K-12 Instructional Activity Guide

Page 1 - Getting Started

Why an Invention Program?

Being involved in inventing is one of those ripple-effect events. Inventing can enhance a student's self image through the experience of being a creative and productive person, and helps develop in students essential life skills like logical thinking, problem solving, decision-making, intelligent risk-taking, communication, and research and library skills.

Inventing and the invention process involves reading, writing, researching, speaking and building. Teaching the invention process is a fun and creative way to integrate math, science, English, social studies and kinesthetic experiences in a unique way that can motivate at times even the most reluctant students. Participating in the Invent Iowa program gives students a chance to play with ideas that interest them, enables them to make a real contribution to the world, introduces them to interesting people, exposes them to new ideas and information, and may even point them to a possible career or life direction.

We hope that using this Invent Iowa K-12 Instructional Activity Guide will allow you as the teacher to experience maximum student involvement in a project, and have some fun as well. This booklet is designed for you to use as little or as much as fits your needs. You can start with the basics; then expand or enrich as you and your young inventors become more experienced in the art of inventing.

Each student will react differently to inventing in the classroom. Some only need the opportunity; others will need a little inspiration, practice in thinking creatively and inventively, a plan, and some encouragement. In your role as a classroom or talented and gifted teacher you facilitate the invention process by providing encouragement and showing continued support and interest. While we believe all students can benefit from inventing activities; everyone may not wish to actually invent something. That is fine--just going through the inventive thinking and planning process will do.

Inventing takes time, so an overall framework of six to eight weeks would be ideal. This allows for idea incubation, experimentation and revision--all important steps in the inventing process. We encourage each student to come up with their own invention; however, pairs of students may work together on a project. Students, especially young ones, may unknowingly reinvent the wheel, but that's all right--it's the process that is important. Older students should be encouraged to keep detailed journals and do substantial product research to determine if theirs is a new or novel idea. At the same time, by stressing and encouraging simplicity throughout the process, students will see inventing as fun instead of intimidating.

A difficult issue for the teacher to address can be the amount of parental/adult involvement. While we want to encourage students to involve their families in the problem-finding, solution-finding and prototype-building steps, parental or other adult over-involvement can take ownership for the invention away from the student. Therefore, the more you are able to do in the classroom, the less someone else's ideas and work will affect the product. Having students keep detailed logs throughout the process, documenting the "who-did-what, when, where, and why" at every step, may be helpful as well.

A classroom invention convention can be a rewarding culminating activity. It can be as simple or as elaborate as you like. Depending on the number of inventors, you might combine two or more classes, a grade level, or an entire school. Whether you select "winners" or not is entirely up to you, as is any further participation in the Invent Iowa program. Just knowing that children all over Iowa are benefiting from the joys of learning the invention process is enough for us!

The inventors of tomorrow are in classrooms all over the country. An inventing program is one way to hopefully spark the inventive spirit in our children, and give them the confidence to keep inventing. And best of all--its FUN!

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Thinking Skills Models and the Invent Iowa Program

"Throughout the years, many thinking skills models and programs have been generated from among America's finest educators seeking to describe the essential elements of thinking and/or to develop a systematic approach to teaching thinking skills as a part of the school curricula. Although the models presented below use different terminology, each model describes similar elements of either critical thinking, creative thinking, or both."

For those who are familiar with or use one or more of these models, the ideas presented in the Invent Iowa curriculum can be easily adapted to your preferred teaching style. Those who are unfamiliar with the models can use the information below to learn a bit about the current practices and perhaps select one model to research further for their own professional development.

Benjamin Bloom's Model

Perhaps the most familiar thinking skills model to educators is "Bloom's Taxonomy". In his taxonomy Bloom describes the different levels at which we think - our cognitive domain. From lowest to highest, the levels are: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Knowledge represents the lowest level of learning - that of remembering/recalling previously learned material. Comprehension goes one step beyond knowledge, allowing for an elementary grasp or understanding of the previously acquired knowledge. Application allows the learner to generalize information to other situations. This level is followed by analysis, the ability to understand the content, form, and the relatedness of various knowledges to each other. At the synthesis level the learner is able to creatively put parts together to form a new pattern or whole. The highest level, evaluation, refers to the ability of the learner to judge, based on defined criteria, the value of material for a given purpose. In order for a student to be thinking on an evaluative level, he or she must be able to succesfully function at all other levels. The process of inventing encourages the use of all levels of learning in Bloom's taxonomy.

Calvin Taylor's Model

Educators who have had Talents Unlimited training are using Mr. Taylor's thinking skills model. The Taylor model describes talent areas in terms of Academic Talent, Productive Thinking, Communication, Planning, Decision Making and Forecasting. Academic Talent is the core talent from which all other talents emerge. Productive Thinking refers to thinking of many, varied, and unusual ideas, and adding to those ideas. Communication has six elements which focus primarily upon describing verbally and nonverbally one's thoughts and feelings. Planning requires the students to learn to tell what they are going to plan, the materials they will need, the steps they will need to take, and the problems that might occur. Decision Making teaches students to consider all the possibilities, think carefully about each alternative, choose the one they think is best, and give reasons for their choices. Forecasting requires the student to make predictions about a situation, examining cause and effect relationships. As with Bloom, every element of the Taylor model is used when a child invents.

