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!
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!
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.
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
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!