Monthly Archives: April 2017

Sowing the Seeds for Big Ideas


By Alaina Rutledge
Director of Education
National Inventors Hall of Fame


I recently had the chance to meet the brilliant inventor JD Albert, one of the creators of E Ink, the technology which is commonly used in e-readers like the Kindle. Not only is Albert a profound inventor—and one of the youngest inventors to be admitted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame—he also made smart business and marketing decisions that led to his company’s far-reaching success.


At the National Inventors Hall of Fame’s Camp Invention® program, we like to share stories like JD’s with students as they create their own inventions. Like all inventors, given the right space and support, children can to turn their ideas into reality. We’re careful to choose partners that share our vision and also provide high-quality experiences and learning that can take our budding inventors to the next level. That’s where our partnership with AEOP comes in.


Part of the AEOP portfolio of programs, Camp Invention is an exciting, weeklong summer adventure with activities that explore connections between science, technology, engineering and innovation aimed at grade schoolers. Local district educators facilitate the activities and enthusiastic high school students serve as Leadership Interns, ensuring that one staff member is in place for every eight children. Throughout the week, children rotate through various modules that encourage them to work together, seek solutions to real-world problems and sharpen critical skills. But Camp Invention is about more than tinkering.


We know that learning how to do technical work, such as mastering prototyping skills, for example, is just as important as mindset, so we encourage our students to set goals. At first blush, this may sound too advanced for elementary age students. But at Camp Invention, we show children how to build prototypes using materials like cardboard, tape, motors, pulleys, LED lights and parts from broken machines. We have found that even though the concepts are fairly advanced, when we place children in situations where they can explore these concepts in engaging ways, they excel. While they’re having fun, they’re also learning about design engineering, intellectual property and entrepreneurship. Children take ownership and discover that their ideas are useful and some even have market value.


Through our STEM activities, children are exploring their entrepreneurial spirit and also the potential impact an invention can have for users beyond its original intent—a concept that is very important to the wider science and business communities. When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, he never imagined people would one day expand on the technology and we’d have smart phones. Invention also means sharing ideas, collaborating and thinking through the possibilities.


This year, with continued support, we are expanding Camp Invention to underserved and underrepresented students in Alabama, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas. But far too many kids still do not have access to these inspiring STEM and entrepreneurship experiences. The National Inventors Hall of Fame would like to challenge others to help us provide environments for children to experiment with making, prototyping and entrepreneurship. We know that with the right environment, tools and guidance, children can become great inventors and plant ideas to harvest in the future.


A-Ha! Failure and Success in the Classroom

By Stewart Wood, TSA Chapter Advisor


I have been a teacher for 23 years. In that time, I have found that there is nothing quite like working through a problem that generates that “a-ha” moment for students. It’s one of the reasons that after over two decades in the classroom, I am still passionate about being an educator.

For more than half my time as an educator, my classroom has also been a Junior Solar Sprint (JSS) site. JSS is a STEM program focused on exposing 5th through 8th grade students to ever-expanding science and technology fields including alternative fuels, engineering design and aerodynamics. Sponsored by AEOP and administered by the Technology Student Association (TSA), JSS attracts students to compete from across the country. My students use teamwork and problem-solving skills to design and build solar-powered cars. That means I witness “a-ha!” moments on a daily basis.

My students’ experiences with JSS have further reinforced my view of the importance of teaching problem solving. Students enjoy working with their hands and collaborating with friends on problems.  Each group of students will establish a rank and file with the student best suited for a job taking the lead in that area and allowing those better suited to another part to carry that ball. There is conflict, challenge and even failure. But the students work through it, depending on their own inclinations, what they’ve learned and each other. They also learn which goals are “lofty” and unreachable and which are reasonable. They quickly find that if they jump into the project without first studying it, they will fail and have to start over. The moment when they figure out just the right combination of adjustments that makes the vehicle’s wheels spin like a jet shooting down the runway to take off—that’s incredibly rewarding.

As a teacher, it’s wonderful to weave excitement into my classroom. Of course, I think STEM topics are incredibly stimulating, but not all of my students agree at the start. Some take a bit of convincing. Being able to teach with the goal of creating the fastest, most interesting, and best crafted solar-vehicle possible assures my students of some serious fun.

But more than just fun, these activities are creating new possibilities for kids from all academic and socio-economic backgrounds. Our school is located in a community with a high proportion of low-income households. Between 93-97 percent of our students qualify as Title I. JSS facilitates career preparation and goal setting in these students in ways that other more cost-prohibitive programs or projects would not. By the time the students have completed their vehicle, they have worn the hat of many occupations: engineer, designer, graphic artist, machinist, manufacturer and manager.

The most important lesson that we take away is that when you approach a problem, you can take many different paths to reach the end of the journey. Students learn they shouldn’t give up if the first try—or second, or third—doesn’t lead to the outcome they wanted.

In my opinion there is no better way, outside of being on the job, to teach a student to understand what a career really is than to immerse them in real-world application, as we do in our JSS project. Problem-solving teaches students to be resilient and to look both inward and to their peers for the right tools. I can’t think of a more important life skill.