Curriculum Specialist Mandy Figlioli is excited about her school’s adoption of the Inventionland design and prototyping course. Mandy talks about how the course is structured, gives a story of how students are being transformed, and shares how they are re-working the course based on what they learned the first year. If you’re teaching design or making, you can learn from this show.
Below is an enhanced transcript, modified for your reading pleasure. All comments in the shaded green box are my own. For guests and hyperlinks to resources, scroll down.
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Inventionland Picture Book Giveaway
Inventionland: A Transformational Invention Course
Wednesday, October 4, 2017
Vicki: Happy Wonderful Classroom Wednesday!
So, Mandi, first of all tell us about this Invention Land Innovation Course. We also want to mention that we’re going to do a giveaway of the book [The World’s First Inventionland], a picture book. So do check the Shownotes for that.
- Today’s giveaway link: answer a poll question or share the show to enter.
Mandi: I would love to share, Vicki. It has been a tremendous experience for our district.
We had the opportunity to tour Inventionland. It is a think tank in Pennsylvania, in Pittsburgh. It is a place where they create inventions all day. If you’re familiar with the show Shark Tank, that is what Inventionland is doing.
What they’ve been working on over the last seven or eight years was a way to teach students how to be innovative — and how to go through that design process to create an invention of your own.
So I had the opportunity to tour the facility. When you go there, I highly recommend that you check out their website. It’s a Willy Wonka meets Disney World type of environment. A very, very cool workspace. It would be awesome to work there.
When I went there I was really intrigued and inspired by the work that they were doing. An opportunity came up for me to apply for an Innovation Grant. We received outside funding to purchase this course.
The Inventionland Course Overview
Last year was our first year of implementation with the course. We used it as a STEAM elective, a semester elective course. So our students in grades 9-12 who had signed up for the course had the opportunity.
The course begins with, “What are some problems that you’re having in your life? What are things you’re experiencing that you wish you could come up with a solution for?”
The students began by researching, “Are there products that exist to solve this problem? If so, who are my competitors?”
And then they go through that process of brainstorming and ideating. They come up with a concept model. We are fortunate to have 3D printers and a laser engraver, but even if you had cardboard and glue guns, you’d be able to complete this course.
Our students began coming up with these really unique inventions and moving from concept model to prototype. Then they have the opportunity to go out to Invention Land and pitch their ideas to the CEO and a team of their employees who they call “Creationeers.”
A Story of a Life Changed by Invention
That happened in the first semester, and we had a student who won from our district. They also put on their first annual regional inventors contest. So, our student got to go up against twelve other students with his invention.
I am happy to report that he won.
Vicki: (laughs) Ohhhhh! Now, what exactly did he invent? Tell us!
Mandi: He invented the “blazer eraser.” His problem was inspired by watching his teachers endlessly try to get the dry erase boards clean. He saw them struggling with the spray, with the paper towels. He just didn’t feel that we had a good way of doing it. So he invented the blazer eraser, which mounts to the board. It keeps refillable wipes that already have the Expo solution in them.
I will say that after he won that first contest for our school, he was not even in the course the second semester. He was going back into the classrooms during his study hall, during his lunch, constantly trying to improve that prototype.
Mandi: When we went back for the regional contest, I think that Mr. Davison, the CEO, recognized the resilience and the grit of our student. He really just took his model to a much farther place than it had been when he went out there the first time – to the point where he 3D printed the container for the wipes, laser engraved the Expo logo onto it, had a great packaging design. That’s actually a part of the course, actually, to design the packaging.
So it was a really unique experience.
Vicki: Wow. I want one! (laughs)
Mandi: Yeah! Well, and that’s what he’d say. The course had only gone one year in full implementation. Last year they had, I believe 12-13 schools. Now they’re over 30 schools.
Mandi: He’s interested in trying to pitch the product to Expo, and Mr. Davison told the student that won that he’d be willing to help him with that process. So it’s going to be interesting to see if we have some students that become legitimate inventors.
I saw some great ideas coming out of other schools as well. Just to have the students in that experience – I mean they treated them like rock stars when they went out there and showcased their inventions. It was truly an amazing experience.
