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Invention Education (IvE) is a term that refers to deliberate efforts to teach people how to approach problem finding and problem solving in ways that reflect the processes and practices employed by accomplished inventors. The term has been used by individuals and organizations to describe educational programs that date back more than a decade. Research studies of IvE in the United States that examine what is being accomplished, by whom, under what conditions, and with what outcomes, are limited. Formal and informal educators who recognize the importance of invention and entrepreneurship in America and want to support the growth and development of young inventors, therefore, have a limited evidence base available to inform their work. Members of the growing IvE community believe that it is important to document and critically examine IvE practices to accelerate the growth of high-quality learning opportunities afforded to young people. With the rapid pace of technological change, the future of collaborative work environments, and the many global challenges that are in need of solutions, every child deserves to grow up with the invention mindset, skills, and knowledge to be an inventor and a future problem solver. Considerable progress has been made in the past decade in the expansion of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning opportunities to students from diverse backgrounds. Women and students from underrepresented communities (by race, ethnicity, income, or geography), however, still face significant barriers to becoming inventors, entrepreneurs, and part of the innovation economy. Individuals—especially females, minorities, low-income, and rural youth—may be held back by limited opportunities for learning and development. Barriers may include a lack of access to IvE curriculum facilitated by prepared instructors, limited mentorship opportunities, constrictive policies placed on school curricula, and instruction and assessment practices. The lack of research highlighting the impact of IvE on student outcomes and invention pathways may also contribute to challenges with the take-up of IvE by educators, as well as challenges with recruiting and preparing students from underrepresented backgrounds to see the relevance of pursuing STEM college and career pathways to their lives and to what they aim to accomplish in their adult years. This white paper (WP) is a synthesis of work conducted by researchers interested in IvE who participated in a yearlong collaborative effort supported by the Lemelson Foundation. The Lemelson Foundation’s mission is to inspire youth to solve problems through invention and provide young entrepreneurs the tools to create sustainable solutions and commercial opportunities (https://www.lemelson.org). Working across the year, the IvE research group’s goal was to consolidate the existing knowledge base informing the IvE efforts of individual researchers, educators, funders, non-profit organizations, and government agencies. Working together, the group aimed to create a document that reflects the research base, values, and principles guiding the work in this emerging field of study. https://inventioneducation.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Researching-Invention-Education-White-Paper.pdf
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Issued November 19, 2019
RESEARCHING
INVENTION
EDUCATION
A White Paper
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper i
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
The Researching Invention Education White Paper was a community eort. The following sections
acknowledge the dierent individuals and organizations who played a significant role in its development.
Writers
ORGANIZATION WRITERS CONTRIBUTING TO THE PAPER
Center for Digital Literacy, Syracuse University Ruth Small
Professor & Director
Center for Education Integrating Science,
Mathematics, and Computing, Georgia Institute
of Technology
Roxanne Moore
Director, K–12 InVenture Prize
Meltem Alemdar
Associate Director Ed. Research & Eval.
& Sr. Research Scientist
College of Community Innovation and Education,
University of Central Florida
Audra Skukauskaite*
Associate Professor
Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems
Engineering, University of Michigan-Dearborn
DeLean Tolbert
Assistant Professor
Department of Teacher Education & Higher
Education, University of North Carolina at
Greensboro
Edna Tan
Associate Professor
James Clark School of Engineering,
University of Maryland
Ethan Eagle
Project Consultant
Lemelson-MIT Program, Massachusetts Institute
of Technology
Stephanie Couch*
Executive Director
Leigh Estabrooks
Invention Education Ocer
Anthony Perry
Invention Education Coordinator
Wendy Nikolai
Editor
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper
ii
Acknowledgements
ORGANIZATION WRITERS CONTRIBUTING TO THE PAPER
Lynch School of Education, Boston College David W. Jackson
Graduate Student
Pablo Bendiksen Gutierrez
Graduate Student
So Lim Kim
Graduate Student
Deoksoon Kim
Associate Professor
Amy Semerjian
Graduate Student
Helen Zhang
Senior Research Associate
School of Education, University of Michigan Angela Calabrese Barton
Professor
Tippie College of Business, University of Iowa Leslie Flynn*
Director, STEM Innovator and Professor of
STEM Innovation and Entrepreneurship
*Denotes lead authors
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper iii
Acknowledgements
Invention Education Research Group Participants
As of November 2019, the growing group of researchers consists of:
Adam Maltese; Indiana University
Adam Talamantes; Oregon State University
Amy Semerjian; Boston College
Angela Calabrese Barton; University of Michigan
Audra Skukauskaite; University of Central Florida
Corrie Frasier; Uncommon
Dave Jackson; Boston College
David Coronado; Lemelson Foundation
DeLean Tolbert; University of Michigan - Dearborn
Deoksoon Kim; Boston College
Edna Tan; UNC Greensboro
Ethan Eagle; University of Maryland
Eunhye Cho; Boston College
Galen Brodie; Uncommon
Gina Carter; Uncommon
Helen Charov; CT Invention Convention/UCONN
Helen Zhang; Boston College
Jasmine Alvarado; Boston College
Jay Well; Oregon State University
Jorge Valdes; United States Patent and
Trade Oce (USPTO)
Joyce Ward; United States Patent and
Trade Oce (USPTO)
Judith Green; University of California, Santa Barbara
Julie Alspach; Oakland University
Kathy Hoppe; United States Patent and
Trade Oce (USPTO)
Leigh Estabrooks; Massachusetts Institute
of Technology
Leslie Flynn; University of Iowa (Co-Chair, 2019)
Levi Maaia; University of California, Santa Barbara
Lilly Lew; University of California, Santa Barbara
Lucie Howell; The Henry Ford Museum
Maria Teresa Napoli; University of California,
Santa Barbara
Matt Karlsen; Opal School
Mei Mah; Grand Valley State University
Melinda Kalaino; United States Military Academy
Meltem Alemdar; Georgia Institute of Technology
Michele Glidden; Society for Science & the Public
Mike Barnett; Boston College
Monaliza Chian; University of Hong Kong
Noreen Balos; University of California, Santa Barbara
Roxanne Moore; Georgia Institute of Technology
Ruth V. Small; Syracuse University
So Lim Kim; Boston College
Stacey Young; The Learning Partnership
Stephanie Couch; Massachusetts Institute
of Technology (Co-Chair, 2019)
Susan MacKay; Opal School
Tony Perry; Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Wayne Raskind; Wayne State University (USPTO)
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper
iv
Acknowledgements
Special Appreciation
We wish to thank The Lemelson Foundation for the generous support they provided for our work. One-time
grant funding allowed the group to be supported by a research consultant and allowed for an in-person
convening with contributing authors at the outset of the white paper writing process. The foundation also
supported the invention education research group by providing access to Uncommon who facilitated ongoing
web sessions and assisted with the documentation of web sessions. The range of supports made it possible for
faculty and sta from numerous organizations across the United States to participate in the work of the group.
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper v
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Acknowledgements i
Executive Summary 1
Introduction 5
1. Equity and Access in Invention Education 11
2. Integrating and Making Explicit the Connections to Other Disciplines 19
3. Invention Education Throughout a Life Span 25
4. Facilitating and Teaching Invention Education 31
5. Programs and Assessments of Invention Education 39
6. Theories and Methodologies Used to Study Invention Education 47
7. Policy Implications: Suggestions From Testimonies at USPTO on the Success Act 51
8. Gaps in Invention Education Research 65
References 75
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper 1
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Invention Education (IvE) is a term that refers to deliberate eorts to teach people
how to approach problem finding and problem solving in ways that reflect the
processes and practices employed by accomplished inventors. The term has been
used by individuals and organizations to describe educational programs that date
back more than a decade.
Research studies of IvE in the United States that examine what is being accomplished, by whom, under what
conditions, and with what outcomes, are limited. Formal and informal educators who recognize the importance
of invention and entrepreneurship in America and want to support the growth and development of young
inventors, therefore, have a limited evidence base available to inform their work. Members of the growing
IvE community believe that it is important to document and critically examine IvE practices to accelerate the
growth of high-quality learning opportunities aorded to young people. With the rapid pace of technological
change, the future of collaborative work environments, and the many global challenges that are in need of
solutions, every child deserves to grow up with the invention mindset, skills, and knowledge to be an inventor
and a future problem solver.
Considerable progress has been made in the past decade in the expansion of science, technology, engineering,
and mathematics (STEM) learning opportunities to students from diverse backgrounds. Women and students
from underrepresented communities (by race, ethnicity, income, or geography), however, still face significant
barriers to becoming inventors, entrepreneurs, and part of the innovation economy. Individuals—especially
females, minorities, low-income, and rural youth—may be held back by limited opportunities for learning and
development. Barriers may include a lack of access to IvE curriculum facilitated by prepared instructors, limited
mentorship opportunities, constrictive policies placed on school curricula, and instruction and assessment
practices. The lack of research highlighting the impact of IvE on student outcomes and invention pathways may
also contribute to challenges with the take-up of IvE by educators, as well as challenges with recruiting and
preparing students from underrepresented backgrounds to see the relevance of pursuing STEM college and
career pathways to their lives and to what they aim to accomplish in their adult years.
This white paper (WP) is a synthesis of work conducted by researchers interested in IvE who participated in a
yearlong collaborative eort supported by the Lemelson Foundation. The Lemelson Foundation’s mission is
to inspire youth to solve problems through invention and provide young entrepreneurs the tools to create
sustainable solutions and commercial opportunities (https://www.lemelson.org). Working across the year, the
IvE research group’s goal was to consolidate the existing knowledge base informing the IvE eorts of individual
researchers, educators, funders, non-profit organizations, and government agencies. Working together, the
group aimed to create a document that reflects the research base, values, and principles guiding the work in this
emerging field of study.
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper
2
Executive Summary
The initial IvE research group included 39 members. The number of researchers participating in the group has
continued to grow, signaling that there is significant interest in this emerging field of study. The original group
was drawn primarily from research universities (76%), was predominantly female (71%), and participants were
primarily from the east and west coasts of the United States (72%). Regular monthly meetings began in August
2018 to promote collaboration between researchers, identify conferences
and publications amenable to IvE, explore research interests, and determine
the current state of IvE research and practice. The group engaged in
honest and open dialogue about our individual work and sought ways to
collaborate across institutions. Of central interest was the breaking of
barriers between programs and forging new collaborative pathways to
ensure all youth have access to IvE. The group met at the Lemelson
Invention Education Convening in November 2018 and spent a day in a
research meeting at the American Educational Research Association in
April 2019. The IvE research community was invited to contribute to this WP by sharing their research findings
and the studies that inform their writing about IvE. Monthly online meetings, conference gatherings, and
individual conversations between group members facilitated the structure and writing of this WP.
IvE is an emerging and transdisciplinary field of study. The transdisciplinary nature of the work creates challenges
for researchers asked to examine program oerings in accordance with the norms and expectations of a
singular discipline. Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) promoted for use in K–12 schooling in the United
States, for example, are relevant to IvE projects. The problem investigated and solutions being developed by
young inventors will typically address disciplinary core ideas, practices, and cross cutting concepts specified by
NGSS. The particular ideas, practices and concepts, however, may not align with those specified for the stu-
dents’ particular grade level since the focus will depend on the problem or solution being developed by the
student(s). In addition, students may be learning and displaying concepts and practices from a variety of fields
and disciplines such as the arts, mathematics, computer science and entrepreneurship. Similar challenges
confront computer science educators given the interdisciplinary nature of computer science. The computer
science education framework—and the positive reception it has received among educators for the ways in which
the ideas can be integrated across multiple disciplines and grade levels—was posited as an exemplar during the
discussions among the IvE research group (Association for Computing Machinery, Code.org, Computer Science
Teachers Association, Cyber Innovation Center, & National Math and Science Initiative, 2016). IvE researchers,
as a result of these discussions, determined that the organization of the WP should reflect the sections of
the computer science framework to the fullest extent possible. This approach has the added benefit of
supporting future studies that may examine the ways in which the teaching of computer science and IvE
converge and diverge.
Of central interest was
the breaking of barriers
between programs and
forging new collaborative
pathways to ensure all
youth have access to IvE.
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper 3
Executive Summary
This WP includes the following eight sections:
1. Equity and Access in Invention Education illustrates how participation in IvE is not equally distributed
across gender, race, socio-economic status, or geographic locales. Providing IvE opportunities during
the school day may increase the number of underrepresented groups who enter and persist in IvE and
career pathways.
2. Integrating and Making Explicit the Connections to Other Disciplines discusses the transdisciplinary
nature of the knowledge, skills, and mindsets employed by inventors and how the current rigid
separation between disciplines in school does not support the complex problem solving involved in
the invention process.
3. Invention Education Throughout a Life Span explores the need for early and continuous exposure to
invention opportunities in a variety of formal and informal community settings—including home, school,
museums, libraries, camps, and/or makerspaces—in order for youths to develop as inventors.
