What If 101

What If 101 is our school-based collaborative program that walks students through the ideation process.

It connects students – and their curricula – to the real world with speakers, field trips, and problem-based learning.

What If 101 is an ideal starting point for students with dreams and creativity to learn about their community and gain new skills in class.

We develop curricula with teachers, to enhance the learning already happening in schools with our resources and connections.

Students and Teachers in What If 101

In the beginning, students learn through research and by engaging with guest speakers. Then they spend several weeks traveling outside the classroom to further explore their interest up close, in action, in the world.

Guest speaker to students

In the final weeks of the semester, students develop new ideas to serve the common good based on all they’ve experienced.

Students creating ideas

Students in What If 101 grapple with the importance of new ideas and thinking critically.

They gain confidence in how they communicate, understand how to research and explore new ideas, and think deeply about how our actions influence each other and how we can all work together for the common good.

students on field to trip to WKSU

Case Studies:
How students and teachers in What If 101 met project goals and achieved success.

ECA students
Early College Academy at Souers

In a community with food deserts and low access to fresh produce, where do people get their food, and why is it important? Eighth graders at ECA and history teacher Jason Pigott utilized What If 101 to explore the state of food in their community and their school system.

Students researched food distribution, agriculture, and farming in the 21st century. They met and interviewed local experts from organizations that bring health, nutrition, community engagement, and social services expertise to the table, including:

  • JRC
  • StarkFresh
  • Stark County Hunger Task Force
  • Aultman College of Nursing
  • Ohio Farm Bureau

To experience food issues firsthand – and sample some delicious local cuisine along the way – What If 101 students toured local restaurants that work directly with farmers and producers in greater Canton area and visited Clardale Farms, one of the largest dairy farms in Stark County.

We challenged our students: how would you redesign the food distribution system in your school and community? By reflecting, brainstorming, and collaborating with each other, students developed and launched pilot programs to enhance their community’s food. They designed and constructed two mini green houses, discovering along the way the challenges, rewards, and complexities of planting, tending and harvesting food. We provided valuable opportunities for students to make connections from their classroom curriculum to real life in their community, which allowed What If 101 students to collaborate, contribute, and grow in knowledge and character.

Lehman students
College and Career Readiness Academy at Lehman

Caring, character, and contribution are just a few competencies we strive to develop in our middle schoolers. Students at Lehman are creating impact with all three.

What If 101 helped middle schoolers bring civic engagement to their 21st century learning, where they explored why volunteerism rallies people together to care and contribute and ultimately enhances the common good. We connected local experts to our What If 101 cohort at Lehman, where students met and discussed why volunteering with local organizations is vital to their community’s growth, diversity, and better quality of life.

Guest experts included:

  • Resident Director of civic engagement floor at Malone University
  • Active member of Kiwanis International
  • Associate Director of the Center for Cross-Cultural Engagement at Malone University

Through an interactive tour of the Goodwill Community Campus, What If 101 students directly experienced what it means to develop character that builds up communities. They learned about area organizations that empower volunteers and rely on their charitable work. Students simulated the collection and use of food pantry tickets to gather food for their underfed and impoverished family, aided by social workers and the Stark County Hunger Task Force.

Students in What If 101 demonstrated their learning and willingness to contribute by reflecting, ideating, and taking their experiences back into the classroom. They researched the needs and issues facing their communities and built pilot programs in teams that enhance their neighborhoods.

Students at Kent State University
North Canton Middle School

Student media literacy and the media’s responsibility to the community grows more and more imperative. In tandem with North Canton Middle’s school-wide initiative to increase media literacy and responsibility in their students, we were able provide valuable experiences in What If 101. Students learned the importance of storytelling as a tool for sharing information, and what responsibility the media has to its constituents.

While investigating different forms of media, students analyzed the positives and pitfalls of each, cultivating a healthy understanding of how to use and share news and information. Students learned principles of research and how in the 21st century ways of accessing information—and what they do with it—is vital to critical thinking.

Students went behind the scenes at the Canton Repository, Kent State University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications, and WKSU studios in Kent to tour the facilities that bring their communities the news, and see just how media, journalism, and research impact their area.

Thanks to generous donors, we’ve been able to replicate this cohort’s curriculum with other teachers and classrooms across Stark County.

Night at the Museum
Early College Academy at Souers

Everyone – and every place – has a story to tell. Early College Academy utilized What If 101 to help students learn and think critically about how we tell stories, how to approach opposing viewpoints, and where our information comes from.