The kind of change inventing and design provokes
Have you ever seen, Vicki, by any chance, “Most Likely to Succeed,” the documentary?
Vicki: Tell me about it.
Mandi: It’s a documentary that was released last year. I’m not even certain who produced it. But it was being shown in private settings, so community settings. I was fortunate enough to be able to see it at a conference. It’s about a millionaire who invested money into a charter school called High Tech High out in California.
Vicki: Oh yeah. OK.
Mandi: It really shows that idea of innovation being a frontrunner in the mindset of a district. The experience that the students went through n that documentary was really what I would describe that our student went through in that process of going through the Innovation Course. You know – it changed him as a person.
Mandi: He was someone who was very quiet, very timid. He wasn’t certain if he was going to go to college. He has grown in leaps and bounds, not only in his confidence, in his perseverance, but also in those soft skills. Those things that we need kids to have for employability. And seeing him organize himself, manage himself through the project, was really, really impressive. I was just so impressed with the way it changed him as a learner.
Vicki: Yeah. Inventing changes kids. I mean I see it every year in my classroom. They literally become different people, and it’s almost like it grows them up, you know?
Mandi: Absolutely. That would be definitely the way I would describe our student. What I loved about the course was that it was personalized, right out of the gate.
Student inquiry-based learning can help students buy into what they’re doing
We know as teachers that differentiation is hard. You have a lot of students in your class. You want to get to know them, know their interest, know their passions.
Right out of the gate they’re faced with, “What problem do you have?” So getting buy-in for the course was not difficult to do at all.
We take them on a field trip at the beginning of the semester to Inventionland and tour the facility. You can just see the wheels turning the minute that they walk in the door. It’s very cool. You go into the CEO’s office, and the bookshelf goes into the wall. Then you walk into this fantastic workspace. I highly recommend it.
And the person who wins the book will see – the picture book is actually of the facility – very, very unique.
Mandi: I would love to have a classroom. Mr. Davison, the CEO — his office has a treehouse (see picture above) that is dry erase boards from ceiling to floor. I would love to have that kind of work environment for my students and my teachers. Ideally, something that inspires you every single day.
What will you do differently next time?
Vicki: Is there anything you wish you had done differently that first year, or that you are doing differently this year with the second time you’re doing this course?
Mandi: Yeah, absolutely, Vicki. When we started, we knew going into the year that we had a new teacher. We had hired a new Tech Ed teacher – fantastic, motivated new teacher. We really focused on just trying the program for the first year and learning from it. Even in the second semester, we started making adjustments. I think the course has to be tailored to your school’s needs and to what your school has access to as far as technology goes.
Having access to new tools like laser engravers and 3D printers, a lot of time was spent teaching students how to fluently use those tools so that when they got to the part where their moving… A lot of the concept models just use cardboard and glue guns. But a lot of students went past that and wanted to use the technology.
So going into year two, we’re trying to develop ways to allow the students to learn how to use those technologies ahead of going into the course. And maybe it’s going to look like a preliminary course where they learn those tools so that when they go into the course they have a wide array of tools available to them to create their invention.
So that’s something that we’re definitely looking at for next year because it’s difficult in one-semester course to go through that innovative process and go through the design cycle and also want the students to gain competency with those high tech tools.
Vicki: Oh, that’s such great advice. And that’s even what we’re seeing with our at-building projects that I’m doing. “Can we teach them how to build an app and then creatively invent their own app?”
I mean it’s just kind of you have to get the tools and then move ahead.
So, teachers, we have a remarkable idea. Now there is a giveaway for the Inventionland book, and I want it, too. I would enter it myself but I won’t let myself get the book. But I certainly will be going on Amazon and grabbing one.
So check the Shownotes so that you can see all this cool stuff that we’ll be sharing.
And thank you, Mandi, for sharing such a remarkable course!
Mandi: Thank you, Vicki, for reaching out. It is such a pleasure to talk with you.
Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford
Bio as submitted
Mandi Figlioli, Curriculum Specialist & Assistant to the Superintendent of the Burgettstown Area School District, is inspired by the resurgence of constructivism and advocates for hands-on, minds-on learning. She aspires to engage both teachers and students in personalized learning experiences and empower them to creatively use diverse tools & technology.
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