4. Facilitating and Teaching Invention Education identifies the knowledge, support, and experiences
educators need to facilitate student engagement in invention; the challenges they face; and the
reasons they choose to incorporate IvE into their practice.
5. Programs and Assessments of Invention Education documents current eorts to engage K–20
students in IvE and discusses assessment tools to document student outcomes and impact.
6. Theories and Methodologies Used to Study Invention Education outlines the diverse set of current
theoretical and methodological frameworks employed by the IvE research community.
7. Policy Implications: Suggestions From Testimonies Provided to the United States Patent and Trade
Oce (USPTO) includes excerpts from IvE members who commented during public hearings conducted
in response to federal legislation known as the Study of Underrepresented Classes Chasing Engineering
and Science Success (SUCCESS) Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-273 of the 115th Congress).
8. Gaps in Invention Education Research identifies incomplete areas of research and opportunities for
future research and collaboration.
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper
4
Executive Summary
This WP draws on the research conducted by the IvE research group and the work of others frequently cited
by research group members. The section topics and research included here are not meant to be an exhaustive
review of existing research; rather, this is the work currently informing the IvE researchers’ agendas, theoretical
frameworks, and methodological approaches. Because IvE is a relatively new field, there are many gaps in
understanding how IvE impacts all phases of a student’s development (cradle to career) and the promising
practices across both formal and informal learning environments. We invite you to become an active contributor
within the IvE research community and to bring your research base to the group in ways that can inform future
updates to this document.
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper 5
INTRODUCTION
Invention education (IvE) is a developing field of study in both K–12 and higher
education. Entities and individuals who associate their work with IvE oer young
people opportunities to develop ways of thinking, capabilities, and dispositions
identified as being common to inventors.
The contributors to this paper adopted a working definition of IvE as the facilitation of educational engagement
in which people find and define problems and design and build new, novel, useful, and unique solutions that
contribute to the betterment of society (Committee for the Study of Invention, 2004; Couch, Skukauskaite,
& Green, 2019). The Lemelson Foundation identifies IvE as “a pedagogical approach focused on problem
identification through empathy and collaborative problem solving that results in novel solutions by integrating
the process of invention into teaching and learning” (The Lemelson Foundation & Coy, in press).
Those working in this field, however, have yet to agree on a single definition of the term “invention education.
Definitions, characteristics, mindsets, skills, or descriptions of IvE oered by practitioners, program providers,
policy makers, and researchers vary, given the newness of the field and the significant diversity in the theoretical
and practice-oriented perspectives individuals bring to their work. Educators who have deep knowledge of
science, for example, may approach the teaching of how to invent through a constructivist, constructionist,
inquiry, or scientific practices lens as they guide students in proposing solutions to problems involving the
environment, water, physical health, or biomimicry. Educators who work in the engineering fields may approach
inventing through an engineering design framework and focus on creating new materials, advances in the
automotive sector, or solutions that advance fire and life safety. Educators with an arts background may empha-
size arts and design practices while creating a new artistic process or product. A background in social sciences
may focus on community ethnography, cultural aspects of problems and problem solving (anthropology) or the
nature of what problems exist from the perspective of particular populations or individuals (sociology and
psychology). Entrepreneurship educators may facilitate invention by employing a lean startup methodology
through hypothesis-driven experimentation, design thinking, iterative prototype testing releases, and customer-
driven validated learning. They may focus on outcomes of reduced product development cycles and sustainable
or revenue-generating inventions for their customers.
The groups working in this new field also frame ways of thinking like an inventor and discuss required capabilities
in dierent ways. References in the literature to ways of thinking as an inventor include the need to integrate
conceptual knowledge from dierent disciplines and to look at problems from dierent perspectives in order
to find new and novel solutions. This is sometimes referred to as “boundary crossing,” as one needs to go be-
yond ways of knowing employed by scientists, mathematicians, or any other singular discipline or field of study
(National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, & Medicine, 2018, 2019; Perez-Breva, 2016; Root-Bernstein &
Root-Bernstein, 1999). Capabilities often refers to skills such as the use of a particular type of equipment or
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper
6
Introduction
software, or practices including eective oral and written communication, providing evidence to support claims,
and problem identification. Capabilities can also refer to the traits, mindsets, attributes, or dispositions of an
inventor, such as resilience, self-direction, and critical thinking (Flynn, 2016a, 2018). A preliminary framework for
IvE commissioned by the Lemelson Foundation (The Lemelson Foundation & Coy, in press) identifies and defines
several attributes:
Empathy: Listens to viewpoints other than just their own, understands a variety of perspectives, and is
able to understand the challenges or needs of others;
Creativity: Ability to pair things in an unanticipated way to reveal untapped potential;
Curiosity: Alertness to practical problems and opportunities. Also, intentional focus on both large
overarching systems and small micro-components;
Resilience: Embraces failure as a learning experience, ability to work toward delayed gratification, and a
critical stance toward their own work;
Calculated Risk-Taking: Conservation of energy where possible, in order to minimize necessary
exposures;
Passion: Optimistic commitment to vision, coupled with flexibility to contemplate novel ways to achieve
the desired end result;
Resourcefulness: Seeks solutions with available resources and ways to increase available resources; and
Tolerance for Ambiguity and Complexity: Comfort with working on the margins of established knowledge
and willingness to become immersed in a multi-layered problem set.
Invention educators represent one of many groups working in education
that recognize the importance of providing students with opportunities
to engage in, acquire, and demonstrate competencies in the practices,
skills, mindsets, dispositions, attributes, and traits attributed to leading
innovators. The content and focus of teaching practices associated with
invention and innovation are represented in the knowledge, core concepts,
and practices reflected in particular disciplinary areas including K–12
national education standards in English language arts (National Governors
Association, 2010), science and engineering (National Research Council,
2013), mathematics (National Governors Association, 2010), 21st Century
Learning (Trilling & Fadel, 2009), and technology (K12 Computer Science
Framework, 2016). Invention education researchers and practitioners
support the need for multidisciplinary approaches to teaching and
learning, and the alignment of IvE pedagogical practices to the relevant
the importance of
providing students
with opportunities to
engage in, acquire,
and demonstrate
competencies in the
practices, skills, mindsets,
dispositions, attributes,
and traits attributed to
leading innovators
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper 7
Introduction
standards articulated as important to the dierent disciplines. Flexibility in the sequencing of when the concepts
or practices are taught, and the configuration of the standards that are addressed within particular course
oerings, are key to the transdisciplinary work common within IvE programs.
Some groups within the IvE community oer learning opportunities that support the development of individual
inventors. Others oer programs for team-based invention so that knowledge and expertise from a diverse
array of disciplines and cultures possessed by individual students can inform the team members’ understandings
of a problem as well as their eorts to design and create a solution to a problem. Awareness of the need for
knowledge, skills, and mindsets found in dierent disciplines or fields of study contributes to the notion that the
work of inventors is transdisciplinary. Information, concepts, and practices from many dierent disciplines need
to be brought together in ways that allow students to develop an understanding of the problems people face.
Diverse knowledge and skills are also needed for the development, testing and eorts to bring solutions forward
in ways that contribute to the betterment of society and the lives of others.
Published research related to particular IvE programs or practices, whether designed to serve individuals or those
seeking team-based learning opportunities, is limited. The work within the existing programs, however, is often
guided by research findings that relate to the many component parts of IvE. Research studies pertaining to such
areas as design thinking, systems thinking, maker education, computer science education and computational
thinking, science and engineering education, project- and problem-based learning, and entrepreneurship are all
relevant to designing and implementing eective IvE oerings. Program providers informing the development
of this WP could articulate the research base that guides their work, even if their own program oerings had not
been researched.
This WP represents a first step toward bringing together the body of research that the contributing authors and
members of the larger IvE community have produced to date and/or used to guide the work they identify as
invention education. The process for constructing the WP involved:
Calls to contribute and Invention Education Research (IER) online group meetings (monthly starting
August 2018);
Meeting at the American Educational Research Association’s annual conference, brainstorming and
sharing in small groups (April 2019);
Reviewing two IvE focused issues of the National Academy of Inventors’ Technology and Innovation
journal (May–June 2019);
Constructing an extended outline with citations (May 2019);
IER community feedback on the WP extended outline (May–June 2019);
Writing of the WP with IER community contributions (June 2019)
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper
8
Introduction
Sharing the WP draft with the IER community (July 2019)
IER Community review and feedback on the draft (July 2019)
Finalizing the draft (August 2019)
Professional editorial review and formatting (September 2019)
WP Publication (October 2019)
Presentation of WP at Lemelson IvE Convening (November 2019)
The WP includes eight sections that mirror the Computer Science (CS) framework (Association for Computing
Machinery et al., 2016). The CS framework served as a guide for topic identification because CS, like IvE, is an
emergent interdisciplinary field that also addresses knowledge and skills that are critical to students’ preparation
for their future work. The CS framework acknowledged that learners can enter computer science at any age or
level of education; the same holds true for learning how to invent. CS is a field that is distinct, yet intertwined
with IvE since inventors must work with existing technologies as they find and refine understandings of
problems, and design and build new technological solutions.
The eight sections of the WP include overviews of IvE research focusing on 1) what is known about equity and
access, 2) interdisciplinarity of the field, 3) learning of invention (student focus), 3) educating for invention
(teacher focus), 5) models and assessments of IvE implementation, 6) theories and methodologies utilized in
researching IvE, 7) policy dialogues and implications, and 8) gaps in research.
EQUITY AND
ACCESS IN
INVENTION
EDUCATION
1
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper 11
1 EQUITY AND ACCESS IN INVENTION EDUCATION
Invention, inventiveness, creativity, and innovation are recognized as key drivers of societal development and
economic growth worldwide (Committee for the Study of Invention,
2004; Novy-Hildesley, 2010; Perez-Breva, 2016; Villa, 1990). Inventors
are celebrated in books, social media, and curricula in science, engineering,
technology, and related fields such as entrepreneurship or design.
Historical accounts of inventors demonstrate tremendous variety in their
personal backgrounds and the funds of knowledge that they drew upon
while envisioning their breakthrough, though documentation of the
contributions of women, people of color, immigrants, and minorities are
not as visible as those of white men (Milli, Williams-Baron, Berlan, Xia, & Gault, 2016; Nager, Hart, Ezell, &
Atkinson, 2016; Shaw & Hess, 2018). Recent research that examines who is inventing, patenting and driving
innovation in the United States has revealed major gaps in who participates in patenting and inventing (Bell,
Chetty, Jaravel, Petkova, & Van Reenen, 2018; Fechner & Shapanka, 2018; Haseltine, 2018; Hosler, 2018; Hunt,
Garant, Herman, & Munroe, 2013). One of the most visible gaps is the underrepresentation of women and
minorities in patenting and STEM disciplines (Bell et al., 2018; Comedy & Dougherty, 2018; Cook, 2011, 2019;
Couch, Estabrooks, & Skukauskaite, 2019; Gottlieb, 2018; King & Pringle, 2018; Landivar, 2013; Milli et al., 2016;
Ong, Smith, & Ko, 2018; Sanders & Ashcraft, 2019).
The lack of diversity among inventors and patent holders in the United States has been gaining more attention
in education and policy circles in recent years (Haseltine, 2018; Lost Einsteins, 2019; Sluby, 2004; Wisnioski,
Hintz, & Kleine, 2019). Available data suggests that prolific patent holders
and leading technology innovators are 90% male and nearly 95% Asian or
White, with much of the diversity that does exist being attributable to
those who are foreign born (Nager et al., 2016). Researchers examining
the gaps in patenting frequently associate it with the lack of diversity
within particular STEM disciplines, namely engineering (Cook, 2019) and
technology (Sanders & Ashcraft, 2019), which are among the fields most
prone to patent generation. Cook (2019) found that, in the engineering
fields, women represented 22.8% of doctoral degrees awarded in 2014,
and the share of doctoral degrees in engineering awarded to African
Americans was 1.7%. Sanders and Ashcraft (2019) found “only 19 percent
of all software developers” were female (p. 323) and 88% of the teams who patented were all-male, compared
to 2% that were all-female invention teams.
There have been numerous initiatives to train and cultivate innovators. Women and African Americans, however,
continue to participate at each stage of the innovation process—from education to patent activity, and then to
One of the most
visible gaps is the
underrepresentation
of women and
minorities in patenting
and STEM disciplines
prolific patent holders
and leading technology
innovators are 90% male
and nearly 95% Asian or
White, with much of the
diversity that does exist
being attributable to those
who are foreign born
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper
12
1. Equity and Access in Invention Education
start-ups—at lower rates than their (respectively) male and white counterparts (Cook, 2019). The lack of diversi-
ty in innovation pathways limits the scope of problems being investigated and solutions being generated to
address the challenges faced by these underrepresented groups. Negative repercussions for society have been
linked to the persistent demographic gaps. Koning, Samila, and Ferguson
(2019), for example, analyzed historical patent data in biomedical fields
and found teams with women inventors were more likely to target issues
that predominantly aect women, and this eect is larger when a woman
is the lead inventor on a patent. This evidence suggests that addressing
the gaps in patenting among women is a strategy that can lead to
inventions that benefit a broader sector of society. Conceptually, this
argument highlighting the importance of gender diversity might also be
applied to the underrepresentation of particular demographic groups in
the patenting process. Analysis of who is and is not represented among
patent holders is challenging, however, since the United States Patent
and Trademark Oce (USPTO) does not collect demographic data from
patent applicants.
