Invention Literacy Research – Part Three- Sharing and Reflection


This is the third post in a series describing the Invention Literacy Research Project that I worked on collaboratively with one of my English Teachers in the 2015-2016 school year- April Feranda. About 6 months ago, I watched this video by Jay Silver defining the term “Invention Literacy.” I immediately loved this concept because it perfectly describes what I’ve been attempting to do in my library makerspace since May of 2013.  After writing lessons for Makey Makey in 2015, I realized I went through the ultimate training on Invention Literacy and boosting creative confidence. I wanted to share that journey with you to help you become invention literate as an educator. April Feranda and I would love for you and your students to become more invention literate. Therefore, we are putting this out there for you to hack and personalize and make your own. Read post one and post two if you haven’t had a chance to read them yet.

After researching and learning from the tinkering experts at The Tinkering Studio, students spent two class periods (and plenty of time after school) finishing prototypes for our finale Maker Fest. One of the coolest things about this project was that students were picking up making skills as needed. The student in the video below needed to learn how to use our saw while creating marble runs, so I was able to teach some saw safety on the fly!

I was also pleasantly surprised when students stayed after school and we made up quicker ways to create soft circuits by utilizing conductive fabric tape from the Makey Makey Inventor Booster Kit and hardware store foil tape.

Sharing Maker Fest

On the due date, Mrs. Feranda and I decided to hold a Maker Fest and just like at a real Maker Faire, students presented their prototypes in a show and tell style fashion. If you hold your own Maker Fest, you need to make sure you:

  • Get others involved
    • Invite community
    • Invite inventors via Skype
    • Invite other Students or classrooms
  • Have students be prepared to speak about invention literacy, historical context, and the most challenging part of creating an invention
  • Make GIFs of prototypes ( with Spin turntable or another documentation) to keep a digital record of inventions.

Some of my favorite projects were made out of all recyclables (this helicopter and water turbine), while others combined favorite maker tools with recyclables to make miniature versions of everyday things! (Makey Makey piano and littleBits tank below)

Surprise Virtual Guest Jay Silver

During our Maker Fest, we had a surprise virtual guest, Jay Silver! I carried him around via my computer so he could chat with each group or individual about their #rhsmakes. He did an awesome job casually chatting with kids about what they made. Students really enjoyed sharing their creations with this awesome inventor and Jay was great about asking students about their invention process. One of my favorite things was how he asked each student questions pertinent to their own invention.

If you implement this project at your school, it is important that you and your co-teachers understand that the process and the meaning a student gets from making are one of the most important aspects to making and education. The final product can be faulty and that’s okay. One of our students during this project decided she was going to build magnetic gears. She never got a working prototype, and was a tad upset about the outcome. However, when we Skyped with Jay Silver during our Maker Fest, he was extra impressed with her idea and original concept. He spoke at length to her about her process, her thinking, and her many attempts that ended in failure. Through this conversation, she was able to see how much she learned throughout the project. During the project, Feranda and I worked on explaining this to all of our students, and explaining that persevering after failure is what leads to innovation.

This whole research project was the perfect blend of academic research and crowdsourced research.  For example, after researching how cars were made, the student below wanted to build a littleBits car. He found a crowdsourced Youtube video and tried to replicate the car from the video, only to find that there were missing steps, and parts he did not have access to. Instead, he ended up looking at gears and mechanisms, then found his own way to make and create a tank out of an old 3D filament box.


After our Maker Fest, students went back to class to finish out the school year. Since reflection is an integral part of the process, we gave them a break and then had them create video reflections via Flipgrid. We are hoping to compile these videos and use them as a springboard for this year’s Invention Literacy project. Here are the reflection questions we used:

  • What did you like most about the Invention literacy project?
  • What was the most challenging part of the project?
  • What advice would you give to someone making their own invention?
  • What does someone need to know in order to be invention literate?
  • Any final thoughts or advice for Mrs. Feranda and Mrs. Graves?

(If you want to read more about reflection and makerspace stories, check out this great article from Edutopia by Ross Cooper and Laura Fleming and read my Edutopia article about using maker journals as a form of reflection during maker education professional development.)

