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.