Two other gaps reflected in the literature are the divide across income lines (Bell et al., 2018; Fechner & Shapanka,
2018) and the eect of geographical concentrations of invention in particular areas and cities (Aghion, Akcigit,
Hyytinen, & Toivanen, 2017; Agrawal, Cockburn, & Rosell, 2010; Bell et al., 2018; Ejermo & Hansen, 2015;
Feldman, 2019).
Research indicates an uneven access to innovation negatively impacts not only the development of local
communities, but also U.S. social and economic well-being and competitiveness. Therefore, many propose IvE
as a way to bridge the innovation access gaps and to create opportunities for students from underrepresented
backgrounds to enter, persist, and thrive in STEM and innovation education pathways and careers.
Addressing Inequities Through Invention Education in Communities and Schools
Exposure to innovation, invention, engineering, and STEM in school can benefit students of all ages, from
kindergarten and preschool (Aguirre-Munoz & Pantoya, 2016) to elementary (Cunningham, 2018; Kim & Park,
2012) to middle (Calabrese Barton & Tan, 2019; Tan, Calabrese Barton, & Benavides, 2019; Zhang, Estabrooks, &
Perry, 2019) and high school levels (Couch, Estabrooks, & Skukauskaite, 2018; Couch, Skukauskaite, & Estabrooks,
2019; Estabrooks & Couch, 2018; Flynn, 2016b; Kort, 2016; Maaia, 2019; Moore, Newton, & Baskett, 2017) and
beyond. The importance of early exposure to science and innovation as a predictor for patenting activity was
made visible in the often-cited “Lost Einsteins” report on the life cycles of inventors (Bell et al., 2018). Bell and
colleagues, at the Opportunity Insights group at Harvard University (Bell et al., 2018), linked U.S. inventor
demographic information on patents to tax records and New York city school district records for 1989–2009.
Their analysis across the three data sources showed that children’s opportunities to become inventors were
IvE as a way to bridge
the innovation access gaps
and to create opportunities
for students from
underrepresented
backgrounds to enter,
persist, and thrive in
STEM and innovation
education pathways
and careers.
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper 13
1. Equity and Access in Invention Education
influenced by their race, gender, socioeconomics, and the environment in which they grew up. The authors
argued that exposure to innovation during childhood is “a critical factor that determines who becomes an
inventor and the types of innovations they pursue” (p. 33). Their findings align with other studies documenting
intergenerational links between the patenting activity of parents and children in the United States (Bell et al.,
2018; Link & Ruhm, 2013; Sarada, Andrews, & Ziebarth, 2017). The research suggests the best approach to creating
equitable access and generating interest in inventing and STEM pathways for diverse learners is student
engagement in IvE learning that begins at an early age and continues across their years of schooling.
Empowering Youth Through Community-Driven Engagement
Inequities in access to IvE learning opportunities have been made visible by research studies that disaggregated
data about participation in STEM careers and patent authorship according to income, race, gender, and geo-
graphic location (Hunt et al., 2013; Nager et al., 2016). Researchers have argued that one way to increase youth
participation in STEM is to create more opportunities within the communities where diverse youth live. Cal-
abrese Barton & Tan (2018a) conducted a four-year longitudinal study of youth makers in two dierent urban,
community-based STEM-rich makerspaces, demonstrating the impact of community-embedded maker activities
for diverse youth. Using ethnography, they documented the culture of these two makerspaces and how the
spaces supported (and didn’t) the development of 41 youth maker projects/inventions. The study illustrated the
ways that making with and in the community opened up opportunities for youth to employ their communities’
rich cultural knowledge and wisdom as part of their making activities, while also questioning and negotiating the
historicized injustices they experienced. For the youth makers in this study, “interest” in invention/STEM-rich
making was a complex phenomenon that involved not just curiosity or a desire to learn more, but a commitment
to addressing needs in one’s community. This is important because this stance-taking approach positions youth
with the power and agency needed to take action with both STEM and cultural knowledge and practice(s), and
distributes among all the actors the intergenerational teaching, learning, and expertise present in STEM-rich making.
Community engagement eorts in IvE can be fostered through schools in ways that increase opportunities for
all students. A study by Dunkhase & Flynn (2013) identified K–12 administrators who took advantage of avenues
to engage students in authentic STEM problem-based learning, inven-
tion, and entrepreneurial ventures in partnership with community stake-
holders. Administrators described community members as individuals
who brought unique cultural understandings, knowledge of current
problems facing the community, and expertise in how to create solu-
tions. Administrators identified increased pressure from industry, par-
ents, and an emerging STEM education movement to prepare students
to be workforce ready. Community members were identified as a re-
source to facilitate workforce-development skills and mindsets, many of
which align with those of inventors, such as grit, communication, adaptability, collaboration, critical thinking, and
creativity. The skills and mindsets were made visible to students as students collaborated with the community
Community engagement
eorts in IvE can be
fostered through
schools in ways that
increase opportunities
for all students.
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper
14
1. Equity and Access in Invention Education
members on advancing solutions to community problems. The connection between invention and work-
force-readiness skills and mindsets may serve as an argument for IvE integration into the K–12 curriculum.
Community spaces have a potential to provide opportunities for intergenerational engagement and learning
through multiple exposures to varied projects and ongoing discussions with mentors across time and events.
Multiple instances of exposure to inventing opportunities and people who support invention have been shown
to be significant in helping youth to develop interests in STEM and to begin envisioning themselves as inventors,
innovators, engineers, and leaders, among other developing identities (Calabrese Barton & Tan, 2018b; Couch,
Skukauskaite, & Estabrooks, 2019; Couch, Skukauskaite, & Estabrooks, in press; Nazar, Calabrese Barton, Morris,
& Tan, 2019; Small, 2018).
Leveraging Inequities Through Embedding Invention Education in School
One of the ways to make IvE opportunities accessible to a broad range of diverse students is to embed IvE in
the regular school day so the learning opportunities are available to all students, as opposed to only those who
have access to and choose to participate in community-driven activities
after school. This approach is informed by Bell et al.’s (2018) study of the
over-time eects of the lack of exposure to innovation. The researchers
found that limited exposure to innovation was a key factor contributing
to “lost Einsteins” (i.e., girls and low-income and minority children who
are underrepresented in STEM and who might have the potential to
become inventors if provided the opportunities). Researchers and
practitioners have argued that IvE, when integrated into school curricula
and fostered in the regular school environment, has the potential to
increase diverse students’ opportunities for exposure and engagement in
invention, engineering, and integrated STEM processes and practices (Committee for the Study of Invention,
2004; Couch et al., 2018; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, & Medicine, 2019, Perusek &
Shlesinger, 1987).
Studies of Lemelson-MIT’s InvenTeams high school program, for example, have demonstrated how the capacity
for invention and participation in STEM careers can be equalized for diverse students when all students are
provided the resources and support needed to engage in multidisciplinary, team-focused invention projects
conducted over time (Couch et al., 2018; Couch et al., 2019; Estabrooks & Couch, 2018). Case studies of three
young women who participated in a team-based IvE program in 2017 indicated that one of the young women
who had identified as having very few STEM experiences prior to participation in InvenTeams was interested in
pursuing a STEM college/career path at the end of her year in the IvE program (Couch et al., 2018). Through
follow-up contact, the researchers learned that she went on to enroll in an introductory computer science
course in her freshman year of college. Continuing eorts to document the impact of the InvenTeams program
have demonstrated that IvE helps young women develop their capacity to learn from failure (59.3% strongly
to make IvE opportunities
accessible to a broad
range of diverse students
is to embed IvE in the
regular school day so the
learning opportunities are
available to all students
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper 15
1. Equity and Access in Invention Education
agree) and to persist (55.6% strongly agree). The experience also helps young women develop confidence in
their ability to solve problems (49.1% strongly agree; Couch et al., 2018).
Comparing the data of young women with the young men participating on the InvenTeams in the same year,
Lemelson-MIT researchers discovered that young men were less likely to cite learning from failure, persistence,
and self-confidence in their ability to solve problems as a benefit derived from participation on an InvenTeam,
with 34.7% strongly agreeing that they developed their capacity to learn from failure, 31.9% strongly agreeing
that they developed their capacity to persist, and 29.6% strongly agreeing that they developed confidence
in their ability to solve problems (Couch et al., 2018). The gender-based dierences in self-reported benefits
from program participation may be attributable to young men’s experiences with developing these capabilities
through ongoing STEM-focused experiences across time in prior years. Case studies of three young women and
three young men who participated on InvenTeams in 2017 revealed that the young men were found to have had
consistent experiences with STEM in school, outside school, and at home starting at an early age and continuing
through their high school years. The young women, in contrast, had few prior experiences with STEM (Couch et
al., 2019). The studies of IvE within schools, therefore, make visible the potential of school-based programs to
provide women and underrepresented youth with access to STEM experiences and potential STEM college and
career pathways.
Exploring the impacts of an IvE STEM Innovator program, researchers at The University of Iowa conducted a
three-year longitudinal case study with over 700 high school students and their teachers from four U.S. states
(MN, IA, NJ, MS) to identify how the integration of IvE embedded into classes during the traditional school day
impacted high school students’ invention and entrepreneurial skills, mindsets, and knowledge (Flynn, 2018b). The
required classes (85% of models) exposed all students, regardless of gender (47% female), race (28% minority),
or socio-economic status (43% free and reduced meals) to an authentic invention and entrepreneurial experience.
Students collaborated in teams to advance solutions by working with community partners. Results indicate
females and minorities significantly increased (p<0.001) their IvE skills and mindsets at growth rates equal to
their male and white non-Hispanic peers. The model stemmed from educators’ engagement in 60–100 hours
of professional development with multidisciplinary teams, and was presented to industry, students, parents, and
administrators. Feedback was used to create a unique, multidisciplinary teaching approach for K–12 that included
community engagement. Educational programs, tailored to local contexts and designed to be embedded within
school curricula, increase the likelihood that all students will have the opportunity to gain access to IvE and
community mentorship across multiple years of school and within and across academic subject areas.
Persistent inequities in representation in STEM careers and among patent holders suggest the need to integrate
IvE and STEM-related learning opportunities into the regular school day,
where they can reach all K–12 students beginning at a young age (Bell et
al., 2018; Hira, Joslyn, & Hynes, 2014). Given the social inequalities in
American society (Bell et al., 2018; Hunt et al., 2013), schools have the
potential to become places where invention can be taught to all and
schools have the
potential to become
places where invention
can be taught to all
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper
16
1. Equity and Access in Invention Education
where young people can gain hands-on experiences with the processes, practices, and potentials of inventing
(Couch et al., 2018; Magee, Sheppard, & Cutcher-Gershenfeld, 2004). More research is needed, though, to
understand the components of the learning methodologies and environments that are key to fostering
inventiveness in order to integrate IvE in school curricula.
INTEGRATING AND
MAKING EXPLICIT THE
CONNECTIONS TO
OTHER DISCIPLINES
2
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper 19
2 INTEGRATING AND MAKING EXPLICIT THE
CONNECTIONS TO OTHER DISCIPLINES
Invention Education has been described as being transdisciplinary. Students and teachers working on invention
projects and inventors-at-large engage with knowledge and skills from dierent disciplines and fields of study as
part of their eort to develop an invention. Students and teachers may not possess the specific prior knowledge
or skills in areas that are needed for the particular problem or potential solution being developed, and therefore
may need to engage with others in the larger community to access knowledge and skills that are missing within
the immediate group (Calabrese Barton & Tan, 2018b; Couch et al., 2019).
Disciplines that are integrated or explicitly linked through IvE dier according to the problem being addressed,
and/or according to the aims of the course or program being oered. A sequence of courses found in the Col-
lege of Design at the University of Oregon, for example, teaches students ways of thinking and working as an
inventor through studies that include a focus on human physiology, journalism, business, engineering, and design
(Sokolowski, 2019). A senior design capstone course at the University of California, Irvine includes a focus on
biomedical engineering, medicine, and entrepreneurship (King, Hoo, Tang, & Khine, 2019). Students in a high
school maker education course engaged with computer science, engineering, and art (music) as they developed
ways of thinking and working as an inventor (Maaia, 2019). High school students with an interest in entrepre-
neurship, graphic design, computer coding, and engineering work on teams to develop solutions for clients and
the community (Kort, 2016). Particular types of art, crafts, and design activities have also been shown to be
highly correlated to those who have received patents for their inventions (Root-Bernstein et al., 2019), which
supports the hypothesis that knowledge from these fields and disciplines is activated during the development of
an invention.
