schmidt, laid some great groundwork a couple weeks back on why we love improv theater. As a follow up, take a glance at this intriguing article from KQED’s Mind Shift blog, providing another great perspective on the value of improv theatre in education:
“Improv enthusiasts rave about its educational value. Not only does it hone communication and public speaking skills, it also stimulates fast thinking and engagement with ideas. On a deeper level, improv chips away at mental barriers that block creative thinking — that internal editor who crosses out every word before it appears on a page — and rewards spontaneous, intuitive responses, Criess says. Because improv depends on the group providing categorical support for every answer, participants also grow in confidence and feel more connected to others.”
These concepts are exactly why we’re launching our latest initiative: Artsplorations! An Artsploration explores the world of creative problem solving, critical thinking skills, brainstorming and ideation through the lens of a practiced art. We have recruited some of the most talented practitioners in the region to lead middle schoolers through three-hour, interactive adventures that put theory into motion and stamp it into memory. We have four in our initial pilot: improv theater with Tim Carmany, visual arts with Amy Eibel, dance/movement with Kimberly Payne and storytelling with Andrew Rudd. (We have pre-registration available on our website, as all of these are spots-limited opportunities.)
The activities explored through these workshops aren’t just about making up ideas willy-nilly, though. They’re about equipping students with tools that lead to innovation and invention, as referenced by KQED:
“But does “yes, and” diminish one’s ability to think critically? Are there limits to all the right answers? “Improv says yes to the idea of ideas,” Criess says. Not every original thought will turn into the next invention, but offshoots of that first idea may lead to better ones, she explains. “Let’s agree to have ideas,” she says. “And set up a culture where risks are encouraged, and greeted positively and with respect.””
That’s the kind of culture we love to see in play at TomTod! Looking forward to a great year of exploring the arts and new ideas!
For more information or to pre-register for an upcoming Artsploration, go here!
(Artsplorations are funded in part from a grant by Arts in Stark.)