The Story of Synthesis

What kind of education would we give kids if they were tasked with starting companies to  outcompete SpaceX? Would we still insist that kids write five paragraph essays and learn geometric proofs? Schools require kids to spend hundreds of hours each year in service to learning information that will have little to no impact on their lives. What if a fraction of those hours were spent preparing this generation of kids to work at or compete with the world’s most successful companies?

I spent six years creating a school called Ad Astra on the campus of SpaceX.

There was one conclusion impossible to miss: SpaceX is a series of interconnected high-functioning teams aligned on a clear mission — get humans safely to Mars as soon as possible.

My goal as the principal of Ad Astra was to give our students the closest thing to the sense of purpose that is woven into the culture at SpaceX. “Get to Mars” is a great unifying force for a space company, but how do we give kids practice working together on a common goal?

I created a class called Synthesis to give our Ad Astra students joyful experiences working on effective teams at an early age by playing original team thinking games. I believe games should be both enjoyable and provide students with a common goal that fosters collaboration. The first games I created were hand-drawn with the scores tallied by the students themselves. Each subsequent game we developed stuck to the original guiding principle: every game must surface difficult, consequential, and strategic decisions. For the students, big decisions bring teams together, and some of the greatest moments of growth were in the moments reflecting on disastrous decisions in the course of the game.

My cofounder Chrisman Frank and I named our company after that original class at Ad Astra and have spent the past 2.5 years working to give every kid a Synthesis experience. Over the course of a year enrolled with Synthesis, students participate in hundreds of unique teams with thousands of kids. Those that they work well with can be added as friends so their paths cross again. We believe the students capable of transforming tomorrow will be the ones capable of working on diverse teams towards a unified mission.

To the stars (and Mars),

Josh Dahn, cofounder