The act of drawing on multiple disciplines to find and define problems and to design solutions has been referred
to as “boundary crossing,” which is an expertise inventors need to synthesize and employ information beyond
a single field or discipline in order to imagine something in a new way (Committee for the Study of Invention,
2004; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, & Medicine, 2019). The notion that inventors must engage
with ideas and practices from many disciplines is far from new. Root-Bernstein and colleagues (Root-Bern-
stein et al., 2019) argued in a 2019 article in the National Academy of Inventors’ Technology & Innovation journal
that “building what might be called ‘integrated networks of enterprise,’ connecting skills and knowledge from
across dierent disciplines, is a valuable way to enhance creative potential, a conclusion that is consistent with
a long and varied set of studies beginning with John Dewey in 1934” (p. 210). Root-Bernstein et al. cited Charles
Steinmetz, “the innovator behind many of General Electric’s early successes and one of the elite members of
the Inventors Hall of Fame” (p. 210), who already in the 1940s taught his students that knowledge of math and
engineering needed to be integrated with studies in the liberal arts to be able to design inventions that address
human needs and contribute to society in positive ways.
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper
20
2. Integrating and Making Explicit the Connections to Other Disciplines
Examinations of the words and practices of early inventors such as Steinmetz, Da Vinci (Pollman, 2017), Wiener
(1954), Tesla (Carlson, 2019), and others emphasize the importance of working across disciplines and drawing on
varied human and physical resources to develop innovative ideas and solutions (Dyer, Gregersen, & Christensen,
2011; Koning et al., 2019; Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999). The need to integrate varied disciplinary and
experiential knowledge has gained more ground and visibility in education over the past 20 years, resulting in
reports that speak to the limits of preparation in a single discipline and the need for knowledge from multiple
disciplines to converge as innovative solutions to problems are developed and assessed (National Research
Council, 2014; Roco, Bainbridge, Tonn, & Whitesides, 2013) and change in educational programs and policies
(Committee for the Study of Invention, 2004; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, & Medicine, 2019;
National Academy of Engineering & National Research Council, 2014).
Prolific inventors, STEM professors, and leaders in creativity research produced a report in 2004 recom-
mending transformations in K–12 schooling to enhance inventiveness for quality of life, competitiveness, and
sustainability (Committee for the Study of Invention, 2004). The recommendations would resolve a number of
challenges that they identified, including the “rigid separation between disciplines” and “inadequate balance
between building a body of knowledge and the creative use of knowledge (e.g., insucient use of open-ended
problems)” (p. 56). Many K–12 schools in the United States continue to exhibit instructionist notions of learning
characterized as “straightforward internalization or acquisition of information that is delivered by the instructor”
(Sawyer, 2015, p. 20). National education standards and state frameworks setting forth what students should
know and be able to do in science, engineering, and other subjects have continued to be discipline specific. The
Next Generation Science Standards (National Research Council, 2013) and the Science and Engineering for
Grades 6–12 report (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, & Medicine, 2019) have opened doors for
more integrated teaching and learning of science in recent years (National Research Council, 2014), including
integrating invention into the high school science classroom through the engineering design practices (Perry &
Estabrooks, 2019). Few examples exist, however, of interdisciplinary curricula in which innovative techniques and
ways of thinking have been brought together across dierent disciplines (Wineburg & Grossman, 2012). Instruc-
tion in schools rarely resembles the types of creative and inventive open-ended problem solving students must
tackle to solve more complex challenges in the world, thus leaving learners without the supports needed to
learn how to integrate information across disciplines and apply knowledge to real-world problem solving (Weis
et al., 2015; Wineburg & Grossman, 2012).
Published research on the programs and outcomes of exposure to innovation and invention are more prevalent
at the university level (Chang, Sharkness, Hurtado, & Newman, 2014; King et al., 2019; Sokolowski, 2019). Many
studies at the higher education level emphasize the importance of interdisciplinary learning and preparation
of diverse students for careers in STEM, entrepreneurship, and invention fields. Studies of invention eorts in
higher education frequently mention collaboration, partnerships, and interdisciplinary connections that involve
community partners. Some courses and programs described in the research literature are designed intentionally
to address the needs of specific industries so that students develop the diverse expertise needed for those in-
dustries (Balos, Napoli, & Green, 2019; King et al., 2019; Sokolowski, 2019). The engagement allows the students
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper 21
2. Integrating and Making Explicit the Connections to Other Disciplines
to leverage the knowledge, resources, support, and development of skills and dispositions needed for inventing
(Balos et al., 2019; Couch et al., 2019; King et al., 2019). University technology transfer oces and/or intellectual
property lawyers, in some instances, collaborate with inventors to help them understand and navigate the
patenting or intellectual property protection processes (King et al., 2019; Mercier, Ranjit, & Reardon, 2018).
Invention education programs in Grades K–12 are often the result of partnerships between schools and higher
education institutions or between multiple kinds of higher education institutions (Balos et al., 2019; Couch et
al., 2019; Flynn, 2016a; Kim, Cho, Couch, & Barnett, 2019; Moore, Newton, & Alemdar, 2019; Newton, Alem-
dar, Moore, & Cappelli, 2018; Zhang et al., 2019). K–12 IvE initiatives may also be integrated with resources and
spaces in the community, such as makerspaces (Calabrese Barton & Tan, 2018b; Maaia, 2019), industry (Balos
et al., 2019; Sokolowski, 2019), clinical settings (King et al., 2019), and libraries (Small, 2018). One vision for
IvE programs, seen from the perspective of higher education faculty members, was expressed in the words of
Magee, Sheppard, and Cutcher-Gershenfeld (2004) in a paper contained within the Committee on the Study
of Invention report. Magee et al. envisioned education in which technological inventiveness is widely valued, is
integrated into curricula, and is developed through the balancing of individual and group activity, learning within
academic disciplines, and engagement of creativity. The vision also included “appropriate attention to initiative,
expression, and pace” (p. 57), incentives and infrastructures of support for educators, and “no barriers to entry
in the profession” (p. 58) for people of diverse backgrounds. Magee et al. argued that the educational system
was far from where it needed to be to foster technological creativity and inventiveness, but schools, universities,
policy makers, funders, and other stakeholders can take action to create opportunities. After all, as the third
finding of the report stated, “The best way to learn to invent is to invent” (Committee for the Study of Invention,
2004, p. 28).
Another vision for K–12 IvE programs, presented at a 2019 symposium hosted by the National Association of
Research on Science Teaching, was put forth by higher education faculty and graduate students (Barnett et al.,
2019). The presentation shared research findings generated by an invention-oriented program oered to middle
school students as part of their science class. The curriculum for an existing IvE program was modified in ways
that addressed the needs of English language learners and incorporated experiential activities to connect the
students’ learning to their home cultures. The researchers presented evidence that the modified invention-
oriented project-based learning motivated English language learners to comprehend science concepts better,
helped them retain content knowledge in science, inspired excitement about their own inventions, and improved
science knowledge and science literacy while also valuing their cultural backgrounds. The researchers also noted
that classroom teachers realized they needed to shift to a facilitator role and highlight the relations between
invention and the underlying science concepts when teaching with the invention-oriented project-based
learning curriculum.
The potential benefits of integrating instruction in ways that address multiple disciplines simultaneously through
open-ended problem solving, which can happen through IvE, have been acknowledged in the Science and En-
gineering for Grades 6–12 report (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, & Medicine, 2019). Instruction
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper
22
2. Integrating and Making Explicit the Connections to Other Disciplines
in schools, however, rarely resembles the types of creative and inventive open-ended problem-solving students
must tackle to solve more complex challenges in the world. This leaves learners without the supports needed to
learn how to integrate information across disciplines and apply knowledge to real-world problem solving (Weis
et al., 2015; Wineburg & Grossman, 2012).
There is a lack of evidence explicitly connecting the practices of IvE to existing teaching and learning frameworks
(e.g., NGSS, ISTE, or ITEEA) or educational movements (e.g., Maker Education, Computer Science for All, or
Project-Based Learning). Furthermore, there is no evidence (causal or descriptive) of the impact IvE has on
traditional measures of student achievement in STEM (or other) disciplines that rely on standardized testing.
This evidence, coupled with further documentation of the emerging evidence of IvE’s impact on non-cognitive
constructs—such as self-ecacy and identity formation—which can predict persistence along innovation
pathways over a lifetime, is necessary to make a case as to why IvE should be taken up as part of the regular
school day curriculum.
INVENTION
EDUCATION
THROUGHOUT
A LIFE SPAN
3
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper 25
3 INVENTION EDUCATION THROUGHOUT A LIFE SPAN
Research shows today’s leading innovators are an average of 47 years of age with roughly equal proportions
below the age of 40 and above the age of 50. Typically leading innovators were in their early 30s at the time of
their first patent filing (Nager et al., 2016). Little research exists to understand the developmental milestones
between birth and attainment of an inventor’s first patent. Researchers
studying IvE, however, agree on the need for early and continuous
exposure as well as for specific support and programming that can bridge
gender, racial, socioeconomic, and geographic divides in invention
pathways. Awareness of inequities in STEM, innovation, and invention
pathways is the first step to developing opportunities and programs for
women and other groups underrepresented in STEM and invention
(Demiralp, Morrison, & Zayed, 2018; Mercier et al., 2018; Shaw &
Hess, 2018).
Early Exposure and Explicit Connections With Community Funds of Knowledge
Several studies support our hypothesis that those who become inventors have been exposed to innovation and
have had opportunities to engage in IvE from an early age. In a study that examined 253 successful STEMM
(STEM+Medicine) professionals’ early experiences, Root-Bernstein and colleagues (Root-Bernstein et al., 2019)
found that art, craft, and design (ACD) activities in early childhood and adolescence were instrumental in
helping these professionals develop knowledge, skills, and dispositions that impacted their inventiveness in later
life. These early activities included private lessons, self-learning, mentoring, and school classes. The authors
argued that “the impact of ACD on STEMM practices begins in childhood and involves persistent practice
through adolescence/young adulthood into maturity” (p. 211). They also made visible that supporting such ACD
practices “depends on a diversified, distributed network of cultural activity and access involving intellectual and
economic support for formal and informal types of education; workshops, ateliers, and studios for ACD practice;
businesses that supply equipment and materials; arts and crafts museums and galleries for the display and
dissemination of products; and communities that value and support ACD” (p. 211).
The role of community support for inventiveness is similarly emphasized in the work of Calabrese Barton and
Tan (2018b) who argue that partnering with community clubs helps to situate making/invention “on youths’ and
community’s turf” from the start (p. 159). Opportunities to engage in making/invention situated at the commu-
nity club, where youth already spend significant time and where most have a personal history and connection
with the place (understanding its norms and practices, being positioned as cherished youth members of the
club), opens up opportunities for youth to construct identities as inventors and makers in ways that center or
amplify their cultural knowledge and wisdom, as well as the relationships that they value in their lives. This can
make engaging in STEM-rich inventions/making less threatening or distancing from their everyday lives. For
Awareness of inequities in
STEM, innovation, and
invention pathways is the
first step to developing
opportunities and programs
for women and other
groups underrepresented
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper
26
3. Invention Education Throughout a Life Span
example, Calabrese Barton and Tan (2018a) show how a regular practice at one community-based makerspace,
in which youth move their inventions from their makerspace into common areas at the center, created sustained
opportunities for younger peers to learn from the youth inventors. In this example, youth moved their geodesic
dome and other play items they created to more broadly shared recreational spaces, reconfiguring their com-
munity makerspaces for more engaging interactions with the inventions in place-based ways. Youth inventor/
makers were acknowledged as Community STEM experts who knew and cared about their community, and who
could utilize STEM toward solving their problems.
Wilson-Lopez and colleagues (Wilson-Lopez, Mejia, Hasbun, & Kasun, 2016) similarly argued that communi-
ty, home, and everyday practices can be utilized and connected to the skills and dispositions guiding IvE and
STEMM pathways. They reiterated the issue of observed gaps in patenting and underrepresentation of women,
African American, and Latinx people. Wilson et al. argued that the underrepresentation, however, does not mean
that young people in underrepresented communities are not already inventing or inventive. Wilson-Lopez et al.
(2016) used the funds of knowledge framework (Gonzalez, Moll, & Amanti, 2005) to make visible that Latinx
students’ everyday practices and knowledge map on to what is known about the skills and dispositions of
inventors and engineers.
Basu and Calabrese Barton (2007) also investigated the connections between the funds of knowledge that
urban, high-poverty students brought to science learning and the development of a sustained interest in science
when participating in an after-school program focused on scientific inventions. This study showed that youth
developed a sustained interest in science and invention design when: (1) their science experiences connected
with how they envisioned their own futures; (2) learning environments supported the kinds of social relationships
students valued; and (3) science activities supported students’ sense of agency for enacting their views on the
purpose of science. Like Wilson-Lopez et al. (2016), Basu and Calabrese Barton (2007) and other researchers
studying early and sustaining exposure to invention in home and community spaces have argued for a need
to make more explicit connections with community funds of knowledge as sources and supports for
youths’ inventiveness.
Sustaining Support in Educational Settings
Invention education researchers agree that inventiveness refers to knowledge, traits, and dispositions that are
developed, as opposed to capabilities that people are born with (Bell et al., 2018; Committee for the Study of
Invention, 2004; Couch, Skukauskaite, & Estabrooks, 2019; Link & Ruhm, 2013; Novy-Hildesley, 2010). Research
demonstrates that exposure to innovation and development of inven-
tiveness can begin and develop at any age (Couch, Skukauskaite, and
Green, 2019), and that sustained exposure over time makes the most
lasting impact (Calabrese Barton & Tan, 2018b; Couch, Skukauskaite, &
Estabrooks, 2019; Flynn, 2018; Root-Bernstein et al., 2019). Early exposure
to innovation in childhood, sustaining support, and intergenerational
inventiveness refers to
knowledge, traits, and
dispositions that are
developed
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper 27
3. Invention Education Throughout a Life Span
linkages have a strong association with the chances of growing up to be an inventor (Bell et al., 2018; Link &
Ruhm, 2013; Sarada et al., 2017).
Exposure to innovation at an early age and sustaining support for inventiveness can happen through opportuni-
ties for learning in both formal and informal education and community settings, including libraries (Small, 2018),
museums (Shaby, Ben-Zvi Assaraf, & Tal, 2019), makerspaces (Calabrese Barton & Tan, 2018a), camps (Jackson
& Asante, 2018), and varied spaces for arts, crafts, and design activities (Root-Bernstein et al., 2019). Ways of
thinking and working as an inventor develop through interactions with others in various settings, including home
(Wilson-Lopez et al., 2016), school and/or public libraries (Small, 2018), community and/or maker spaces (Bell et
al., 2018; Calabrese Barton & Tan, 2018a; Couch, Estabrooks, & Skukauskaite, 2018; Maaia, 2019), and museums
and summer programs (Jackson & Asante, 2018; Plucker & Gorman, 1999). For example, Jackson and Asante
(2018) employed a design-based approach to examine middle schoolers’ access, participation, and collabora-
tion in a vacation camp for creating shoe soles based on a curriculum from the Lemelson-MIT JV InvenTeams
program. Analyzing data generated from campers’ interview responses and participant-observers’ field notes,
researchers identified a need for the camp’s scope-and-sequence to move more quickly to hands-on, prob-
lem-specific activities to foster student engagement. Jackson (2018) and Jackson and Semerjian (2019), in
related presentations, found that the middle-school-aged youth participating in invention projects experienced
shifts in self-ecacy ratings throughout the camp period. Students cycled through a wide range of emotions
throughout the multi-day camp, including initial confidence and optimism to frustration and anxiety, and then
success and pride at the culmination of the activities. Jackson and colleagues found no statistically significant
dierence between the self-ecacy ratings of students who self-identified as female and those who self-identified
as male, demonstrating that exposure to invention in the camp setting can be equally beneficial to all students.
Exposure to invention in school settings can benefit youths just as informal settings such as camps, makerspaces,
and libraries do. Researchers have demonstrated that in-school and after-school educational opportunities in
middle school (Calabrese Barton & Tan, 2019; Tan, Calabrese Barton, & Benavides, 2019; Zhang et al., 2019) and
high school (Couch, Estabrooks, & Skukauskaite, 2018; Couch, Skukaus-
kaite, & Estabrooks, 2019; Maaia, 2019) help students participate in IvE in
more systematic and sustaining ways. Middle school IvE research, for
example, has demonstrated the opportunities and challenges teachers
face in introducing IvE (Zhang et al., 2019) and in adapting the curricula
to meet the needs of linguistically and culturally diverse learners (Kim et
al., 2019). Calabrese Barton and Tan’s (2019) study of youth inventions in
middle grades engineering showed that opportunities to engage with
invention in consequential ways through engineering design are shaped by the historicized injustices students
encounter in relation to participation in STEM and schooling. Findings described students’ practices as they
engaged in engineering design toward inventions intended to be a part of the classroom community that
supported them in the robust STEM-rich design work, while also engaging their lived lives and community
wisdom. The authors discuss how these practices support moments of rightful presence in STEM classrooms by
Exposure to invention
in school settings can
benefit youths just as
informal settings such
as camps, makerspaces,
and libraries do
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper
28
3. Invention Education Throughout a Life Span
inscribing youths’ marginalizing school experiences as a part of classroom science discourse and co-opting
engineering design as a tool to expose, critique, and transform these unjust experiences.
Despite all the benefits, IvE remains relatively scarce in school settings, particularly middle school classrooms.
Zhang, Estabrooks, and Perry (2019) analyzed middle school science teachers’ experiences of teaching with a
widely used IvE curriculum and found that those teachers valued the benefits of IvE, yet struggled with incorpo-
rating it in their curriculum. Factors such as limited instruction time; lack of confidence, support, and experience
in facilitating invention projects; and a dearth of invention curriculum that aligns with district standards significantly
hindered the classroom enactment of IvE at the middle school level.
Invention educators emphasize the potential benefits and contributions to improving the lives of others that can
be realized as students invent solutions to real problems found within the community (Couch, Skukauskaite, &
Estabrooks, 2019; The Lemelson Foundation & Coy, in press). Many middle
school program oerings teach students through both semi-structured
and open-ended problem-solving activities. Programs at the high school
level may engage students in actively seeking problems within their
communities, conducting research and working with beneficiaries to
understand a problem, and engaging in iterative design and testing
processes that help them develop solutions that they then present to the
beneficiaries and the public (e.g., Lemelson-MIT’s InvenTeams program;
Georgia Tech’s InVenture Prize program; University of Iowa’s STEM
Innovator program). Through such open-ended problem-based learning, students develop technical and
social skills that boost their confidence and open doors to pathways and college aspirations they may not have
considered previously. The impact of IvE is particularly significant to women and students who have not had
previous sustaining opportunities to engage in STEM and collaborative problem solving (Couch et al., in press).
Schools can be key places where opportunities to engage in inventing processes and practices are introduced
and made available to diverse students across grade levels. The dispositions and skills of inventiveness developed
in home, community, and formal educational settings can then be carried forward, introduced, or further
developed in universities (Balos et al., 2019; King et al., 2019; Moore et al., 2019). Unfortunately, few students
have continuous pathways to inventing from early years through the university and beyond, but lasting eects
of exposure to IvE and innovation can begin at any age and in any space, and can shape diverse youths’ pathways
into the future (Committee for the Study of Invention, 2004; Couch, Skukauskaite, & Green, 2019; Moore,
Newton, Alemdar, & Holcomb, 2017; Root-Bernstein et al., 2019). Research has demonstrated that early exposure
to STEM fields shapes the decisions and pathways of diverse students in higher education and beyond.
Researchers have also argued that it is never too late to introduce students to opportunities to invent, and
that providing opportunities to engage in invention and STEM at the university level can encourage historically
underrepresented students to take up STEM and engineering pathways even if they have not had early exposure
(Chang et al., 2014; Ong et al., 2018).
open-ended prob-
lem-based learning, stu-
dents develop technical
and social skills that boost
their confidence and open
doors to pathways and
college aspirations
FACILITATING
AND TEACHING
INVENTION
EDUCATION
4
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper 31
4 FACILITATING AND TEACHING INVENTION EDUCATION
Few studies are available to guide educators’ eorts to help young people learn to invent, including but not
limited to those from diverse backgrounds. Educators must navigate issues that have complex sociocultural and
historical dimensions (Cook, 2019), which shape the ideas of those surrounding them regarding who can invent,
with whom, under what conditions, and for what purposes. Although challenging, many educators are providing
opportunities for young people to learn to work as inventors during their early years.
Researchers have begun, over the past few years, investigating what knowledge, support, and experiences
teachers need to facilitate student engagement in invention. They identified that teachers need knowledge and
experience in guiding students in open-ended, problem-based inquiry
(Estabrooks & Couch, 2018; Maaia, 2019; Small, 2018), scaolding
instruction (Zhang et al., 2019), and integrating student backgrounds and
home funds of knowledge (Kim et al., 2019; Wilson-Lopez et al., 2016) to
make such inquiry possible for diverse students. Since IvE integrates
knowledge and skills from varied disciplines, teachers also need to know
how to utilize knowledge, people, and resources across disciplines and
industries (King et al., 2019; Sokolowski, 2019) and how to integrate
STEM and STEAM subjects (Balos et al., 2019; Maaia, 2019; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, &
Medicine, 2019). Assessing integrated instruction and open-ended inquiry that involves students participating in
dierent ways and at dierent paces also calls for teacher experiences and knowledge of varied forms of
formative and summative assessments and feedback (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, & Medicine,
2019; Zhang et al., 2019).
Researchers also demonstrated the importance of teaching research and inquiry skills to support students in
the problem-finding and research phases of invention processes. Conducting studies of student engagement
in invention within library settings, Small (2014) argued that invention is a highly information-based activity,
requiring a range of inquiry skills and information resources that support youth invention activities. These capa-
bilities and the navigation and evaluation of the varied information resources are critical to 21st-century skills
learning, often taught by school librarians. In a study by Small (2014) that surveyed and interviewed 84 young
inventors (Grades 4–8), researchers queried students about inquiry skills that the students perceived as being
most important to their success as an inventor. The three most frequently chosen responses were “choosing the
best idea” (90%), “asking good questions” (88%), and “finding needed information” (87%). Student reliance on
websites (cited by 75% of respondents as valuable for sparking new ideas), checking the originality of their ideas,
and/or exploring ways to make their ideas even better highlight the importance of educator capacity to teach
students information-literacy skills. As Small (2014, 2018) argued, collaborating with librarians can help educators
leverage their own and their colleagues’ knowledge and skills to support students in the invention processes.
Few studies are available
to guide educators’ eorts
to help young people learn
to invent, including but
not limited to those from
diverse backgrounds.
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper
32
4. Facilitating and Teaching Invention Education
Collaboration with educators and others within and beyond the school is another resource teachers need to
draw on to expand their own knowledge and to support student inventing. When working with students to invent
technological solutions to real-world problems (Couch & Skukauskaite, 2019), teachers often need to have
technical knowledge and skills such as CAD modeling, electronics, or mechanical engineering. This type of
knowledge can be key to engaging students in conceptualizing, design-
ing, building, and testing physical prototypes of solutions to the prob-
lems students had identified in their community (Balos et al., 2019; King
et al., 2019). Knowledge and experience in innovation, entrepreneurship,
invention, and design are also assets that invention educators with
careers prior to teaching often bring to learning environments to
support student inventiveness (Maaia, 2019; Moore et al., 2019; Moore,
Newton, Alemdar, & Holcomb, 2017). Few teacher education programs
prepare teachers for such instruction (National Academies of Sciences,
Engineering, & Medicine, 2015; National Academy of Engineering &
National Research Council, 2014); therefore, the key to teaching IvE is
the teacher’s willingness to learn and fail alongside students, to be
comfortable not knowing all the answers, and to embrace ambiguities and uncertainty of the processes of
invention (Estabrooks & Couch, 2018; Maaia, 2019; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, & Medicine,
2019; Zhang et al., 2019).
Teachers’ Reasons for Engaging in Invention Education
Participating in invention and integrated, interdisciplinary, problem-based teaching of STEM requires teachers
to change and embrace new, more uncertain ways of teaching and learning (Maaia, 2019; National Academies
of Sciences, Engineering, & Medicine, 2015, 2019). The complexity of teaching IvE led researchers to investigate
factors that motivate teachers to do it and factors that present teachers
with challenges as they help students learn to invent. Research on IvE
educators, including their reasons for taking up IvE and their self-ecacy
and learning, is being developed within the IvE research community.
Moore and colleagues (Moore et al., 2019), in surveys of teachers
engaging students in the K–12 InVenture Prize program run by Georgia
Tech University, found that participating teachers had high engineering
and entrepreneurship self-ecacy scores, with the highest scores
attributed to elementary teachers. Lemelson-MIT Program researchers
discovered that 67% of the teachers who had submitted the initial
application for the InvenTeams grant, and were selected to participate in
a professional learning opportunity at MIT in June 2018, were second-career teachers (Couch & Skukauskaite,
2019; Skukauskaite, Couch, & Lemelson-MIT Program sta, 2018). This finding was unexpected and led the sta
Knowledge and experience
in innovation, entrepre-
neurship, invention, and
design are also assets that
invention educators with
careers prior to teaching
often bring to learning
environments to support
student inventiveness
Participating in invention
and integrated,
interdisciplinary, problem-
based teaching of STEM
requires teachers to
change and embrace new,
more uncertain ways of
teaching and learning
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper 33
4. Facilitating and Teaching Invention Education
of the Lemelson-MIT Program to conduct further research exploring what second-career teachers bring to
their willingness and capacity to facilitate IvE in their high schools. Preliminary interview results indicate that
second-career teachers bring real-world experiences and examples, varied support networks, and higher
tolerance for risk-taking, not-knowing, and open-ended learning, among other dispositions and capabilities that
help them facilitate IvE with their students.
