Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Invention Literacy Challenge

     It is easy to get nostalgic over the summer about where the library program has been and where it will go in the future.  Looking back on this past school year, it started with a summer challenge at a training.  Where that challenge ended up was surprising and opened up an entirely new world of possibilities.

      Last summer, I attended the Arkansas Library Association (ARLA) summer conference in Little Rock, Arkansas.  In addition to having the privilege of presenting and renewing some professional contacts, I also got to learn about a concept that was new to me from the keynote speaker Colleen Graves.  She shared with us about a concept called Invention Literacy.

      At it's core, Invention Literacy asks students to invent and innovate, but it also asks them to chronicle their journey of learning.  They are to do this through a variety of means including research as well as keeping a journal of their successes and failures as they build, innovate and invent.  At the end of her last keynote, Colleen Graves challenged us to take one piece of learning from the ARLA conference.  She asked us to write it down and store it somewhere we could refer to during the year.  Her challenge was to implement that one piece of new learning from the conference in the upcoming year.

      I selected the topic of Invention Literacy with the goal of collaborating on at least one Invention Literacy project during the 2017-18 school year. I wrote down the term Invention Literacy on a post-it note and stored it in the top pocket of my backpack.

As I returned for the new school year, I began sharing my learning with my teachers and proposing some ways we could implement Invention Literacy.  Additionally, I also loaned out some maker space materials to teachers as a way for them to begin to see the power of Invention Literacy and how tools such as LittleBits could be used to make Invention Literacy a reality.

     In March, a new teacher approached me about a possible idea for an Invention Literacy project. She is 8th grade American History teacher and was about to start a unit on the Progressive Era.  Ms. Powell proposed that students could do research about an invention from that era and create their own sample of the invention.


To start, we scoped out a handful of inventions of the time including the airplane, elevator, telegraph and railroad.  Our essential question was: how does....(invention) work and how can I make my own version of it? In order to get students thinking in an invention mindset, I led them through two days of invention challenges with the Makey Makey.

     By the end of the third day, student groups had to make a decision about which invention from the Progressive Era they were planning to make. Even though Ms. Powell and I created a short list of possible inventions, students' creativity soon began to emerge in unexpected ways. Although there were some airplanes and telegraphs, students greatly expanded the list.  Among their inventions were a paddle boat, an assembly line, and a number of medicines which were created during the Progressive Era.

Three other amazing inventions were a teaching tool for children who could not go to school since they were already working, a vacuum cleaner, and a vending machine.


One thing that turned out differently about the project was the way research was done.  Initially, I had proposed that students would do the research into their invention's history first, before they did any building.  As it turned out, we had students build for a couple of days first and then do research.  This helped to build in some buy in from students are they were more motivated to research into their inventions once they had spent some time building their designs.
    One of the best things about this project was the advocacy piece it became for the Library program and the Maker space specifically.  My administrative team asks us three questions in our springtime summative evaluation: what have you done well this year what do you want to improve on, and how can we as a building improve next year.  In my summative evaluation, I shared with them about the success of the Invention Literacy project.  Ms. Powell had arranged for her students to complete a gallery walk in the library where they could share their process and projects which just so happened to be going on during the time of my summative meeting.  So I invited my administrators to see these students incredible work.

    We also had the great opportunity to hold a Google Hangout with Stony Evans from Lakeside Hot Springs High Arkansas. He is the librarian there and had been collaborating with one of his history teachers on a similar Invention Literacy project.  Our students had a chance to share their projects/process with their peers from Hot Springs.  The Hangout was also a wonderful chance to look into ways we can expanded Invention Literacy into the future.  We saw several projects that had reinvented historical locations through designing Minecraft worlds.  Among them were a slave plantation and Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor where Francis Scott Key had penned the Star Spangled Banner.

     Our Invention Literacy project turned out better than I could have ever imagined.  It was exciting to watch student grow as inventors and innovate with their projects.   I am eager to add other possibilities such as designing historical Minecraft worlds to future incarnations of this project.  In fact, another 8th grade history teacher has already approached me about collaborating this year on an Invention Literacy project.  I can't wait!

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