Kids and Educators Inventing

January 17th is Kid Inventors’ Day.. It’s held on the 17th to coincide with the birth date of Benjamin Franklin — an imaginative and creative inventor. (Check out the link to find out about some of his inventions. There’s even a video of William Zeitler playing  a modern version of Franklin’s glass armonica. It’s pretty cool!)

Prior to the big day we read What Do You Do With An Idea by Kobi Yamada. It’s such a great book — simple and yet profound at the same time. We talked about ideas — theirs ideas.

“Do you have ideas? Do you have good ideas? Do your ideas always work the way you plan? Do you always have ideas alone, or sometimes with others? Are you always willing to tell others about your ideas? Are you sometimes a little worried people may not like their ideas?”  I agreed with them when they said they had ideas, and I encouraged them when they said they are sometimes afraid to share or try their ideas.

Then I showed them my latest invention — an idea book I made for them!

“Yes, I know a book isn’t my invention, we already have them, but,” I said, “this one’s a little different. I wanted  to give you all sorts of places to write, sketch, and store your ideas so I changed some things about a ‘regular’ book.”


I proceeded to show them some of the different bits of the book — skinny pages, fat pages, pages made from magazine pages, an envelope, blank white paper, blank grid paper, and accordion folded pages in the center. I told them the books were theirs to keep, and they could use them however they liked to store their ideas. The only thing they had to do was record some ideas.

“Can we put stuff on the cover, too?!”


“Of course!!!”

I also asked them to let me know, after they used the book, if they had any tweaks I might make to make it even better. The book was so different that many immediately asked me to make changes. I asked them to try it first, and then let me know if they still wanted me to tweak things. “This way,” I said “we’ll all be part of the invention process of this Idea Book. I made it, but you’ll test it, and give me suggestions.” They seemed to like that.


Kid Inventors Day in the classroom was great. The girls were enthusiastic and worked on their projects for hours.  Some of their creations were completely unique, others were recreations of existing items. There was a lot of creative questioning that went on that day! How would their creation be an invention — something new? What tweaks could they make to whatever they were considering to make it even better? One young inventor declared her jet pack better than the existing one because it used Daddy-power. “Because, ya know,” she told me, “my mommy won’t let me use fire and real fuel!” Can’t argue with that logic!

The day was a success, but I wanted them to concentrate on problem finding a bit more. I decided to have us work as inventors in our next science class. We would concentrate on the first 3 steps from this  Invention and Design Process Mash Up poster I put together. (The 1st 3 are in color because those were the ones I wanted to focus on in this class.)

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I had some questions and wonderings as I entered the lesson design process:

  • How might they have the best experience?
  • How might I have a record of their work to share with others?
  • Should they work in teams? In partnerships?
  • Should I give them the choice of working together or alone?
  • Should everyone have their own notebook?
  • Should we create posters of problems? Posters of brainstorms?

I was kind of plagued by the question of wether they should have their own notebook because then they would have something written down to take home. Normally I don’t really care.

I know that learning happens in the making, the doing, and the discussion, so I typically don’t do concentrate on a notebook to take home. I’m not against writing! Tons of amazing things happen with writing, but generally I don’t mind if there is nothing to send home on any one day since I document with photos, and share the photos and explanations after the fact. But for some reason this time I couldn’t shake the idea of an “Inventor’s Notebook” to take home. So, I gave it a go.

I loved our discussions. The girls were enthusiastic and worked hard to understand and express themselves.  It was a ton of  fun to watch them try to explain what brainstorming is — using great facial expressions and hand gestures to explain that the thoughts you have are like storms in your brain.

“”Yes!” I said “You do have lots of ideas in your brains, but how do they become brainstorms? What happens when it storms outside? Is there just stuff in the clouds but nothing else?” “NO!” they yelled ” It rains! Or it snows!” “YES!” I replied, with nearly equal exuberance, “And is it just one rain drop?” They looked, as though stunned, but then responded “NO! It’s lots of drops!” “YES!” I agreed, “It’s lots of drops, and when we brainstorm, we want to share LOTS of ideas.”

The inventions we looked at were awesome. They helped the girls understand that sometimes inventions are a mash up of ideas already existing, and other times they are completely new. And, perhaps most importantly it opened their minds to the truth that KIDS are inventors — with big beautiful brains and hearts — who see problems and work to solve them. We looked at the cereal serving head crane device as well as fabulous, and hilarious, children’s inventions. (Can you imagine having a spider lick your face if you don’t get up on time?! They could!)

But the notebook, and allowing the girls to mostly work alone, didn’t work as well as hoped. As the class progressed, I noticed many ways I wanted to tweak the notebook, and the process.


My prototype for the next try will include a notebook for work at home. It will include the mash-up poster, some information for parents, and some blank pages for sketching and note taking. But, for our time together in the lab, we will work with posters and post-it-notes.

We’ll create several Problem Posters. Then, after some brainstorming, I’ll arm each girl with a pad of post-it-notes, and a pencil. This will give them the opportunity for many casual collisions, which will oblige and allow them to interact — sharing ideas, energy, laughter, and angst. Hopefully the size of the note, and the fact that they have a pad of them, will encourage quick sketching, and many ideas. I’m excited that this method  will give us a class artifact of our work together. I’m hopeful it can then be used for further thought and engagement in the invention and design process.

Funny, even though I understand the design/invention process, and I know the girls learned and did great things, I’m unhappy with myself for not thinking  of these tweaks before I did the lesson. But really, how could I have thought of them before? It’s a new lesson, a new creation and invention, and as with all inventions, it gets better by working the process. — think, sketch, make, test, tweak, sell, repeat.

Perhaps we as educators need to share more of our failures, near misses, thought process, design process, thinking, and challenges. This way everyone will understand that everyone needs to work the process, and the process is hardly ever as easy, or mess free, as we make it seem.






Seeing Spelling With New Eyes



I read this the other day. When I reached the end and read buttufele, I had an epiphany about spelling!

Spelling is a remarkably daring journey into  possibility thinking, creativity and design!

When trying to share our ideas, encode sounds and/or spell words we all go through the following steps:

Possibility thinking: How might we use what we already have/know in a new way? What letters or letter combinations are possible?

Creativity: We have to be brave and take risks.We use what we know to make something new and useful.

Design: We define a design challenge. ( For instance, write the word – beautifully.) We ideate. (butfoolee, beyuootefooly, beeyutyfuly, buttufele), and prototype (see illustration above). Then we test. (Can I read it? Can someone else read it? Can the person I wrote it for read it?) Our test provides us with data, and perhaps, new understanding. The process then begins again for this, or some other, word.

I love this understanding of spelling. It brings an element of play, and ease into the process of spelling. It embraces the fact that the spelling process, like all other design processes, often includes failing.

I’m wondering if approaching spelling this way, might make it easier for our students. Understanding they are choosing a design (spelling) challenge might empower them. Being creative might infuse joy into the process. Embracing failure as a natural part of spelling might diffuse some fear, and increase learning.

I’m going to work on my language and give it a go with my learners. I’m hopeful!

And just a note: Conventional spelling can also be approached as a design challenge. except now the challenge might be “Spell beautifully as it is found in library books, or on”

Translation in case it is needed: She is very pretty. She is funny and she is goofy. She is a kind princess. She lives in Westfield. She sings songs beautifully.