I don’t typically profile kids in this space, but I think Leo Hope-Kaufman is a guy you should know about. This Lexington 11-year-old runs Little Pickle Learning, where he teaches other kids about complex mathematical and scientific topics. His next class is “Intro to Atoms,” happening on Saturday, March 19, at 10:30 a.m. Pay anywhere from $2 to $10, and Hope-Kaufman will donate the proceeds to charity.
He calls himself a “kid professor,” and truly, he deserves tenure somewhere. (His friends also call him “pickle,” because he loves pickles, especially little ones. “Cornichons,” he says.) When he’s not playing soccer, his favorite topics are cell biology, quantum physics, chemistry, neuroscience, and math. The upcoming half-hour Zoom session focuses on the definition of atoms; their discovery; and an overview of protons, neutrons, and electrons.
“I’ll talk about the cool and crazy ways that electrons behave and how small the nucleus is,” he says. “It’s a lecture, but I have props, as well as a slide deck. I also engage students with questions.”
You might wonder how an 11-year-old already knows stuff that some of us might never learn. (I struggled through Biology 101, myself.) He is home-schooled. At 8, he began taking classes through the Rider Institute, where he studied biology, chemistry, and physics under Dr. Todd Rider — “an MIT-trained scientist and professor-guy,” he says. “And I discovered that I had a knack for teaching when I gave a student presentation on elements in the periodic table.” Rider offers classes geared to advanced students ready for more challenging material in the sciences.
When COVID hit, Hope-Kaufman started taking classes exclusively online. Lately, part of his home-schooling curriculum included a course on social entrepreneurship through the virtual learning platform Outschool. He launched Little Pickle for a class project.
“I hope to inspire other kids to help create a better world and that being a kid should not stop you. The idea came from my desire to teach from the love inside of me to help the world,” he says.
Hope-Kaufman says he treats Little Pickle like any other homework assignment and is actively growing his curriculum. This week’s event is his first paid class, though he’s also done free test lectures on topics such as cellular biology. Most of his students are between 6 to 10 years old; some were recruited by his teachers on Outschool, and others are just his friends from the neighborhood or the local home-schooling community.
Hope-Kaufman wishes that mainstream science education received more funding.
“Science is very important,” he says. “I think what I can do differently for kids in my teaching is, I can teach them things that they wouldn’t conventionally learn in school — because, really, the school system is somewhat arbitrary with what stuff you’re supposed to learn and in what grade.”
Proceeds will go toward buying groceries for the Somerville Community Fridge, a cause that’s close to his heart.
“Food is a human right, and it kind of disappoints me that the system in our society is set up so that some people have much more food than others. So I think everyone deserves some. And, honestly, I think we can change it,” he says.
But, in the shorter term, he just wants to get kids excited about STEM.
“I also hope that I can help them in their future academic endeavors cheaply. I hope that they feel, like, excited about math and science, maybe more so than they did before,” he says.
And, yes, he hopes to become a professor someday. As for discipline?
“I’m not entirely sure yet, but I am kind of partial to theoretical chemistry,” he says.
Get more information about his classes at www.littlepicklelearning.org.