Sampling of student responses:

As I sat in my office and watched these Flipgrid reflections, I was struck by the authentic research methods of my students AND how invested they were in research as an integral part to making! This maker-focused research was like an accelerated course in making. Some of these students had not utilized the makerspace until this project and the little nuggets of wisdom they gained from this project were all the things a maker teacher librarian wants to hear from students:

  • “You have to be okay with failing”


  • “You need to be flexible with mistakes even if you mess up.  Even if you have to start over and do it again. And you need to be creative to think about how you are going to build your project. Because not all projects come with instructions.”


  • “You have to tweak it (projects) and make it your own.”


  • “The most challenging thing was learning from your mistakes, but that helped you later in the project.”


  • “Research…that’s all you need…. and also planning… you might want to make blueprints, gather materials, and think about what you want to create. Not like what I did!” (In response to: What advice would you give to someone making an invention?)


  • “It’s okay to fail. Even if you have to start over and over.”


  • “My advice is to do really good research on your project and maybe draw out what you want to create, and be patient with yourself because you are going to mess up and it’s going to be a long process. ” (This is one of my favorite reflections. )


  • “If you don’t do enough research, you won’t have the ability to collect all of the materials. Because some dude out there may have ideas you didn’t think of that will work for your project.”

Extending Invention Literacy into Daily Practice

So….what are we doing this school year to support invention literacy?

Here at Ryan High School, we want to increase invention literacy by teaching all of our incoming freshmen (an estimated 500 students) the basics of programming, prototyping with littleBits and Makey Makey, creating and editing greenscreen videos, and utilizing design thinking to solve community problems. As we continue to work through this process each school year, we hope to teach all of our 2,000 students the “basic vocabulary and grammar of inventing” so that all of our students can help contribute and create our world!

With the help of teachers, all of our freshmen  in High School 101 classes have not experienced playing with Makey Makey, littleBits, and Greenscreens. I’m hoping to up their coding skills soon by teaching them to create programs in Scratch. I’m looking forward to planning with more teachers on collaborative research projects and working with the awesome Mrs. Feranda on Invention Literacy Research 2.0.

What will you do? How will you prepare your students and increase invention literacy on your campus?



Connecting with authors via Google Hangouts and Twitter

Google Hangout with Claire Legrand and Lindsay Cummings

Last week was a busy week for Lamar Library! For #celebratemonday we chatted with authors Lindsay Cummings and Claire Legrand via Google Hangouts.  My 7th Texas History students are working on a PBL with the driving question, “What will cause the next civil war?”  Mr. Wacker has his students writing an argument/story with a dystopian tone, so we thought it would be great for students to chat with some YA authors that have some experience with basing fantasy on research.

The students posed some great questions:

  • How can I make a story/argument about the next civil war AND make it reasonable?
  • What makes a story dystopian?
  • Would it be easier to write an environmental dystopia than a political dystopia?
  • How do you finish a book? (I’ve started a few…)
  • After you get an idea, what continues to inspire you?
  • We are finding it difficult to link our new ideas to the past. How can we make our dystopias believable?
  • What historical events shaped your fantasy ideas? (What links to the past make your story believable?)
  • Do you communicate with other authors about your ideas?
  • What inspired you to write these books? (or who?)
  • How do you use everyday life to inspire your stories?

Overall, the chat was fluid, educational, and entertaining.  Having two authors at once was new for me, but we wanted to really ask a panel of experts not just one author.

Lindsay Cummings, author of the Murder Complex, “loved that the kids had questions prepared ahead of time, so there were no awkward pauses while kids tried to think of questions, and the authors sat twiddling their thumbs on the other side of the screen. Luckily, that didn’t happen :)”

Claire Legrand, author of Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls and Winterspell, gave me a great reason to have her visit next time instead of Skype:

“As far as Skype vs. in-person visits, both are great. Skype visits obviously have the advantage of being flexible for both the author and the educator, and are a great way to fit a short inspirational visit into a busy school day. That being said, I will always prefer in-person visits because it allows for more natural interaction between me and the students! I love passing out “props”–my earliest stories, my printed out edit letters, etc–and making that in-person connection. As convenient as video chats are, you lose a certain something special when there’s a screen between you and your audience!”

This is the whole chat without edits if you feel like taking a peek:

Twitter Chat with Chris Barton

A few months ago, I read a post on Buffy Hamilton’s blog about utilizing Twitter chats with students.  Then last month at TLA something Matthew Winner spoke about during his closing keynote at Tech Camp really stuck with me. He discussed the importance of letting kids tweet from our library accounts to teach them the power of positive social media use. I wanted to combine these two concepts, and utilize Twitter chats as an authentic learning tool for students (just like Twitter chats are for me!)

