The story for this project begins in Fall 2017. At that time, I partnered with Cuba Middle School and delivered a three-week “Ideas and Innovation Program” to the students and faculty of Cuba Middle School. Each week, I was allotted one hour on a Friday to present to the entire building. Fifth and sixth grade students would listen to the presentation for 25 minutes, and we would then have a five-minute break while the classes rotated to seventh and eighth graders for another 25 minutes.
The program was originally designed and intended for the students as a learning strategy, but the faculty also attended for supervision purposes, and several of them became equally engaged in the learning process. Several of the faculty used the program experience to rethink and reshape the delivery of education and learning in their classrooms. They began to ask themselves the question, “How do I become more innovative and engaging in the delivery of my subject-matter?”
At the conclusion of the program, Mrs. Callahan reached out to me to see if I would be interested in partnering with her on a project for her Advanced Computers course for the Spring 2018 semester. I happily agreed, and she went to work. Over the course of the next two months, Mrs. Callahan designed a curriculum-based invention project for her students. Callahan was diligent and thoughtful in her design of the course and project. The curriculum meets seven different ISTE Standards and four Common Core standards. Through these learning standards, the students plan, design, and create their own inventions for personal or group use. Throughout the project, students use technology tools and programs, as well as math, writing, oral communication, and critical thinking skills. As a culminating exercise to the Invention Project, the students present their inventions to a panel of community leaders.
I am there to help the students in multiple ways. Relating to the prototypes, I tell them, “People have no imagination; we have to show it to them. We have to help them visualize it to be real. This is a critical step in the process of your invention. We don’t actually have to make the invention, but we make need to make a raw prototype, so that people can imagine it to be possible. From there, we move it forward.”
Throughout the semester, I engage the students in different ways and with different topics. I share about my ideas, I share about ideas that others have had, we talk about ideas that we have, we learn that we all have ideas, and we learn that ideas are contagious.
I also focus on our talents and strengths. Everyone is good at something; what are you good at? How do you use the talents that you were blessed with to make yourself better? How do you use the talents that you were blessed with to make your school better? And how do you use the talents that you were blessed with to make your community better? I explain to them that real leadership, and true betterment, isn’t keeping your talents to yourself. Leadership and betterment is about making those around you better. When you walk into the classroom, does everyone’s ability to learn increase or decrease? Are you adding to the conversation, answering questions, and engaging your classmates? Or are you disrupting class and negatively impacting the learning process for everyone? Is your work ethic a good example to others? These are all questions that I ask them.
I also focus on the fear of failure. We talk about how we shouldn’t be afraid to have ideas. We also discuss that we don’t have to be afraid to use our talents and strengths to make ourselves and others better. If we have ideas and if we have talents, we need to use them and act upon them. We don’t have to be afraid. In fact, we shouldn’t be afraid. I also explain to them that nothing we do is success or failure. Rather, it’s learning and adapting. We are at complete and total peace with the notion that knowing what doesn’t work is equally as important as knowing what does work.
The Spring 2018 project was a great success, the students excelled with the project and displayed a high level of learning and engagement. With that group of students, one student created an actual working prototype of his invention. The student visited the Ag-Welding class at Cuba High School, and they were able to help create his invention. He welded a bar onto the deer stand that enables the stand to swivel in different directions. This add-on technology improves the quality and safety of the deer stand, while simultaneously improving shooting accuracy from the stand. Another student created a prototype of a lift that can be added to the back of a tractor, for the purpose of lifting a farm truck up in the air, so that routine maintenance can be performed. One student created a prototype of how cereal and milk can be taken on the go. One container will hold the cereal, the other will hold the milk, and the bowl and spoon are attached with a light adhesive that can be easily removed for use.
Following the project, the school district was awarded grants funds for the use of advancing technology throughout the curriculum district-wide. Cuba Middle School Principal Marie Shoemaker used a portion of those funds to purchase a 3-D printer for CMS. The 3-D printer was purchased, and Mrs. Callahan and I were able to use the technology for the Fall 2018 and Spring 2019 invention projects. Currently, the students are now able to create a working/recycled prototype of the invention, and by using TinkerCAD (a basic AutoCAD design program), they are also able to 3-D print a prototype of the invention.
The project is meaningful and inspiring on a lot of different levels. Most importantly, this project engages students at all learning levels, with a very high level of success, and we’ve seen that first-hand.
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