Teacher motivations for facilitating IvE focus on their students and student learning (Moore, Newton, Alemdar &
Holcomb, 2017; Skukauskaite et al., 2018; Zhang et al., 2019). Teachers appreciate the integration of knowledge
acquisition and application through invention, reinforced learning of STEM concepts through multiple channels
(hands-on and minds-on activities), enrichment of student understanding through real-world applications, and
the excitement invention brings to classrooms (Zhang et al., 2019). They are motivated to share their knowledge
and experiences (King et al., 2019; Sokolowski, 2019) and to help students develop knowledge, skills, and dis-
positions that can aid in the development of future innovators capable of addressing and solving real societal
(Couch & Skukauskaite, 2019) and/or industry problems (Balos et al., 2019; King et al., 2019). Connecting with
the community, university, and other partners (Calabrese Barton & Tan, 2018b; Moore, Newton, Alemdar, & Hol-
comb, 2017; Skukauskaite et al., 2018) to solve real societal and/or industry problems (Balos et al., 2019; King et
al., 2019) also fosters teachers’ interest in engaging their students in IvE. Teachers are driven by equity and social
justice reasons and want to help diverse students develop capacities for—and envision pathways in—innovation,
entrepreneurship, and STEM fields (Calabrese Barton & Tan, 2018b; King et al., 2019; Moore, Newton, Alemdar
& Holcomb, 2017; Small, 2018; Sokolowski, 2019) that traditionally have been dominated by white male inventors
(Milli et al., 2016; National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, & Institute of Medicine,
2011; Sanders & Ashcraft, 2019). Ultimately, teachers undertake IvE projects with their students because they
enjoy the processes and learning opportunities created in invention learning environments (Couch & Skukaus-
kaite, 2019; Zhang et al., 2019).
Challenges in Facilitating Invention Education
Creating environments for IvE comes with challenges that stem from three primary aspects of the nature of
invention and its historical association with particular privileged groups, locations, and images of inventors as
gifted individuals rather than as teams of regular people “pooling” diverse knowledge and skills. The first aspect,
transdisciplinary nature of IvE, poses the challenges of boundary crossing (to connect diverse knowledge of
science, arts, and social science disciplines) and engaging with groups of practitioners drawn from dierent dis-
ciplines. Second, the open-ended and collaborative inquiry process of invention creates challenges for teachers
who are often trained to know, teach, and transmit knowledge in a singular discipline rather than guide and learn
alongside students working in teams. The third involves the physical and environmental aspects of IvE and the
need for space, physical and human resources, tools, and the technical and applied knowledge needed to develop
technological solutions to real-world problems.
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper
34
4. Facilitating and Teaching Invention Education
Teachers, especially those teaching at the secondary level, are often trained in single disciplines (National
Academy of Engineering & National Research Council, 2014); therefore, the transdisciplinary nature of IvE
creates a challenge for teachers to learn how to bridge disciplinary knowledge and help students connect and
apply their prior learning in dierent fields. Zhang and colleagues (2019), in a case study that examined one
teacher’s experience in implementing a Junior Varsity (JV) InvenTeams curriculum developed for middle school
grades by the Lemelson-MIT Program, noted the challenges the teacher faced with integration in a science
classroom. Among the main challenges were the requirements to teach specific content within specific time
frames and to address content standards while engaging students in activities that foster student creativity,
engagement, and deeper learning.
A related challenge stemmed from the open-ended inquiry processes of IvE. While the teacher in Zhang et al.’s
study talked about his enjoyment of inventing processes and the enthusiasm of his students as a driver for his
continued commitment to foster IvE, he also highlighted the challenge of managing the dynamics of IvE learning
processes. Balancing guiding students and teaching versus allowing for student freedom and open-ended
exploration in inventing was not always comfortable. The teacher also talked about the challenge of understanding
and addressing the ways students’ prior experiences with more traditional curricula—in which students were in a
more passive receiver role—impacted students’ approaches to and engagement in more active IvE processes
and practices (Zhang et al., 2019). Addressing the varied needs of diverse students and modifying curricula and
teaching processes based on students’ dierent learning needs, preferences, and processes; reading, writing,
technical, and/or language abilities; pacing; and cultural backgrounds are additional challenges teachers face
(Kim et al., 2019; Zhang et al., 2019).
Despite the challenges, the teacher in Zhang et al.’s study, as well as other invention educators and researchers
(Estabrooks & Couch, 2018; Maaia, 2019; Magee et al., 2004; Moore et al., 2019), emphasize the importance of
creating safe learning environments in which failure is seen as an opportunity for learning and where students
own their invention processes and work at dierent paces, in dierent configurations of teams, over time to
solve real-world problems. Teachers often share, in interviews and informal conversations (only some of which
are captured as research data), that taking “a back seat” and letting students lead may be hard at first; however,
seeing the ways students individually and collectively take up the invention learning opportunities and engage in
deeper learning brings its own rewards to the teacher.
The third set of challenges invention educators face relates to the environmental factors, including human
and physical resources, funding, administrative supports, and technical knowledge and tools needed to design,
build, and test a prototype for a solution to a real-world problem (Couch et al., 2018). There is little research
documenting these challenges or ways of addressing them. A number of researchers call for creating partner-
ships among schools, universities, industry partners and communities to leverage the resources and the knowl-
edge needed for IvE (Balos et al., 2019; National Research Council, 2000; Sokolowski, 2019). Others advocate
starting with the people who “have migrated to the edges and can act as bridges back to the core experts of a
given domain” (McManus & MacDonald, 2019, p. 58). Such champions of IvE can help teachers, students, and
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper 35
4. Facilitating and Teaching Invention Education
community resources interconnect to build the sustaining resources and communities for inventing. Other ways
to overcome challenges in fostering IvE include integrating IvE within a school day, creating more STEM schools
that engage girls and underrepresented minorities in STEM learning, and creating policies that support IvE in
financial and other ways (Couch et al., 2018; Couch & Skukauskaite, 2019).
Scholars have argued that “it takes a village” to grow an inventor (Calabrese Barton & Tan, 2018b; Committee
for the Study of Invention, 2004; Couch et al., 2018; King & Pringle, 2018; Lynch et al., 2018; McManus & Mac-
Donald, 2019; Ong et al., 2018; Samuelson & Litzler, 2016; Schmidt, Rosenberg, & Beymer, 2018; Wilson-Lopez,
Sias, Smithee, & Hasbún, 2018). Researchers within the IvE research community have identified the following
kinds of actors who support diverse youth in invention processes and practices.
The “village” of IvE participants includes:
Teachers/educators as guides (Maaia, 2019; Skukauskaite et al., 2018; Small, 2018; Zhang et al., 2019);
Adult and peer mentors and members of the community (Calabrese Barton & Tan, 2018b; Couch et al.,
2018; Small, 2018; Wagner, 2012);
Industry mentors (Balos et al., 2019; King et al., 2019; Sokolowski, 2019);
Technical mentors (Couch et al., 2018; Couch, Skukauskaite, & Estabrooks, 2019; King et al., 2019;
Sokolowski, 2019);
Business, entrepreneurship community (Flynn, 2016a; King et al., 2019; Sokolowski, 2019)
IP lawyers (Demiralp et al., 2018; Sokolowski, 2019);
University faculty or partners (Balos et al., 2019; King et al., 2019); and
Program designers and supporters (see Table 1).
Drawing on the varied human, physical, and environmental resources, these varied actors can create and
support IvE and diverse youths’ engagement in inventiveness. The next two sections of this WP make visible
the eorts that are underway to create programs, assessments, people networks, and research evidence that
can communicate to and impact policy making at state and national levels.
5
PROGRAMS AND
ASSESSMENTS
OF INVENTION
EDUCATION
PROGRAMS
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper 39
5 PROGRAMS AND ASSESSMENTS OF
INVENTION EDUCATION
Invention Education Programs
There is no one IvE model, nor one way of creating opportunities for people from the various ages and stages
of development to grow their inventiveness, creativity, entrepreneurial talents, and success in STEM careers
(Committee for the Study of Invention, 2004; Couch, Skukauskaite, & Green, 2019). Various programs found
across the United States address and foster inventiveness. Programs in which members of the growing Invention
Education Research community participate demonstrate initiatives that span a wide range of age groups and
formal and informal learning contexts. Table 1 provides examples of programs by age or grade level, with brief
descriptions of each program’s focus.
Table 1: Invention Education Programs by Age/Grade Level
Program Location Program Focus Research on the Program
Across age groups and grade spans (including educator training for leading invention or innovation projects)
InVenture prize GA From problem identification to prototyping, K–12
students develop inventions in small groups over
the course of multiple months. Students iterate their
designs based on feedback, and top inventions
compete in a statewide competition at Georgia Tech
Moore et al. (2019)
STEM Innovator National Educator professional development facilitates
creation of tailored community-engagement models
to infuse innovation, invention and entrepreneurship
into classroom practice. Access to curricular resources
and online STEM Innovator assessment portfolio to
measure change in skills, mindsets, and knowledge
over time. Attributes mapped to workforce, college
readiness skills, and national K–12 standards.
Flynn (2016a)
www.steminnovator.org
Libraries as
innovation spaces
National Libraries that create innovative spaces may be learning
commons, makerspaces, collaboration rooms, 3D
printing stations, etc., and are generally designed to
foster creative productivity through technology and
collaboration.
Small (2018)
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper
40
5. Programs and Assessments of Invention Education Programs
Program Location Program Focus Research on the Program
Science fairs
administered
by the Society
for Science and
the Public
Interna-
tional
Society-aliated fairs are competitions for 9th–12th
graders that exist in most U. S. states as well as
abroad. Winning an honor through a fair allows
students to compete internationally.
https://findafair.
societyforscience.org/
Invention
Convention
Worldwide
powered by
The Henry Ford
Interna-
tional
The Henry Ford Invention Convention Worldwide
oers IvE programs for K–12 students globally.
The Invention Convention program is deployed to
more than 120,000 students across the United
States and thousands more across eight countries.
Invention Convention Worldwide is powered by a
coalition of global aliates who elevate STEMIE
(STEM+Invention+Entrepreneurship) education
through competitions, events, and a flexible, proj-
ect-based curriculum aligned to education standards.
The Invention Convention Coalition aliates share a
vision of a world in which all learners have access to
innovation, invention, and entrepreneurial learning
to gain the confidence and skills to control their own
destiny. Invention Convention is part of The Henry
Ford’s suite of Innovation Learning products.
http://inventionconven-
tion.org/about/inven-
tion-convention-world-
wide/
https://www.thehen-
ryford.org/education/
teaching-innovation/
https://www.the
innovationproject.org/
Elementary
Engineering is
Elementary
MA, PA,
National
Engineering is Elementary is a project of the National
Center for Technological Literacy at the Museum of
Science, Boston. Their goal is to address eective
STEM education by serving children and educators
in Grades K–8 via curriculum development and
dissemination, professional development for teachers
and teacher educators, and educational research
and evaluation.
Cunningham (2009,
2018); Engineering is
Elementary (2011)
https://eie.org/
about-us
Middle School
JV InvenTeams–
Lemelson-MIT
National Through the use of hands-on invention-based design
activities, Lemelson-MIT’s JV InvenTeams enriches
the STEM education of students in Grades 6–10.
Zhang et al. (2019
https://lemelson.mit.
edu/jv-inventeams
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper 41
5. Programs and Assessments of Invention Education Programs
Program Location Program Focus Research on the Program
I-Engineering MI, NC Middle school engineering curriculum focused
on engineering for sustainable communities and
productive identity work.
Calabrese Barton & Tan
(2019); Tan, Calabrese
Barton & Benavides
(2019)
http://engineeriam.org/
High School
InvenTeams—
Lemelson-MIT
National The Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams are groups of high
school students, educators, and mentors that invent
technological solutions to real-world problems of
their own choosing. High School students are thusly
given a unique opportunity to experience invention
and cultivate creativity.
Couch, Skukauskaite
& Estabrooks (2019);
Lemelson-MIT Program
(2019); Skukauskaite,
Couch, Green, &
Lemelson-MIT Program
sta (2017)
https://lemelson.mit.
edu/inventeams
Maker
problem-based
learning
National Community-based, collaborative learning
environments that permit learners to explore
and tinker while encouraging their creative growth
have been associated with maker education.
