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Tucson School Helps Students Create With Invention Education

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On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, when most were preoccupied with holiday preparation or details at work, a group of middle schoolers in Tucson were busy inventing.

At first glance, their task seemed simple: find a new use and user for an everyday object. But on closer inspection, it’s not so easy to reimagine something so ingrained in his mind.

Items included a glass jar, a belt, a box of tissues, a bottle of dish soap, and the plastic jar that everything was packed in.

But 20 minutes later, the objects had been transformed into a worm-counting pot for fishermen, a belt sheath to hold gardening shears, a tissue holder for football players’ masks, a soap dispenser for shower jet and a transparent box to protect the pupils. masterpieces.

It’s the teaching of invention, and Carden of Tucson, a small charter school on the north side of town, is the first in the state to teach it at all levels.

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Invention education teaches the ways inventors find and solve problems. According to InventEd, an initiative of the Lemelson Foundation, students who participate become more engaged in their learning, more inclusive in their thinking, and are better prepared for a future of uncertainty and rapid change. The foundation aims to support future generations of inventors to create a better world.

Carden leaders hope that by advocating for this type of education – which has proven successful in Connecticut, Georgia, California, Michigan, Mexico, China and other places – it will spread to beyond their school and into the community, state and region.

Solve problems, think critically

Carden’s invention curriculum is modeled after the Connecticut Invention Convention curriculum. Teachers help students develop creative ways to solve problems, as well as critical thinking skills, by learning about invention and entrepreneurship.

The program was introduced to Carden three years ago by Bri Livingood, the school’s deputy principal and middle school teacher. Livingood discovered this type of education while teaching in Massachusetts and also works as a school and community outreach coordinator for the Connecticut Invention Convention.

“The really exciting part of it all is the process our students have to go through to identify a real-world problem that makes sense to them, and then come up with a solution,” Livingood said.

Successes, she says, include a “first grader solving a real problem for his little brother or a sixth grader identifying a problem for a grandfather with Parkinson’s and creating a meaningful solution to it.”

When she started teaching at Carden, she floated the idea of ​​bringing invention education to all levels. The school’s principal, Eugene Moore, jumped at the idea.

“It just gives students an opportunity to reflect on everyday life, not just this project, but everything they do for a living,” Moore said. “It’s the little things that are going to make their day to day that much easier, whether it’s a way to carry pencils in a backpack without breaking them or whatever.”

Carden has partnered with the Lemelson Foundation, MIT, Raytheon, the Henry Ford Museum and others to help and support students in their invention education.

During the school year, students learn to use their inventiveness to improve existing items and solve meaningful problems. In April, students will share their inventions in a contest judged by technology and innovation experts.

During the first months of the year, students learn to identify the inventions around them. Livingood and other teachers talk about the process of creating and improving and the time it takes to develop something that sticks.

“It requires brainstorming, and those are muscles you really need to work on,” she said.

In class on Tuesday, Livingood reminded students that Thomas Edison went through 1,000 versions of the light bulb before developing one that actually worked.

“Part of the reason I like it is because I never saw myself as a scientist…but teaching invention made the process of engineering and STEM so accessible to me. “said Livingood, referring to science, technology, engineering and math education. “Because I can identify a problem, I can find a solution. But if you tell me to find a schematic, and let’s look at the plans and talk about the design process, I don’t have any of that.”

Invention education makes the process of creation and innovation accessible and inclusive, opening up these skills to students of all kinds, she said.

“You see that in their presentations,” Livingood said. “Some kids might be more inclined to make a really nice invention and the aesthetics of this one might not be as detailed, but you can appeal to the art student, you can appeal to the child who is passionate about an issue, you can appeal to a child who cares about a historical issue.”

During Tuesday’s class, students used a process called SCAMPER to help them brainstorm a new use for their item. SCAMPER – an acronym for Substitute; Combine; Adapt; Edit, enlarge and reduce; put to another use; Eliminate; and Revere – allows students to choose from the list when thinking about how they want to create something new.