In my TLA Takeaway post, I mentioned wanting to learn more about research processes from authors like Chris Barton and John Rocco.  Since our students were to research a Greek God/Goddess and then write their own fictional story from the character’s point of view, I thought my students would learn a lot from an expert like Chris Barton!  Plus, students always struggle with writing after research, and I was worried they would also struggle with blending fact with fiction to tell their own story and Chris is an excellent storyteller.  Wednesday at the end of our research I had students develop questions for our chat, then asked Mrs. Wilson if her students could read one of Barton’s stories out of “Can I See Your I.D.?” Thursday to prepare.

Student Assignment

Why are we reading this?

  • These stories were written by Chris Barton after he did extensive research on the individual.  (Sort of like what you are doing with your Greek God/Goddess.)  Read the story to learn about the individual from a different point of view.

Questions for Ss:

  • Have you ever read anything from the 2nd person POV before? What?
  • Explain how the point of view makes you feel as a reader.
  • Why do you think Mr. Barton used the 2nd person POV?
  • How do you think you’ll incorporate facts into your own digital story?

Friday was the big day, and it was a GREAT CONVERSATION and LEARNING experience! Plus, thanks to Storify, I have the whole chat in one fluid, readable document below!  I tweeted our pre-written questions from my account, and then I had students write clarifying questions on whiteboards during the chat and pic-tweeted those from my library account. Mrs. Wilson and I also thought it would be more engaging and keep our kids on track if they took notes during the chat on their research site.

So how do I feel like it went?
  • It was actually more engaging for students because we had them take notes on their mythology project site.
  • Plus, lots of quiet kids were more comfortable with writing questions rather than speaking in front of others.
  • Students were able to ask for clarity, or just ask their own pertinent questions, since it wasn’t like a formal Q&A with an author.
  • It made me tired because I was running around the classroom! I think I needed to let Mrs. Wilson do the tweeting from my iPad or at least bring a student aide who could assist with tweeting for students.
  • I was worried it was a little too stressful on our author, Chris Barton, because he had to do ALL THE ANSWERING! 🙂
  • I loved, loved, loved being able to take teachable moments while Chris was typing to talk with students about what he was saying.  At one point, the students asked Chris, “What do you do when you don’t know what to write?” To which he so eloquently said, “Pay attention to what you can’t stop thinking of.” So while he was typing up his next response, I told the kids, “What great advice! Think back to your research, what was something you learned that you can’t stop thinking of? Maybe you read that Hera was the Goddess of Marriage and you can’t stop thinking about that because her husband CHEATED ON HER ALL THE TIME! So maybe that’s your short story?” GREAT MOMENT!
  • I loved how authentic this activity was for the project the students were working on. Our students have to write stories based on fact, and they were able to speak with an expert who is great at writing stories based on facts!
  • At the end of the day, I polled two random kids on our chat. One, a student who never speaks in class, said that the chat was, “AWESOME! I was so easy to follow and I learned a lot.” On the other end of the spectrum, I asked a social and talkative student what he thought. He said, “I got lost. I didn’t understand the format.”
But how did the author feel?
  • “It had a big advantage over the Q&A sessions with an in-person audience: I knew that each question you chose to include was widely relevant. (What he means by widely relevant: “You never know if the kid who asks a Q in person is the ONLY one who wants it answered.”)
  • “It was a lot of work! And I don’t mean “a lot of work” in a negative way. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. But it called for constant engagement and thought.”
  • “As for structure, I think it worked out great having main Qs come from you and visual Qs from students on a different account. I don’t think I could have stayed on top of Qs from more than two accounts, and having the visual from students reinforced the fact that it was the kids doing the asking so that I could keep them in mind as I answered.”
Storify Twitter Chat

Storify Twitter Chat

Read the whole Storify here!

It was simply an amazing learning and teaching experience. My process needs a little tweaking, but overall I felt it was very successful. Chris even wrote about the experience on his blog!

Technical note for teachers: Students also struggle with keeping organized throughout a research project, so I prompted my 8th grade ELA teachers to create a Mythology Research site where we could embed all notes, the calendar, etc. (We loved the ease of utilizing Site Maestro to copy and share sites when we did our All Songs project, so this time I taught Mrs. Wilson and Mrs. Witter how to work this Google add-on!)