4th Grade Invention Literacy Projects

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Note: Since I heard the term Invention Literacy from Jay Silver in 2015 I’ve been a tad obsessed with it because it perfectly describes what I am trying to do in my library makerspace. My goal in makerspace programming is to help our students “understand the way the world works so they can create new stuff.” Read all of my posts about Invention Literacy here. I’ve previously done this project with high school students and adult learners, so this was my first year adapting the project for elemakers! Read on to learn about my process and check out all of the cool stuff Mason 4th graders made below!

From January to the beginning of March, I led each class of 4th grade students through the Invention Literacy project. Every 4th grade class had a dedicated week to choose an invention, learn how it works and recreate it with recyclables and the materials available in the library. (Note that I also lead Invention Literacy workshops for Makey Makey that focus only on utilizing the Makey Makey. At school, I allow students to create with whatever materials they are most comfortable with!)

I created an Invention Literacy journal for students to track their week’s work. In the beginning I tried to have it as an online document for 4th graders, but quickly realized they did better with it as a paper journal.

To start the project we watched videos of Jay Silver talking about the need for Invention Literacy. (This is currently my favorite video of him discussing this idea of a new needed literacy.) Then I asked students what they felt invention literacy means in their own words.  We also took some time to talk about and define prototyping, so students could understand that making is an iterative process and that their final invention doesn’t have to be polished.

After talking about inventing and prototyping, I gave small groups time to brainstorm and sketch invention ideas. This was one of my favorite things! Students quickly got to work talking about ideas they had and what they wanted to make! They LOVED being able to recreate any invention their little heart desired. (We did have to talk a lot about scalability and time constraints. They only had 5 days to make their invention! No you can’t make a robotic hand in 5 days, but you could create one out of cardboard or straws…. No, you can’t make your own computer in 5 days, but you can learn about all the parts of a computer, etc.)

On the second day of the project, students had to research the history of their invention online using Encyclopedia Brittanica or another library database of their choice. Once they had researched HOW their invention worked, they crowdsourced to find out how others had made similar inventions. After all the brainstorming and researching was done, it was time to get making! Students had 3 days to create their collaborative invention. On Friday, students presented their inventions to the next class that would be coming to the library. Next year, I hope we can share our projects with the whole school at a STEM night or something!

Some teachers also had students share what they made in Flipgrid. We also asked them to reflect on what new skills they learned making the project and talk about the most challenging aspect of their Invention Literacy project.

Make Time for Cleaning and Re-organizing

One important note is that if you try to have a project like this back to back each week, you will need to make time for cleaning and reorganizing your maker supplies after each group is finished. This is what our materials looked like at the beginning. Note that all of our materials along this wall are consumable (other than the sewing machine.) I learned my lesson last year when students sawed apart double-sided knitting needles to create catapults!

Maker Recess

One of my favorite things that happened during this project was that students asked if they could come work on their projects during recess. It made my elementary library feel a little more like the communal home I had in secondary!

Student Projects

The variety of projects due to student choice was astounding! Kids learned what they needed when they needed it! Some students learned cardboard engineering techniques, while others learned to sew, create circuits, build cars, and more.

Below are all of the awesome things these 4th graders made! I am so proud of them for taking risks and learning to make something on their own and fill their maker toolbox with new skills.

Harvey’s Class

All of Harvey’s Class projects!

Scott’s Class Mid-Project

All of Scott’s Projects

Honea’s Class Mid-Project

Nelson’s Class Mid-Project

Harkin’s Class

 

Next year?

Next year I hope to work on invention literacy skills all year long with younger students, so that as my students get more comfortable with more materials, their projects will get more and more complex. I loved seeing the variety of projects and the many ways kids design cardboard candy dispensers!

Maker Intro to Rosie Revere, flying things, and a wind tube!

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Three summers ago, Aaron made our kids a wind tunnel so we could play and tinker with flying things during the heat of Texas summer. We’d seen a few huge versions at places like the Perot museum, Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, and Austin’s The Thinkery. I believe Aaron began building the wind tunnel with these plans from the Tinkering Studio.  It’s basically a cheap fan, some embroidery hoops, and plastic for poster frames that he ordered here.

That summer, our kids flew paper objects, sponges, and beachballs. They crumbled paper, made cones, and tried all manner of things. We brought the wind tunnel to a makerspace we were running at a local conference. The adults we met didn’t seem as interested in the wind tunnel as the young kids who enjoyed exploring properties of fast flying materials. Until I noticed Josh Burker re-iterating flight designs with a multitude of materials, I was unsure how to get adults interested in this quick prototyping tool.  Josh’s wind tunnel explorations focused on slowing down an object, getting the design to float in the wind tunnel, and tinkering with design materials. Over the years, I watched him continually testing materials and trying new concepts.

Then last summer Josh and I led a tinkering workshop for the Pinecrest Innovation Institute. During this massive tinkering sessions, adults explored the wind tube, marble machines, paper circuits, and Makey Makey. I loved watching adults play to learn, tinker with design, and prototype new ideas. At one point, Josh even designed a Makey Makey musical machine inside the wind tunnel!

As school started this year, the plastic in our own wind tunnel was busted, plus I was worried our wind tube design would tip over on my elemakers. As I read Rosie Revere Engineer early on in the school year, I was sad I didn’t have the working wind tunnel for my students so they could iterate flight designs. This is such a great book focused on tinkering and perseverance. Perfect for introducing prototyping flying thingamajigs.

Fast forward to January. Aaron fixed our wind tunnel and luckily for me, I hadn’t read the book to third grade yet. Plus, I’d found a lot of other great books about flying to share with my students. As I thought about the wind tunnel activity, I realized that I wanted to scaffold the flight explorations by grade level. Another consideration was how could I keep the maker mania low so that kids could be wowed by the wind tunnel, BUT still focus on building and rebuilding flying thingamajigs. Oftentimes the excitement of shooting something up the wind tunnel overpowers the experience of design and personal enjoyment of test flights. I wanted kids to focus on perseverance and continually creating different iterations of flying things, not just flinging things into the tunnel (plus, I wanted each student to experience the joy of their own flying thingamajig taking fligh!)  So I came up with a few simple rules to use with all of my classes.

  • Only one prototype in the wind tunnel at a time.
  • Wait patiently at the line for your test flight instead of crowding the wind tunnel.
  • Once you’ve tested your flight design, go back to the tables and redesign it to see if you can get it to fly faster, slower, float, etc. (Or get it to work if it didn’t fly or float.)

Then I broke the activity down by grade level.

Kinder

For kindergarten, I took papers from the recycle bin and cut them into four pieces. Each kinder maker was only allowed the one piece of paper. They could add tape, tear it, cut it, or fold it to see how these simple modifications can effect the flight of the paper.

One of my favorite things about this activity with kindergarteners is that it helped me teach the littles that they can create on their own and test their own ideas. They do not have to have someone else fold, tear, or make everything for them. Many of them asked if I (or the teacher) would fold or cut their paper for them. Instead of doing so, I told them to try their own designs and see if it would work.

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Kinder flying thingamajigs! #makered #elemaker #storyofmason

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Letting students work completely on their own helps build creative confidence. It also helps them test their own curious ideas, rather than letting the teacher totally guide their learning. It fosters independence, trouble shooting, and problem solving

By the group of kinder, I added small scraps of paper in the center of the table to see how they would adapt to more materials. Students added papers together and called them other inventions.

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He said he made a drone! #elemaker #makered

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1st Grade

With first grade, I set out only paper and tape. At some point, a student noticed the pencils on the table and decided he MUST make a pencil fly. He tried design after design after design and it wouldn’t work. Then he built this huge and glorious tubular design to make a pencil fly. The other students in his class quickly took on the challenge to make pencils fly. Watch their flying pencils below.

Other students noticed pipe cleaners and added them to their flying thingamajigs. Some flying things began to look like story characters.

2nd Grade

For second grade, I set out a pipe cleaner and a paper. At one point, I changed it back to only paper, then gave them a pipe cleaner after their first successful paper flight.

With the added materials, students began to make things that resembled other objects and other flying things.

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2nd grade flying thingamajigs! #makered #storyofmason

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3rd Grade

Third grade actually kicked off this activity as they are working on engineering and simple machine concepts for this IB planner. I gave them more materials before I decided to simplify for the younger grades.

I set out feathers, pipe cleaners, foam sheets, and recycled paper. However, since they tend to over use materials, I told them to only take four items to begin making a flying thingamajig. Thingamajigs quickly turned into birds, flying hats, and funny pipe cleaner characters.

This activity really helped kids tinker to better understand the concepts of flight, velocity, surface area, and it helped them tinker with the idea of tinkering! I loved how students would watch their thingamajig fly and immediately set to work on hacking their design to fly higher or float longer in the wind tunnel.

This floating box built by a 3rd grader amazed me because, most students concentrated on height. I loved that this student transferred the idea of the hot air balloon to a floating box.

My own 8 YO, was out during her class’s test flights. But the next morning she designed this beautiful floating butterfly.

What next?

Fourth and Fifth are already asking if they can use the wind tunnel. During the experiments with other grades I had ideas for furthering our tinkering. I wondered what kindergartners might do with pipe cleaner? What if the challenge was to create a floating character? And then write a story about your character’s life? Or maybe even designing a character and then writing a how-to as an example of procedural text? What about flying sentences like the way airplanes used to fly messages behind them?