It's No Problem to Invent a Solution: Kindergarten Students Explore Inventions and Create Their Own

Article excerpt

"How does that work?" asked a bright little girl. We were taking turns sharpening pencils and she wanted to know how they went from dull to sharp points. I tried to explain the inner workings of our electric pencil sharpener, but all the important parts were covered. Then I thought, "What about a small, personal sharpener? No, it would not be the same, it only had one blade. Wait a minute ... what about an old-fashioned crank model that opened up? There had to be one in the school somewhere!" That was the beginning of our kindergarten class learning about inventions, inventors, and how we could be inventors, too. Engaging students in learning about pencil sharpeners led to researching and developing a lesson plan designed so students could learn how inventions are solutions to problems. Through identifying, researching, and brainstorming new inventions, the students practiced inventing a solution for a mock problem. As a class, in small groups, and individually, students were able to use scientific inquiry by posing questions, designing, and building solutions with natural and human-made materials. They tested their inventions, revised them, and reported results to the class.

This lesson integrated subjects such as language arts, social studies, math, and art while meeting national science education standards. Also, these types of lessons address the science and engineering practices from A Framework for K-12 Science Education, specifically, Scientific and Engineering Practices (1) Asking questions/defining problems, (2) Developing and using models, (6) Designing solutions, and (8) Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information, as well as Disciplinary Core Idea ETS1: Engineering design (NRC 2012).

Throughout the weeklong invention activities, students used many of the concepts found in this new generation of science standards framework, including drawing and writing in science journals, brainstorming solutions to real-world problems, building models and prototypes individually and cooperatively, presenting to the class, and evaluating their work. Creativity, noted as a characteristic of science and engineering work, was definitely the best part of the process. After the students learned about inventions, they were eager to make their own. Some things they built may have been more realistic than others; however, by thinking creatively and using science skills, they were able to learn that their ideas can impact the world. "How does that work?" was an excellent question to initiate a learning experience!

Identifying Inventions

The first day, students participated in an "Invention Walk" (see Internet Resource) involving identification of inventions found outdoors. Before leaving the classroom, students were told we were going outside to find things that people had made. We discussed how these would be different from things existing in nature. They were excited about this and immediately offered ideas upon leaving school. I questioned why they believed things to be inventions, and my teacher assistant recorded their answers (Figure 1). When someone mentioned a naturally occurring object like a tree, I pointed out that people cannot make real trees or their seeds. After that, students rejected these kinds of answers with comments like, "No, that's a plant." or "People didn't think that up, it just happens in nature." After 20 minutes outdoors, we returned to the classroom, where the list was reviewed, rewritten on a poster, and the definition of an invention was discussed.

Students conversed about an invention being "something new someone made." Upon further questioning as to why someone would make inventions, one student suggested that "it would help fix a problem." Collectively, we determined that an invention was an answer to a problem "that you could touch," meaning that it was different from an answer to a question and instead had physical qualities. Students chose an invention to draw in their science journal. …