Changing Mindsets and Teaching Students to Excel through the Innovation Process
Jun 28, 2019 | Atlanta, GA
Georgia Tech's K-12 InVenture Prize was held March 13, 2019, featuring teams of student inventions and technology from across the state. With top prizes among grade levels as well as individual awards, teams advanced from the competition to the National Invention Convention in Dearborn, Michigan, held from May 29 – May 31, 2019.
Over 90 schools participated in the InVenture program, with 21 students advancing to the national competition with five teams bringing home eight awards.
Students competed with various projects centered on invention and innovation, focusing on solutions for a 21st-century world. The competition pushes students to tackle world issues in unique ways. Their projects ranged from a sleeping bag with features to help those in shelters to a patent-pending device that assists emergency procedures for blocked airways.
"Most STEM competitions have a design process whether it's the scientific method, or the engineering design process," said Jasmine Patel, the Educational Outreach Coordinator at Georgia Tech's Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC). "K12 InVenture Prize incorporates all into one program."
First place prize winners from this year's Georgia Tech competition included teams from Walton High School, Madras Middle School, and Kelly Mill Elementary.
Winners in non-grade categories included Kelly Mill Elementary in the Best Overall K-12 Division, Effingham College and Career Academy for the People's Choice Award, Shoal Creek Elementary School for the Youngest Participant Award, Northgate High School for the TAG Manufacturing Award, Walton High School for the IronCAD High School Award, and Matt Elementary School for the IronCAD Elementary School Award.
Qualifying teams from the Georgia Tech InVenture competition moved on to the National Invention Convention. Cheatham Hill Elementary School took home President's Choice Award and 2nd place in the 5th-grade category. Booth Middle School received the Household Organization and Appliances Industry Innovation Award. The Atlanta International School took 3rd place in the 10th-grade category. Harrison High School garnered the Home and Safety Award presented by Carrier and 1st place in the 10th-grade category. Walton High School received the Patent Application Award presented by Wilmer Hale and 2nd place in the 11th-grade category.
Teacher Nancy Ernstes, from Cheatham Hill Elementary School, placed first for The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation Teacher Innovator Award.
Preparation for the InVenture prize begins months before in the classroom. Teachers from around the state use curriculum designed for the competition to mentor students in the invention process.
"The K12 InVenture Prize teachers create the curriculum and teachers adapt and change to fit their teaching style," Patel said. "The curriculum is composed to help students through not only the invention process, but an iterative process (define the problem, ideate solutions, create prototypes, and test their product). It's a circular model, and students use this model until they create a solution that is unique and different to their problem."
Teacher workshop facilitators also guide the InVenture process. Facilitators work with teachers on the ins-and-outs of the competition. Teachers learn what to do in their classrooms and how to use the invention process with students. Dr. Kathleen Lanman, a STEM teacher at J.C. Booth Middle School, has been a teacher workshop facilitator for two years.
"I feel like I have a network of people that I didn't have before … it's nice to have somebody that you can bounce ideas off of and to have some confirmation that what you're doing isn't crazy," Dr. Lanman said "It's really nice when a teacher from another district and another grade level emails you to say "Hey can you watch this pitch video and tell me what you think?" That collaboration makes it that much more powerful."
InVenture curriculum, along with teacher workshop facilitators pushes students not only to come up with innovative ways to solve problems but to learn from each other's work.
"In January, they are presenting their ideas to other people in the class. It's really interesting to me that even though they are actually competing against each other, they will still try and help build each other up as well."
Some InVenture mentors have even used collaboration to learn how to evaluate other projects and get feedback.
"We play a lot of 'Shark Tank' in class trying to find holes in design solutions, see what they haven't thought about, and then eventually we have an internal competition where we bring in judges, a patent attorney, a mechanical engineer, we've got a physicist, and someone who is just your average consumer, making sure they're on the panel," said Michelle Crose who worked as a teacher workshop facilitator this past competition cycle.
Many teachers have noted how the invention design process has pushed their students to think in ways outside of the traditional classroom method.
"Kids a lot of the time come up with an idea and think their first idea is the only idea that they can come up with," Dr. Lanman said. "It's really good for them to realize that success comes can come after a lot of failures. That perseverance piece of it is hard to teach, and I feel like InVenture is a good way to teach it."
Teachers noted how the competition impacts their teaching style, even when teaching students who do not compete with the program.
"I've been teaching for a long time and only in the last five years or so that I've been doing this I feel like I have completely shifted to a growth-mindset in my classroom in a way that I had never done before," Dr. Lanman said. "I just don't think that I really understood, until I started doing this project, how valuable it is for them to fail at things. I teach smart kids, they're gifted often, and failure for them is tragic … trying to change their whole mindset is what you can really do with this. It's really changed the way I teach."
Others reflect on their favorite moments from mentoring students through the invention process.
"Just seeing them working with each other and being really excited about something that they are doing not for a grade but just because they enjoy it," said Anne Baxley, a chemistry teacher at Walton High School whose team attended the National Competition this year. "I love guiding them in the right way but listening to what they are coming up with."
Beyond the competition itself, the prize offers students an opportunity to experience an innovative college campus.
"Having the K12 InVenture Prize here at Georgia Tech brings excitement to these students," Patel said. "We provide tickets for any K12 students or teachers that would like to stay and watch the Georgia Tech InVenture Prize … while students are on campus, they have an opportunity to tour the campus, talk to Georgia Tech students, and tour labs."
Teachers also have noted the impact of the competition's university setting.
"It's a fabulous program," Crose said. "I have kind of a nontraditional school, so bringing my kids down to the Georgia Tech campus has opened up a world for them. Participating in this program, now Tech is on their radar. It's been a huge thing to expose them to what's available but also to make it reachable."
Mentors for the prize have also seen how InVenture not only exposes students to Georgia Tech but life in college in general.
"It is hands down the best project they have done to prepare them for college, especially if they are going into engineering," Crose said. "I've had feedback from students who have gone on and said that what they've learned in this class and the InVenture program has prepared me for classes in college."
By Tyler Jones - Georgia Tech CEISMC Communications