Students grasped journalistic concepts and thought critically about the multiple perspectives every story holds when its told. Focusing on communication, collaboration, and connecting ideas and information from a place to its people, our students explored the Massillon Museum and William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum. Collecting history, hearing stories, and experiencing multiple viewpoints, students interviewed archivists and curators to dissect local and national historical stories.

As the culmination to their cohort’s What If 101 experiences, ECA students presented their synthesis of learning and collaboration at ECA’s Night at the Museum: A Day in the Life of a 7th Grader. This student-led presentation showcased students telling and acting out stories central to their lives, how they interact with their peers and family, and the formative events and experiences that shape middle school.

Program Options:
What If 101 programming is customizable, operating in collaboration with classroom educators. Here are some inventive options we can bring to a classroom near you:

Build a Better Block

Vacant properties, wide streets, and few amenities can plague a community – making it unsafe, inaccessible, and unusable. The Build a Better Block movement is changing that across the nation. Students research community resources, evaluate their space, and generate ideas to make sustainable, positive changes to their area. They implement design principles guided by the Better Block movement’s research-based techniques, and create a walkable, bikeable neighborhood destination that’s safe and fun for people of all ages.

It’s Not Easy Living Green … Or is It?

Students investigate what it means to “live green” as they interview community members dedicated to sustainable, local consumption, partake in active discussions surrounding documentary short films such as Our Land: The Solution to Pollution is Life, Green Bronx Machine, and Generation Green (among others), and experience first-hand how a sustainable organic farmer cares for the land. Students also work on community-based green projects in their attempt to understand the complexities of green living.

What You See CAN be What You Get

How can visual art impact an entire neighborhood? Can it affect a community’s economic development? Students dive into these questions and more as they observe and interview those in the know. Focusing on impactful programs like Arts LIFT in Akron, public art in Massillon, and the Canton Arts District, participants target an area in need and design a project that not only stimulates economic development in the area, but draws people there, inspiring others to create.

Creating (and Selling) That Better Mousetrap

How do designers come up with their ideas? What enables entrepreneurs to see their ideas through to the end? How does one create real change and community impact through imagination? Students learn how to plan, set up, and run a community-minded venture of their own through ideation and consultations with local designers, business owners, and mentorships from the Entrepreneur in Residence at Mount Union University.

Get Your Hands on Some History

With visits to the enthralling archives of the Kent State May 4 Visitors Center, the Massillon Museum, and the Canton Museum of Art, students immerse themselves first-hand in the deep, dark collections of local and national historical artifacts. They interview archivists and curators to discuss the methods to their madness. Additionally, students dive into Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States to better understand how historians – and their primary sources – perceive iconic moments in America’s past. Not only do we explore ideas in history, we make history with ideas of our own.

Did Video Kill the Radio Star?

Radio, television, and film are only the beginning when it comes to the ubiquitous communication mediums we encounter every day. How does the news reach us? How do we respond in a healthy, responsible way to a daily bombardment of information? Students explore and develop media literacy as they get face time with local radio and television personalities, filmmakers, and journalists. They learn and study how news is made, from the station to the consumer. Now, more than ever, smart consumption of media is vital to students learning in the 21st century.

Act It and They Will Come

Guerrilla theater has had many forms, with notable groups including The San Francisco Mime Troupe and The Bread and Puppet Theater. These troupes brought activism to the stage, and created a stir with their spotlight. Students are improvisational as they observe, read, and exhibit the many ways theater can be used as a form of activism. Through interviews with local play writes, and engaging with various productions – live, written, and filmed – students experience how theater continues to impact the psyche and opinions of America.

Camp What If: 2.0

Modeled after the format of Camp What If, TomTod Ideas’ series of summer camps, students investigate their local community. They discover their community’s various challenges and assets, and, through a series of field trips, interviews, and interactive investigations, immerse themselves in possibilities for real change. They discover local businesses, agencies, and community organizations, asking questions and analyzing impact in various city sectors. With a heavy dose of imagination, ingenuity, and good, old fashioned fun, students reflect on their experiences, engage in the design process, and create ideas that transform their community and the people living in it.

Middle schoolers are making a big difference in their communities and world, right now.

Here a just a few middle schoolers who created, collaborated, and are more connected because of What If 101:






What If 101

Do you want your school in on the immersive possibilities of What If 101? Contact us to get started!