Creative Problem Solving Model

The Creative Problem Solving Model, developed by Scott Isaksen and Donald Treffinger, describes both critical and creative thinking, and then uses all the facets of these two types of thinking in a six-stage problem-solving process. The stages include mess finding, data finding, problem finding, idea finding, solution finding and acceptance finding. The process leads the child from identifying the problem and collecting information about the problem, through stating the problem and generating solutions, to choosing the best solution and planning a means of implementing the solution. As with the other models, the various activities required in the process of inventing could all be placed in one or more of the thinking types and problem-solving stages that comprise this model.

Dimensions of Learning Model

The Dimensions of Learning Model is an instructional framework based on some of the best of what researchers and theorists know about learning. Its premise is that five types of thinking, what the model terms "dimensions of learning," are essential to successful learning. The model's framework helps the teacher plan instruction that takes into account all five of these critical aspects of learning, and is particularly suited for planning units of one week or a few weeks. The five dimensions are positive attitudes and perceptions about learning, thinking involved in acquiring and integrating knowledge, thinking involved in extending and refining knowledge, thinking involved in using knowledge meaningfully, and productive habits of mind. The invention process is one of the five types of tasks that encourage dimension four - the meaningful use of knowledge.

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Multiple Intelligences and Thematic Instruction

  Math Science Reading Writing Social Studies
Linguistic Read math problems involving inventions. Discuss the basic scientific principles involved in specific inventions. Read a general book about inventions. Write about what you'd like to invent. Write about the social conditions that gave rise to certain inventions.
Logical-Mathematical Learn a math formula that served as the basis for an invention. Create a hypothesis for the development of a new invention. Read a book about the logic and math behind inventions. Write a word problem based on a famous invention. Create a time line of famous inventions.
Spatial Sketch the geometry involved in specific inventions. Draw a new or existing invention showing all working parts. Read a book with lots of diagrams of the inner workins of inventions. Label the individual components of your drawing of an invention. Paint a mural showing inventions in social/historical vcontext.
Bodily-Kinesthetic Create an invention to measure a specific physical activity Build your own invention based on sound scientific principles. Read the instructions for putting together an existing invention. Write instructions for building your own invention from scrap materials. Put on a play about how a certain invention came to be.
Musical Study the math involved in the invention of musical instruments. Study the science behind the invention of electronic music. Read about the background to invention songs such as "John Henry". Write the lyrics for a song promoting a new invention. Listen to music about inventions at a different historical period.
Interpersonal Be in a study group that looks at the mathematics involved in specific inventions. Form a discussion group to study the science behind inventions. Read about the cooperation necessary for developing an invention. Write a play about inventions that can be put on by the class. Hold a discussion group about how a certain invention came to be.
Intrapersonal Create your own word problems based on inventions. Develop a self study program to examine the scientific basis for a specific invention. Read the biography of a famous inventor. Write your personal autobiography as "famous inventor". Think about this question: If you could invent a time machine, where would I go?

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Possible Steps to Inventing

  1. Identify a problem, need, or new area of interest.
  2. Start an inventor's journal and record all your ideas and steps along the way.
  3. Identify possible solutions to the problem or need, or ways to address the area of interest.
  4. Evaluate each of the possible solutions.
  5. Re-design the solutions.
  6. Re-evaluate the possible solutions.
  7. Identify the best possible solution.
  8. Research the solution to make sure it is unique.
  9. Your Solution Becomes Your Invention

  10. Name your invention.
  11. Illustrate and explain your invention.
  12. Make a model or prototype of your invention.
  13. Market your invention.

These "steps to inventing" can take as much or as little time as you like within the classroom.

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Helpful Hints for Teachers

About the Materials:
Use what you like, and modify anything you wish to meet your own needs. Many of the activities are presented as worksheets, because this is the easiest way to get the ideas and concepts across to you. An activity sheet can easily be turned into a team, small group, or whole class oral lesson as well. Let your timeframe, interest and energy dictate your method.

About the process:
During your inventiveness unit try to help the students concentrate more on finding a real problem and solving it in a unique way, and less on how the finished product looks--after all, coming up with an original and useful idea is #1!

  • Avoid saying it won't work. Help the student discover a solution.
  • Remember where the ownership lies -- with the student (this isn't easy).
  • Ask questions that may help the student clarify ideas and find alternatives.
  • Encourage persistence and patience. That's the difference between a dreamer and an inventor.

Motivating your students:
Creativity thrives on intrinsic motivation. Some studies have found that extrinsic motivation, such as material rewards, actually stifles creativity. The thrill of creating is a reward that can't be topped. However, the prospect of acclaim, publicity, or inventing something that might be marketable are incentives that are directly tied to the invention process and may motivate students.

Most of all, have fun inventing with your students!

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Tips for Instilling a Climate for Inventiveness in the Classroom

Create Challenge and Motivation.

  • Stimulate student questioning.
  • Asking questions calling for creative thought.
  • Discuss the "Unknowns".
  • Encourage students to challenge their assumptions.

Provide Freedom for Exploration.

Establish Trust and Openness.

  • Defer judgment whenever possible.
  • Use affirmative judgment.

Permit Liveliness and Dynamism

  • Encourage student involvement and ownership.

Encourage Playfulness and Humor.

Allow for Examining Differing Ideas and Viewpoints.

Minimize Conflicts.

Encourage Risk-Taking, Rather than "Safe" Responses and Conformity.

Provide Time for Thought and Action.

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next: Introductory Activities