Livingood told the class to start by identifying who they want the user of the product to be, and then develop something that would be useful for that person. Students had 20 minutes, and while the room was quiet for the former, it quickly came alive with energy as they collaborated, shared, and challenged each other.

They presented their prototypes or schematics at the end and elected a winner. The two top vote takers were the Worm Counting Jar for Anglers and the Clear Protective Display for Art Teachers.

“Anyone can have inventiveness in them,” Livingood said. “And it’s a skill set that you can use in all aspects of life.”

Hoping that other schools offer it too

Carden hopes to provide training on the invention over the summer to any child in the school’s neighborhood, regardless of enrollment status, during a free two-week camp.

Livingood and Moore also want to share the program with the wider Tucson community in hopes that other parents will want their children to have this experience and that schools will want to join.

“A more regional push would be the next step,” Moore said. “In southern Arizona and wherever we can get the word out.”

Livingood is in talks with a Vail teacher to develop a similar program. She also met with Yuma and Phoenix-area educators at a national invention conference, so more statewide involvement may not be far off.

In the meantime, she has worked hard to build community momentum, build partnerships, and find financial support for the program. They work with the University of Arizona College of Engineering to teach students about the materials they will use and how they are made and used.

Carden’s Invention Convention, April’s culminating event, will be held in the Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance’s Catalyst space at the Tucson Mall.

“Our students’ work will be exposed to other people, not just our school. We’ll have an open house and we’ll have about 50 judges reviewing student projects,” Livingood said.

Students will have a 3D printer to work with and learn to draw and create diagrams online.

The school has also partnered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office and the Office of International Intellectual Property Enforcement to help students understand the value of their intellectual property and the patent process.

Students in younger grades are also undertaking family STEM projects, with materials sent home for parents to work with their children. Last trimester it was an instrument and now it’s an item of clothing.

“I think sometimes parents get discouraged by ‘I’m not a scientist.’ Especially our demographics,” Livingood said of the school’s population. “We’re low-income, we’re in the middle of a trailer park, and not many of our parents went to college.

But home projects allow parents to participate in the learning process, which empowers them, she said. Parents will also be involved in the invention process, with all but kindergarten classes expected to attend the April convention.

“They’ll pitch and go through the whole thing, like an elevator pitch,” Livingood said. “We have a whole rubric of what our judges are looking for to guarantee an original idea.”

Develops self-confidence, communication skills

Invention education is also a big deal for teachers, Livingood said.

“It’s a big request from teachers to do something that’s not just in a textbook. It’s more free-thinking, and it can be a little chaotic at times,” she said. “Our teachers are to be commended for recognizing something truly good for their students and for taking on the challenge of providing them with something above and beyond.”

Holly Nichols teaches second and third graders at Carden and said invention education helps teachers learn more about their students.

“I saw a different side of them that I didn’t know I would see,” she said. “It brought out different qualities in the students, and I had no idea it was going to do that.”

It’s also fun, for students and teachers.

“I feel like they don’t view it as science, they view it as solving a task together and being aware of what other people are thinking,” Nichols said. “They are so hungry to just focus on their idea and learn the process of creating an invention.”

Nichols enjoys watching students work to solve a problem for themselves or a loved one while applying educational standards from other disciplines, including math, science, history, language skills, and research.

“I’ve seen it build self-confidence and communication skills,” she said. “The process is definitely what I value most. Parents love the product, teachers love the process. The process is our paycheck.”

Livingood and others are eager to see where teaching invention takes them in Carden and beyond. She hopes the summer camp will be a good demonstration that the program doesn’t have to be a year-long experience, but can also be sized to meet needs.

“The cool thing is, it can be an after-school program, it can be camp,” Livingood said. “It’s probably best to turn it on in the classroom, but you can learn anywhere and students can engage anywhere.”

Contact star reporter Caitlin Schmidt at 573-4191 or cschmidt@tucson.com.

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