I’m excited to be starting the second version of the Invention Literacy Research project this year with a second English Language Arts teacher! If you are new to the blog, here are some links to last year’s PBL:
Invention Literacy 2016
- Post One – Intro and Getting Started
- Post Two – Researching and Making
- Post Three – Sharing and Reflecting
To intro the project this year, we had sophomores follow the instructions from The Big Book of Makerspace Projects and make kazoos. Mrs. Melvin and I thought about having them make the LED bookmarks, but we really wanted them to make something simple. We were surprised to find that these teenagers REALLY ENJOYED making and playing kazoos!
After our kazoo making bonanza, we shared some videos on Invention Literacy and talked with students about how they could make anything they wanted and their only constraints are the materials we have available in the library and time! (We told them we didn’t want anyone going out to buy anything for this project, because we want them to re-use materials that are normally thought of as trash.) However, before deciding on what they wanted to invent, I wanted to try a different material exploration than last year.
Planning with a new teacher means that we are modifying this project to meet the needs of these new learners. While Mrs. Melvin and I were thinking through ideas for her students, we agreed to let students explore materials before deciding on an invention. (This idea sprang from my exploration of cardboard at a SXSWedu session led by Erin Riley, Christa Flores, Sean Justice, and Patrick Benfield.) Last year, Mrs. Feranda and I had students create Makey Makey poetry, work through littleBits challenges, and think aloud on Jay’s Invention Literacy Medium post as an entry point to the project. So this year, instead of guiding their explorations, Mrs. Melvin and I wanted to attempt letting students choose a material to explore via this Googledoc. This worked great for some classes, but not so well for others. Some of our students really needed to decide on an invention before exploring materials. (If only there were some way our schools could better support exploration before inventing as well as exploring materials during inventing!)
For the classes that really struggled with material exploration, Mrs. Melvin created an awesome checklist and had them start researching both invention ideas and the history of the invention they wanted to re-create.
Her students were already familiar with color-coded Cornell notes for researching, so these bright colorful research notes in the Googledoc were easy to use for research!
One thing we both agreed on about our students ability to research is that they sometimes struggle with finding really good information on crowd-sourced sites like Youtube and Instructables. Our teens tend to gravitate toward the highest views rather than the best content. So we gave them a list of questions to ask as they were researching. These questions range from checking on the crowd-sourcer: “How can I tell who this person is? What qualifications do they have?” to self-assessment questions like: “Can I replicate this? Do I have the skills to accomplish this project? Do I need to gain new skills? Or find another way to do this?” ( These questions are based on information from the Challenge Based Learning book I co-wrote with Aaron Graves and Diana Rendina.)
Some of our students also seemed to want more help on garnering ideas and finding ideas to hack. So I made this quick list of great crowdsourced sites that students could search through by material or by invention idea.
Crowdsourced sites for sparking ideas and inventions
- Tinkering Studio (Not crowd-sourced, but a great place to find good ideas!)
- Make It at Your Library
- SparkFun (For Electronics)
- Sparkfun Inventor Space
- Makey Makey Labz
- For Cardboard History: Caine’s Arcade
During student’s first round of prototyping, I had to share a lot of examples of some ideas to frontload ideas for some students. I had so many kids wanting to sew circuits and make paper circuits, but they all wanted to be able to turn their creations off and on. So I showed some students the concept behind making a switch with alligator clips and tin foil.
Other students were self guided in their research on how to make things. Some students really got into the LEGO books by Isogawa, lots of kids used the #bigmakerbook, and other kids found inspiration in the Chibitronics Circuit Sticker notebook (and of course they scoured Youtube.) But a lot of kids just built and tested to see if they could get working prototypes.
So many kids wanted inventive switches, that I realized I needed to make a tangible example. I saw a similar switch in the Tinkering Studio Sewing Circuit guide, but the picture wasn’t enough, my students needed an example they could examine. This has been quite a handy example to have around, it even helped some boys figure out how to make a switch for their recycled bottle car!
One of the best things to happen during prototyping is that Mrs. Melvin told students, “If you can’t find something, figure out what else you can use to make the same idea.” The kids are now getting really inventive and into tinkering to figure things out.
I can’t wait to share their prototype progress in the next post!