February 11 is National Inventors’ Day, a day to honor inventors of all kinds. But more than anything it’s a day to celebrate ingenuity. We’re surrounded by products, processes, and inventions that started as an idea – usually an attempt to solve a problem – and ended as something that makes our lives better in one way or another. National Inventors’ Day celebrates the creative genius in all of us.
So, how inclined are we to create nowadays? More importantly, how willing are future generations to create? With easy solutions at their fingertips in the form of Google, Alexa, and other Internet tools, students seem less inclined to dabble, create, or invent.
But with answers so readily at hand, it’s even more imperative that kids learn to think – and problem-solve – independently to differentiate themselves from other job seekers. And nothing involves more independent problem-solving and creativity than inventing something new.
Creating Creative Beings
So, how do we get students, who are used to plying answers from Alexa or Googling a solution to a math problem, to create?
- Initiate discussion.
- Provide supplies and time.
- Encourage failure.
- Show ‘em off!
An easy way to get students thinking about creating or inventing is to simply begin a discussion on the subject.
The phrase “necessity is the mother of invention” has been proven true time and time again, even in modern times – and even by young inventors. After enduring chemotherapy and other treatments to combat her cancer, Kyle Simonds, at the age of 13, designed a stylish backpack to hold IVs. Raymond Wang was a high school junior when he came up with an inexpensive method for stopping the spread of airborne pathogens (Business Insider). Sam Houghton was five when his creation, a broom designed to help his father sweep leaves and debris at the same time, was patented (Instructables). Blaise Pascal was 18 when he created the world’s first mechanical calculator to help his father, a tax collector. And Louis Braille, frustrated with the difficulty of reading raised letters in books for the blind, created the Braille system, which arranges raised dots into symbols that represent a different character, when he was just 12 (The Clever).
Get students thinking about problems they would like to solve. These issues can be large or small, personal or global. And they don’t need to be serious. When my brothers and I wanted something fun to do indoors one rainy day, we duct-taped some of our sister’s plastic Holly Hobbie plates to ski poles to create makeshift hockey sticks, taped two more plates together for a puck, and we had an indoor hockey game.
While I don’t recommend appropriating others’ property (the Holly Hobbie plates were acquired through some skillful negotiation) or creating games that could break objects if played a bit too enthusiastically, the point is, inventing doesn’t always need to be a serious endeavor. What kinds of things did you create as a child? Share those stories with your students to get them brainstorming.
Ask questions to help them come up with their own ideas. What frustrates them? What is something they would like to change about their world? How can they improve upon an existing product? If they could invent anything they wanted, what would it be? Then, sit back and let their imaginations take over.Provide Supplies and Time
After your students’ creative juices start flowing, give them the time and materials they need to draft and create a prototype – or to just play around with various materials to continue the brainstorming process. Products such as Pitsco’s Large Structures Package, Invention Explore-A-Pak, or makerspace products can help students visualize their projects.
Be sure you build in enough time for students to experience the entire design process. After defining the problem they want to tackle, they’ll need time to do research, brainstorm solutions, create their prototypes, test them, and improve them based on the results. Creating takes time.Encourage Failure
In addition to time, inventors need a healthy dose of patience – with themselves, the product, and the process – along with a willingness to fail. Thomas Edison is credited with saying, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” The future, including the future workforce, is full of uncertainties that today’s students will have to navigate. They should learn now that failure is simply one step in the process of finding a solution.
The first two hockey sticks my brothers and I created were complete failures. The “blades” we created were too short and the plates were difficult to keep attached to the ski poles, even with copious amounts of duct tape. It took several brainstorming sessions focused on the number and placement of the plates, a lot more duct tape than one household should have, and, ultimately, some pieces of cardboard to create the perfect hockey stick. But when we perfected those sticks, we were extremely proud of ourselves . . . until our mother came home. But I digress. . . .
Encouraging students to fail gives them permission to try again and again until they reach the final product. And if they never reach that final product, just remind them that some of the inventions we take for granted today are actually the results of failure, such as Bubble Wrap. For inspiration, check out “8 Successful Products That Only Exist Because of Failure.” (And for more on the invention of Bubble Wrap, read Tommy Ly’s blog post, “Bubble Wrap – addictive and educational!”). Overcoming failure leads to a sense of accomplishment that can help build a strong foundation for future success, so encourage failure as part of the creative process.Show ‘em Off!
So, what do you do with all those student inventions? You show them off, of course! Inventors need a way to showcase their creations and explain their thought process. School fairs, after-school events, and community presentations give students a stage on which to present and help them hone their oral and presentation skills.
But you don’t have to stop there. There are plenty of competitions – some with big prizes – for young inventors to enter. For starters, check out the Connecticut Invention Convention, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, and the Google Science Fair.
This National Inventors’ Day, let’s celebrate ingenuity – and create some new inventors!
National Inventors’ Day
National Inventors’ Day – February 11, 2019
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8 Successful Products That Only Exist Because of Failure