How to Inspire the Young Inventors in Your Classroom
Learning about inventing and innovation can be exciting and empowering for all students.
By Andrea Ferrero
There is a moment in every child’s life when they begin asking that magical question, "Why?" As a teacher, I think it is my job to promote this type of questioning. I want my students to thrive on a quest for knowledge, taking pride in the process and discovery of the answer to this most important question.
Venturing into the world of inventing is a fun and fruitful way of enabling students to use their questions to come up with solutions. Every student can think like an inventor by looking at the world through innovative lenses and finding unique ways to approach everyday challenges. Below are a variety of ways you can incorporate these types of activities in your classroom.
Inventions, Storytelling, and Other Activities
I like to build interest and excitement about inventions by reading a few stories. Two of my favorite books are So You Want to be an Inventor? by Judith St. George and David Small, and If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen. Both titles feature colorful illustrations and have simple, engaging text that promotes an exciting vision of the process of inventing.
After finishing the story, I extend students thinking using pair-shares in which students discuss questions like:
- What do you know about inventing?
- What would you invent if you had unlimited resources? Why?
- Some of the possible inventions students might suggest include robots to do chores, complex software programs to create world peace, freckle blasters and bottomless smoothie generators.
- Once students have begun to make a list of possible inventions, the opportunity for extension activities are endless.
Using How-to-Projects to Inspire Students
Students love to show others how to do something. This natural mentoring can take on new life when students engage in a variety of how-to-projects. Some of my favorite ways to do this involve having students create brochures, class booklets, and skits. Students can use their imaginative fictional inventions, their realistic solution-based inventions, or historical inventions to create a brochure, booklet, or skit describing their invention and its application. Students enjoy sharing their problem-solving process with others as they explain how and why they created their invention. You'll find that your students will come up with some truly imaginative ideas. One year my fifth graders created brochures showcasing inventive ways to turn in homework using simple machines.
Invention Through Science Fair Projects
Creating an invention, or examining the mechanics of a current technology for the school science fair provides students with the chance to work through the scientific process and showcase their procedures and product. Before you let students work on their science fair projects you should review the scientific process with them, and make sure that they have an outline of what their final product should contain. One of the best ways to have students learn about this process is to have them complete a project in class. You can use an invention of your own choice and have students go through each of the steps of the scientific process. This way, students know what you expect, and you have given them hands on experience that will help them develop their own projects.
Creating Invention Centers
One way to provide an interesting and motivating center activity is to have students identify and put together an invention, either a new or old one. For this activity, I place the components for a well known product in a brown bag with three clues written on the bottom. Some of the devices my students have loved to assemble in the past included a flashlight, clock and small scale.
Another innovative activity involves creating a solution station at which you provide students with paper and writing instruments, and a box for collecting anonymous classroom concerns. The teacher can add comments to the box including specific issues that have come up in class or on the playground. While at the solution station, students can pull out one of the comments or concerns and create a trouble-shooting leaflet, letter, or class announcement addressing the problem. My students love solving problems and draw connections between inventing solutions and the social good.
You can also create a time machine reading corner in your classroom. This can be easily created using a large refrigerator box. You lay the box down horizontally and cut the top off to create a small “boat.” Next, you decorate the reading time machine with images and realia. I enjoy pulling clipart from literary history and pasting them inside window frame silhouettes. I also include a variety of switches, levers, buttons, and gauges donated by a local hardware store. Students might get their best ideas for inventions while spending a few moments in the time machine. What follows are more lessons and activities involving inventions.
Invention Lessons and Activities:
Students research and present a report on an inventor and invention noting how the invention changed people's lives and describing the time period it was from. This lesson includes links to resources for differentiating instruction.
Students investigate the importance of inventions in American life. Students use the Inventor of the Week Archives online to access a wealth of information about inventions throughout American history. They then create posters sharing their findings. The lesson includes a wealth of resource links.
In this lesson, students discuss the contributions of African American inventors. The class creates a timeline, researches each inventor's life and era then responds to a journal prompt. Extension activities include exploring the traits of trailblazers, putting yourself in their shoes, and more.
This unit explores the world of inventing. Stretching over a two week time period students investigate the power of inventions, the invention cycle, patent protection, the history of inventing, and creating innovative designs for today'[s world. The unit includes an overview, timeline, instructional strategies, student activities and additional resources and links.