A maker-based STEM culture allows high schools
to evolve activities that incorporate elements of
the STEAM movement.
Calabrese Barton & Tan
(2018a); Maaia (2019)
BizInnovator National Youth entrepreneurship curriculum that enables
high school business and marketing educators to
engage students in the entrepreneurial mindset as
they explore the skills and mindsets necessary to
launch a successful startup company.
Brown, Bowlus, &
Siebert (2011)
https://bizinnovator.
com/
University and beyond
Interdisciplinary,
industry-specific
curricula
CA The convergence of various fields of study with large
areas of industry transforms innovation by giving rise
to interdisciplinary innovation programs with novel
applications in industry, albeit stemming from an ac-
ademic-based origin. Students in academic programs
engage in solving real problems of the industry.
Sokolowski (2019)—
sports design industry;
King et al. (2019)—bio-
medical engineering;
Balos et al. (2019)—Navy
engineering
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper
42
5. Programs and Assessments of Invention Education Programs
Program Location Program Focus Research on the Program
The United
States Patent and
Trademark Oce
(USPTO)
National Information and support for patenting. USPTO
promotes the progress of science by securing for
inventors their products; the protection of new
ideas and investments in innovation is paramount
not just for the vitality of inventors, but the U.S.
economy as well.
Hosler (2018)
American
Association for
the Advancement
of Science—
Lemelson
Invention
Ambassadors
program
National The AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassadors program
showcases the work of contemporary figures and
voices in invention that address the grand challenges
facing humanity. One such example involves the
gender gaps faced by women, especially in the
case of invention; the AAAS-Lemelson Invention
Ambassadors program focuses on the achievements
of women inventors within their program in the
hopes of inspiring others around the world to provide
more opportunities for women to participate in
solving global problems.
Comedy & Dougherty
(2018)
https://www.aaas.org/
programs/invention-
ambassadors
NSF I-Corps
program
National The National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps
program accelerates societal benefits of NSF-
funded research projects ready to move toward
commercialization. This is accomplished by preparing
scientists and engineers to extend their focus
beyond the university laboratory and learn to identify
valuable product opportunities that can emerge
from academic research, while gaining skills in
entrepreneurship.
Nnakwe, Cooch, &
Huang-Saad (2018)
The sampling of programs in Table 1 makes visible the broad range of initiatives available for people of all ages to
engage in IvE. Invention education programs dier in their focus, population served, and emphasis, but most of
them include the following elements:
A problem-finding or defining stage;
A real-world problem arising from the needs of others;
Teamwork and collaboration within and beyond the team;
Mentors and others from the larger community beyond the school or classroom;
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper 43
5. Programs and Assessments of Invention Education Programs
Iterative and recursive learning and design cycles;
Open-ended inquiry to solve real-world problems;
Embracing learning from failure and uncertainty;
Milestones along the way;
Prototyping and creating a potential solution to the real-world problem;
Considerations of Intellectual Property and Patenting or marketability processes and practices; and
Educators as guides, mentors, or coaches who learn alongside students.
Researchers have argued that early and sustaining exposure to invention, STEM, arts, and medicine-related
(STEAMM) experiences have the most lasting impact on young people’s trajectories and careers in invention
and related fields (Bell et al., 2018; Committee for the Study of Invention, 2004; Root-Bernstein et al., 2019);
however, engagement in IvE at any age and in any type of program can also impact one’s interests, college
and career pathways, and, more generally, can awaken one’s creativity, “can-do attitude,” and self-confidence
in problem solving as well as empathy and understanding of the social world through a problem-seeking and
problem-solving lens (Couch, Estabrooks, & Skukauskaite, 2018; Moore, Newton, Alemdar, & Holcomb, 2017;
Perez-Breva, 2016; Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999).
Assessing IvE Impacts
We have found little research to date that addresses ways of assessing the impacts of IvE programs. Most of the
assessment models available in the literature are program specific. For example, in describing the Biomedical
Engineering-focused invention program at the University of California, Irvine, King and colleagues (King et al.,
2019) assess student success based on student surveys and evaluation of students’ attainment of stated course
objectives. Program success is also measured by collecting records about the number of new technologies and/
or intellectual property licenses generated and the number of start-up companies created.
Another example of IvE impact assessment is the Lemelson-MIT Program’s eorts to collect multiple forms
of data to understand the complexities of IvE processes and outcomes. The successes of the Lemelson-MIT
InvenTeams initiative are assessed through student end-of-year experience surveys and teacher surveys. Re-
cently, outside researchers collaborated with the program sta to document and understand the processes and
impacts of the program from multiple points of view, including program and observation records, teacher and
student interviews, conversations, and surveys, as well as linking of the multiple datasets (Couch et al., 2018;
Couch, Skukauskaite, & Estabrooks, in press). In 2019, the Lemelson-MIT Program piloted a student historian
role in two teams, enabling high school students to become co-researchers (Skukauskaite, Estabrooks, Morales
Rodriguez, & Hull, 2019) and to generate video, audio, and documentary data that allows both the insiders on the
InvenTeam and outside researchers to examine and present the multilayered ecosystem of IvE in high schools.
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper
44
5. Programs and Assessments of Invention Education Programs
A third example is the longitudinal, multifaceted approach to middle and high school students’ attainment,
demonstration, and assessment of invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship skills, mindsets, and knowledge
competencies that has been developed by the STEM Innovator program at the University of Iowa. The STEM
Innovator Portfolio tool was created and piloted over 2 years by leveraging the multidisciplinary expertise of
over 50 state and national leaders across multiple disciplines. For this assessment, students create portfolios to
document individual and team competencies across time, from one semester to several years, as they create
solutions to problems of interest to them and their community. Students receive peer, self, educator, and
community partner feedback through an online STEM Innovator portal a minimum of three times across the
innovation process as they develop a prototype solution. Students reflect on the feedback reports and propose
next steps with their peers, community partner, and educators to keep moving forward. The portfolio includes
six components collected a minimum of three times across the course of prototype development and assessing
specific aspects of the invention/innovation learning process. The six components are: Innovator Profile (assesses
skills, mindset, knowledge), Community Pitch (team management and progress, communication skills, value
propositions, research and development), STEM Innovator Canvas (start-up innovation process, team and
individual progress), Team Value Rubric (individuals’ contributions to team advancement), Videography (capture
innovation process, prototype, and team progress), and STEM Innovator Proficiency Exam (knowledge and
practices innovation and entrepreneurship). Students have an option to submit the STEM Innovator Portfolio
to the University of Iowa to be reviewed by industry experts to gain STEM Innovator certification. The portfolio
may be used to demonstrate innovation competencies for job interviews, scholarship applications, or post-
secondary admission. Students may earn STEM Innovation college credit from The University of Iowa
(a Research-1 university), which is transferable to most colleges across the United States.
Multiple forms of assessment are also used to evaluate the impacts of the InVenture prize competition and
professional development for teachers. Moore and colleagues, in their 2019 paper, reported results based on a
teacher survey that included teaching engineering and entrepreneurship self-ecacy scales as well as a scale
that measured teacher motivation. The team’s previous work also explored student experiences in the program
and they presented results at the 2015 and 2018 American Society for Engineering Education conferences.
The published work on IvE programs makes visible that each of the programs utilizes a variety of data sources at
multiple points in time to document the impact of the program to its various participants. Given that each IvE
program is unique, no one assessment model can be utilized for all programs. However, the complex over-time
portfolio assessment of the STEM Innovator program could potentially become a guide for other IvE program
assessments. Eorts by the Lemelson-MIT Program (Couch et al., in press; Skukauskaite et al., 2017; Skukaus-
kaite et al., 2018), a Navy Workforce program led by researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara
(Balos et al., 2019), and the InVenture Prize (Moore et al., 2019) program in which program sta collaborate
with external researchers oer another approach to evaluation research. All three examples integrate program
evaluation and academic research in ways that address the needs of the program and lead to publications that
address the needs of the larger academic community.
6
THEORIES AND
METHODOLOGIES
USED TO STUDY
INVENTION
EDUCATION
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper 47
6 THEORIES AND METHODOLOGIES USED TO STUDY
INVENTION EDUCATION
Research in IvE draws on a broad range of theoretical and methodological frameworks. Table 2 provides an
overview of theories utilized in the work of researchers within our IvE community. Table 3 lists methodologies
used, and both tables include a sampling of the authors using those theories and methodologies. An in-depth
explanation of these theories and methodologies is beyond the scope of this WP and readers may refer to the
work cited or may reach out to the authors for further exploration of ways of conceptualizing and studying IvE.
Table 2: Theories Used to Study Invention Education
THEORIES UTILIZED Examples of authors using/citing the theories
Constructivist theories Maaia; Moore et al.; Flynn
Sociocultural theories of learning Maaia; Balos et al.; Couch, Skukauskaite &
Estabrooks
Social construction of identities Couch, Skukauskaite & Estabrooks
Culturally and linguistically responsive teaching theories Kim et al.; Calabrese Barton, & Tan
Motivational and engagement theories Small
Guskey’s model of teacher change Zhang et al.
Problem-based learning Maaia; Balos et al.; Estabrooks & Couch;
Flynn
Table 3. Methodologies Utilized in the Study of IvE
METHODOLOGIES UTILIZED Examples of authors using/citing the theories
Interactional ethnography Couch et al.; Balos et al.; Maaia
Sociolinguistic discourse analysis Couch et al.; Maaia; Balos et al.
Case studies Zhang et al.; Kim et al.
Survey designs Moore et al.; King et al.; Sokolowski; Flynn;
Jackson & Semerjian
Multi-method designs Moore et al.; Couch et al.; Flynn
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper
48
6. Theories and Methodologies Used to Study Invention Education
METHODOLOGIES UTILIZED Examples of authors using/citing the theories
Critical longitudinal ethnography Calabrese Barton & Tan
Participatory approaches—YPAR, community-engaged
research partnerships
Calabrese Barton & Tan
Design-based research Jackson & Asante
Econometrics Cook; Bell et al.
7POLICY IMPLICATIONS:
SUGGESTIONS FROM
TESTIMONIES AT USPTO
ON THE SUCCESS ACT
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper 51
7 POLICY IMPLICATIONS: SUGGESTIONS FROM
TESTIMONIES AT USPTO ON THE SUCCESS ACT
Many people and groups working in IvE embrace the notion that all people
can learn to invent if they are aorded access to learning opportunities that
demystify the work of inventors (Wisnioski, 2019) and provide support as
the newcomer learns to invent. The eorts to date to teach young
people how to invent, reviewed in part in this WP, are promising but do
not yet reach large percentages of students in the United States.
Numerous challenges remain that have hindered eorts to grow and
scale IvE oerings. This paper has examined many of the challenges,
including the need for students to be taught how to integrate and apply
knowledge from dierent disciplines to problem finding and problem
solving. At present, the vast majority of schools are providing instruction
that focuses on learning within individual disciplines.
Other challenges and potential policy solutions are captured in testimonies given during public hearings conducted
by the United States Patent and Trademark Oce (USPTO) in accordance with federal legislation known as the
Study of Underrepresented Classes Chasing Engineering and Science Success (SUCCESS) Act of 2018 (Public
Law 115-273 of the 115th Congress). Testimonies submitted by Drs. Michael Cima and Stephanie Couch of MIT
(June 2019), Mr. Danny Briere from The Henry Ford and Invention Convention Worldwide (June 2019), and Dr.
Leslie Flynn from the University of Iowa (May 2019) are summarized in this section of the WP to make visible
how members of the larger IvE research community can utilize research on their own programs to construct
arguments for policy change at the national level.
Policy Testimonies Grounded in Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams Research as a Telling
Case for Understanding Opportunities, Challenges, and Needs for Policy Change
MIT Professor Michael Cima, a prolific inventor, Associate Dean of Innovation in the School of Engineering,
and the Co-Director of MIT’s Innovation Initiative, and Dr. Stephanie Couch, Executive Director of the
Lemelson-MIT Program, provided written and oral testimony. They argued that young people need access to
a wide range of learning opportunities that develop their capabilities for engaging and coming to understand
the needs of others (empathy); finding and defining problems; finding and/or generating information/data and
analyzing it to inform understandings and to engage in hands-on activities in which they design, build, and ex-
periment with dierent technologies, reflecting on creations; and persisting through iterative cycles of activity.
This open-ended playful learning “strand” needs to come alongside the thoughtfully designed linear progression
models for individual academic disciplines that are found in today’s K–12 schools (Cima & Couch, 2019).
all people can learn
to invent if they are
aorded access to
learning opportunities
and provide support as
the newcomer learns to
invent.
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper
52
7. Policy Implications: Suggestions From Testimonies at USPTO on the Success Act
Drs. Cima and Couch argued that it is especially important that students
in Grades 10–12 have opportunities to work in teams to apply their
knowledge and skills to an open-ended invention project. Ways of
starting a business or taking the working prototype forward after
graduation (entrepreneurship education) need to be infused within this
type of learning experience or capstone course.
