This year’s Invention Literacy PBL was hard fun and a great experience! I was stoked to try out this PBL with two different English classes.In April/May both a 9th grade ELA and 10th grade ELA teacher came to the library to explore the invention literacy concept. Mrs. Melvin’s classes explored materials as the intro to this PBL, while Mrs. Feranda’s classes attended the Melvin’s students’ maker fest. If you didn’t read about the 2016 Invention Literacy project, read about it here and read more about the big ideas behind Invention Literacy here. (My obsession with this concept was inspired by Makey Makey co-inventor, Jay Silver.)
We started this year’s project by having students explore materials and techniques with cardboard, circuits, LEGO, Hummingbird Robotics, etc. For one teacher, Mrs. Melvin, I made a list of materials they could explore and let students choose a material to learn more about.Instead of having stations where students explore all materials, they chose something to work with to explore this day. So if they decided they wanted to make something with littleBits, they explored littlebits and started prototyping. If they decided they wanted to build something with cardboard, they explored cardboard techniques! This material exploration was based on a workshop I attended at SXSWedu with Erin Riley, Christa Flores, Patrick Benfield, and Sean Justice.
For Feranda’s classes, we had guided stations with cardboard techniques, squishy circuits, and a write-around activity with Jay’s Invention Literacy Medium post. (Similar to how we started the PBL last year.)
After material exploration, our students focused their thinking with this driving question:
“How does ______ work and can I make my own version of it with recyclables and available material?”
After brainstorming invention ideas, students were required to research the history of the invention, and discover how the invention works. For students that still weren’t sure what they wanted to make, I shared a list of crowd-sourced invention sites as well as tips for evaluating crowdsourced resources. (If you are interested in this concept, Aaron, Diana, and I wrote a lot of info about crowdsourcing research in our Challenge Based Learning book!)
Here are my favorite crowd-sourced sites to look for invention ideas:
Reputable Sites for Inventing
- Tinkering Studio
- Make It at Your Library
- SparkFun (For Electronics)
- Sparkfun Inventor Space
- Makey Makey Labz
- Cardboard History and more ideas: Caine’s Arcade
After deciding on an invention and researching the history and some material ideas, the students spent time prototyping and making the invention with the materials we had available in the library. While students could create projects based on other things they’d seen in the sites above, we told them they had to change it in some way and make it their own. For some students this meant substituting materials and for others it meant completely running with a new idea. Big concepts tied to maker mindset seen in this project were:
- Seeing everyday materials in a new light with inventive material usage.
- Encountering real problems and tinkering to problem solve with creative solutions.
- Allowing students to pick up new skills when needed instead of being directed to learn specific skills.
- As teachers, stepping back and letting kids try new things, experiment with ideas, fail forward, and persevere through failure.
- Allowing students to own their learning!
Adding Exploration and Documentation
One thing we added to the PBL this year, was exploration of materials as an intro to making. I think the students who were allowed the freedom to explore whatever material they wanted, ended up making more unique projects than the students who explored materials in set stations. Partly this is because some student explored materials they were unfamiliar with and found new things they wanted to use in their inventions. The open ended exploration also made certain classes focus on certain types of making like making things light up or building things with cardboard. However, the outcome of learning seemed similar for both.
Three days into prototyping, Mrs. Melvin and I noticed that some students appeared to be starting from the beginning. However, we knew we’d seem them engaged and working consistently. For three days they had tried ideas, failed, and improved their thinking. Unfortunately, they hadn’t tracked this learning because we didn’t have documentation as part of our process yet.
For this reason, Mrs. Feranda and I instituted some time for students to document and reflect on their learning after prototyping each day. For documentation, wtudents wer asked to take a picture of what they worked on for the day, summarize what they learned, and discuss any new skills they picked up. By incorporating documentation, we were able to stress to our students that the process is more important than the outcome. We were able to celebrate persevering through failure and celebrate all the new skills kids added to their toolbox as they were making their inventions.
Cool Stuff Kids Made
The students were really into building things out of cardboard and crafting DIY circuits and switches this year. Mrs. Melvin helped me teach so many kids how to sew circuits for wearables projects! One of my favorite was a light up dog collar that a student made for walking her dog at night. These videos compile a lot of cool stuff our students made:
The dog collar project got me thinking that I’d like to have inventions focus on empathy this next school year. However, I still see a lot of validity in letting students experience figuring out how to make something just for the challenge of understanding our world.
This PBL creates authentic problems for students to solve, especially if you push utilizing inventive materials. Running into lots of problems was a very good lesson for our high school students, as many of them said they were not used to being able to do their own thing during the school day.
Students reflected on their invention process with Flipgrid videos, but Mrs. Melvin also had them write reflections. We found out that many students didn’t realize they could be creative, nor did they realize they could solve their own problems. Here are some of Mrs. Melvin’s favorite reflections from our sophomores: