Thursday, January 9, 2014

Kids Inventing

Schools are presenting opportunities for students to create and innovate through design thinking, PBL, STEM classes, and science and engineering fairs.  What happens when a student truly invents something that can be useful to others?  What does that mean for the student, teacher and school?  It might sound far off, but the reality is that kids are inventing things everyday, for example:

In 1873 Chester Greenwood was only 15 years old when he invented ear muffs.

In 1991 Abbey Fleck invented the Makin’ Bacon Dish for the microwave.  She was 8 at the time.

In 2006 at the age of 14 Sarah Buckel wanted to decorate her locker, but didn’t want to deal with peeling off wallpaper so she created Magnetic Locker Wallpaper.

Maddie Bradshaw at age 10 created the bottle-cap jewelry that we know as Snap Caps and made her first million by age 13.

What happens when the inventions occur at school?  As educators we are encouraging our students to tap into their creativity and to become innovative. I recently went to a workshop discussing BPL learning through STEM and the patent process.  At first I wasn’t sure where they were going when the instructors were talking about the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the process of submitting an idea.  I found out that in order to submit an application to the USPTO the invention needs to be new and not obvious, it also has to be useful and it needs to work!  There are different types of patents and they are issued for a certain length of time.  Utility patents are good for 20 years, design patents for 14 years and plant patents last for 20 years.  The basic fee for filing is around $200.  Intellectual property gets tricky because it is based on the first one to file and their idea is the one that is protected.  As we moved along, the connection was made between students and the idea of creating a useful product that could possibly be patented. Then the challenging questions came about that made us think and wonder how to handle certain situations in schools.  Remember in order to apply for a patent the product has to be new, be useful, and it has to work.  Say a student created something that was new and useful, but it didn’t work?  What if a teacher helped the student to get the product to work?  Whose name goes on the patent?  If students are inventing, what kind of policy does the school district have in order to process the invention?  This needs to be decided ahead of time if a student would like to process a patent.  If a teacher helps to make a student’s invention work, then the teacher’s name needs to be on the invention.
The USPTO now has the Office of Education and Outreach for the purpose of increasing students interest in STEM fields as well as offering tools and institutional strategies for educators to encourage student learning about STEM, innovation, and intellectual property.  Why is STEM important?  There are several reasons why it’s important.  To name a few, 80% of our future jobs will be in STEM-related fields with only 16% of students entering in the field now.  Jobs aside, STEM is everywhere and it helps us to understand the world we live in.  It is engaging and interactive.  We want students to be creators and not just users within the world.  STEM with a purpose is innovation! Introducing students to the 4 I’s is a start in this process. The 4 I’s of the innovation process are IMAGINE - INVENT - IMPROVE - INSPIRE.  NBC Learn has teamed up with the National Science Foundation and the USPTO to create Science of Innovation videos and lessons to help educators teach innovation to students.

With the emphases on STEM in our schools today as well as area competitions for innovation the idea of students patenting a product can become very real.  You might just have an inventor sitting in your class.

Contributed by Karen Wilson, STEM Coach

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