In their testimony to the USPTO, Cima and Couch wrote:
elements of these types of opportunities that we refer to as “invention
education” can be found in maker education, computer science and coding, entrepreneurship education, invention
education, hackathons, and open-ended inquiry-based problem solving or project-based learning activities. Individual
constituency groups advocate for learning opportunities in each of these areas. Each word has a distinctive meaning,
but all are synergistic and can co-exist within a single school. We are all calling for something similar, but don’t yet
have a common language; as philosopher Richard Rorty (1967/1992) said, “It is dicult to say the new in the language
of the old.
They also argued:
The opportunities described above need to be oered as part of the school day so that they are universally
available to all students. The learning opportunity should be designed in a manner that aligns with college
entrance requirements to help motivate students to complete the course. (Cima & Couch, 2019)
Cima and Couch’s testimony before the USPTO called for “new systems for recruiting, preparing, and
supporting educators to lead these types of eorts, with support from others in the surrounding STEM
ecosystem. The new systems must be created and sustained through public financing.” They stated that
educators need to be taught how to help students learn through open-ended problem finding and problem
solving in ways that include using technologies to design and build new and novel technological solutions.
Few teacher preparation programs, especially at the secondary level, focus on transdisciplinary teaching. (2019)
They also cited research showing that educators with a career prior to teaching are drawn to facilitating
invention projects. Credentialing laws and certain pension rules make it hard to attract such individuals into
teaching. All teachers, regardless of the knowledge that they bring to teaching, must have support from people
with a wide range of expertise to address team needs. The stang costs of organizing and managing the
ecosystem of support must be financed.
Cima and Couch further emphasized the need for resources to support IvE for all. They stated:
Educators should be provided with resources to assist with the design and implementation of invention education
oerings including the spaces needed to design and build, materials and equipment, online resources, and time within
an already tight school schedule. (2019)
especially important that
students in Grades 10–12
have opportunities to
work in teams to apply
their knowledge and
skills to an open-ended
invention project
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper 53
7. Policy Implications: Suggestions From Testimonies at USPTO on the Success Act
This portion of the testimony was consistent with findings by Couch, Estabrooks, and Skukauskaite (2018).
Their study of factors aecting young women’s development as inventors uncovered evidence of the importance
of environments and places for learning. The study highlights the rich and varied experiences that schools and
after-school program sites can make available to young women. Students’ citations of project-based learning
and multi-year experiences in a STEM-rich school as important preparations for InvenTeams work suggested
that the educational model of a STEM school may contribute to creating and supporting the cultural conditions
needed to prepare young women to invent. Expectations that all students at the school will engage in STEM
projects, and ultimately in a project that produces an invention, may create a school culture that is more conducive
to generating female inventors. Other school models that produce young inventors may exist and should be
examined in order to create a range of models that can be utilized to address the various needs and local
conditions found across the United States.
The study suggested that after-school programs may also foster the development of young women as inventors
(Couch et al., 2018). However, a multi-year after-school program may be needed not only to help young women
to see possibilities in STEM and identify as innovators, but also to foster skills and dispositions toward their
development as inventors. Given that dierent places and environments can support women’s development as
inventors, policymakers should consider IvE policies for both in-school
and after-school programs, as well as the length of time young women
need to be engaged in inventing experiences, to provide the learning
opportunities that support shifts in identities.
Another group of factors uncovered in Couch, Estabrooks, and Skukaus-
kaite’s 2018 study related to other resources, including online resources
and prior experiences. As the participants from the after-school In-
venTeams demonstrated, online repositories that include “how to” videos
and other STEM-related instructions and materials can be important in
leveraging access to the information needed for females to succeed in
invention projects (Couch et al., 2018). Videos and other online resources can bridge the gap between what
young women need to know and their lack of prior experiences. Background experiences and skills that lead to
invention pathways can be developed in STEM-related curricula, as well as in other subjects such as humanities
and art that foster critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills. All students, including females, need to
develop the understanding that invention requires more than STEM skills, thus any person has a potential to take
an active role on an invention team and become an inventor.
Couch, Estabrooks, and Skukauskaite (2018) argued that an additional resource that is often taken for granted,
but needs to be considered in making policies about STEM and IvE, is time. Time constraints identified by the
study participants could have been mitigated by policies surrounding the school day. The young women
described their challenges to find time in the week to work on their InvenTeams projects; this suggests that
competing demands to participate in multiple projects may need to be adjusted in order to enable young
Given that dierent
places and environments
can support women’s
development as inventors,
policymakers should
consider IvE policies
for both in-school and
after-school programs
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper
54
7. Policy Implications: Suggestions From Testimonies at USPTO on the Success Act
inventors to focus on one project at a time, thereby deepening the engagement and fostering the development
of a working prototype that can serve the community.
Cima and Couch’s testimony to USPTO (2019) also called for support in creating and sustaining networks of
people and communities invested in IvE.
They argued:
Students and teachers need to be guided in their problem solving, prototyping, and eorts to bring products to
market by faculty and graduate students in colleges and universities, industry mentors, and community informants.
Inventing is a team sport, with requirements for training opportunities, thought partners, and assistance with
commercializing new technologies (Hintz, 2019). In many geographic regions across the United States, individuals
with the requisite knowledge and skills are in limited supply (Feldman, 2019).
This part of the testimony aligned with the study by Couch, Estabrooks, and Skukauskaite (2018) in which they
describe a range of policies and practices needed to increase the number of female patent holders. Couch
et al. urged educational program designers to consider the value of teamwork, public critique, guidance by
knowledgeable educators and STEM professionals, and parent support. This recommendation stemmed from
findings that the students’ engagement and experiences were enhanced by their work with teachers and peers
in teams. They noted that a team-based approach to inventing aligns with findings that teamwork is critical to
inventors (McManus & MacDonald, 2019). The distributed leadership approach promoted in InvenTeams enables
team members to contribute in significant ways from their dierential roles. Student accounts of the value and
impact of public engagement and critique suggest that opportunities to present and receive feedback on their
invention project as it unfolds would also be an important component of an invention-focused education policy
initiative.
The supportive role of parents mentioned by study participants suggested that policies should also have a parent
education and outreach component. The parent component should communicate that young women’s negative
views of STEM and inventing can shift through engagement in STEM-rich environments and project-based
learning experiences. Parents, teachers, community members, and students themselves could be provided more
information about the vast diversity of skills, experiences, and personal qualities that are important within
invention-oriented teams.
Cima and Couch noted in their testimony to the USPTO that
experiences in working with young people across the nation have taught us that K–12 schools, colleges and universities,
and local communities must work together in new ways if we are to bring about the conditions that nurture and tap
into the knowledge and ideas of those not represented by today’s patent system. We [referring to the Lemelson-MIT
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper 55
7. Policy Implications: Suggestions From Testimonies at USPTO on the Success Act
Program, which they operate at MIT] have been able to do the work that is necessary, thanks to private funding from
a family foundation. Scaling-up the process and practices we have found eective will require new laws and funding
for joint eorts between K–12 schools, colleges and universities, local governments, and STEM professionals. Laws,
regulations, and finance mechanisms perpetuated by the state and federal governments and agencies must change if
we are to provide the learning opportunities young people need to learn to invent. (2019)
Cima and Couch went on to call for federal investment in a handful of centers that, with support from colleges
and universities and private-sector partners in patent-intensive technological fields, could foster robust
environments to expand on InvenTeams and other successful IvE models and research approaches that would
be scalable and sustainable across the United States.
Questions issued by the USPTO in advance of their hearing asked whether there are policies, programs, or
other targeted activities shown to be eective at recruiting and retaining women, minorities, and veterans in
innovative and entrepreneurial activities.
In their testimony, Cima and Couch reported:
The 2004 report by the Committee for Study of Invention spawned the national grants initiative for high school students
and teachers, known as InvenTeams. The InvenTeams national grants initiative has been funded by the Lemelson
Foundation for 15 years, and has been allowed to evolve as needed without interference. The past 15 years have seen
243 teams of high school students, teachers, and mentors produce a working prototype of a technological solution
to a problem that students have identified in their communities. Eight teams have received patents for their work, and
many more applications are pending.
The InvenTeams model is designed so that students’ inventions emerge from problems that the students themselves
have defined and are passionate about solving. The problems are not given to students, and students are not artificially
constrained to study a particular science concept or set of practices called for by national education standards. The
composition of the teams (typically 10–15 students per team) is diverse by design. Demographics for the teams over
the past eleven years for which data is available show that 35% of team participants have been females. (See Table 4;
Cima & Couch, 2019)
Table 4: Gender of InvenTeams Participants for Years 2007–2018
GENDER # STUDENT PARTICIPANTS % OF ALL PARTICIPANTS
Male 1,794 65%
Female 956 35%
Note. Data sourced from InvenTeams rosters.
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper
56
7. Policy Implications: Suggestions From Testimonies at USPTO on the Success Act
Cima and Couch also noted that, from year to year, the percentage of InvenTeams students from underrepre-
sented backgrounds varies. The variation in percentages of underrepresented backgrounds among InvenTeams
participants is shown in Table 5 for the years 2016–2018.
Table 5: Percentage of InvenTeams Students From Underrepresented Backgrounds for Years 2016–2018
YEAR % UNDERREPRESENTED
2018 29%
2017 44%
2016 21%
Note. Data sourced from InvenTeams end-of-year surveys.
Couch and colleagues have engaged in research studies through the past three years (Couch et al., 2018;
Couch, Skukauskaite, & Estabrooks, 2019, in press; Estabrooks & Couch, 2018) to document the InvenTeams
model and to determine the impact of this type of learning opportunity. The researchers assert that they have
uncovered evidence of significant benefits for students, especially for young women and students from under-
represented backgrounds. According to the researchers, the InvenTeams approach contributes to STEM interest
and identity, and develops confidence in those who may not otherwise be interested in pursuing STEM college
and career pathways.
Couch elaborated on this point in her public testimony before the USPTO:
We think that the opportunity for young people to learn to invent is especially
helpful if it is in a team-based format with dierentiated roles. A lot of times,
the young women who come to these teams come because they’re going to
be the team leader, they’re going to be the communications person, the
project manager, and along the way, they discover their skills and capabilities
in the STEM areas, and at the end of this year-long experience that they
have, we can see that their interest, their confidence, their desire to persist
in STEM college and career pathways falls out from that team-based
experience. (Public Hearing, Cima & Couch, 2019)
The linkages made between STEM and what participating students care about in their daily lives oer a reason
for students to struggle with STEM. Working in teams of mixed abilities allows each student to make a meaning-
ful contribution, regardless of the prior STEM knowledge and experience he or she brings to the team. Inter-
actions with adults reinforce students’ commitment to see their project through to completion and to persist
through the challenges they encounter. Many students who were previously uninterested in STEM have gone on
the opportunity for young
people to learn to invent is
especially helpful if it is in
a team-based format with
dierentiated roles
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper 57
7. Policy Implications: Suggestions From Testimonies at USPTO on the Success Act
to pursue STEM college/career paths.
Findings from the studies of InvenTeams document the potential for increasing STEM interest and engagement
by oering students opportunities to engage in transdisciplinary, non-linear, open-ended problem-solving
processes. Findings align with other studies cited in national consensus reports issued by the National Academy
of Engineering and the National Research Council (National Academies of Sciences, 2018; National Academy
of Engineering & National Research Council, 2014), as well as with recommendations in the report Charting a
Course for Success: America’s Strategy for STEM Education, issued by the National Science and Technology Coun-
cil’s Committee on STEM Education (2018).
Question 11 of the USPTO hearing also asked if there are policies or programs that have proven to be ineective
at recruiting and retaining women, minorities, and veterans in innovative and entrepreneurial activities. Cima and
Couch noted that, despite their insights into what can work and the consistency of the MIT team’s findings with
those of others, barriers to implementation remain. Federal education standards in K–12 continue to empha-
size instruction that maintains disciplinary silos. School finance mechanisms, K–12 accountability standards, and
college entrance requirements reinforce the siloed, linear approach to teaching and learning found in today’s
schools. These barriers to change create conditions in which we leave it up to those who are least capable—the
students themselves—to figure out how to integrate and apply knowledge and ways of thinking from dierent
disciplines to complex real-world challenges. The exceptional work of InvenTeams students shows what can
happen when students have access to coaching and guidance from adults (teachers and technical mentors) who
have been trained to support their work, as well as other support structures (Hintz, 2019; Lenoir, 1997) such as
those oered by Lemelson-MIT Program sta (Cima & Couch, 2019).
Testimony From The Henry Ford as a Telling Case for Intellectual Property
Protection in Invention Education Programs
In his testimony on the SUCCESS Act at a June 2019 hearing of the
USPTO, Mr. Danny Briere, Chief Entrepreneur Ocer of The Henry Ford
and Global Director of Invention Convention Worldwide, indicated that
more than 120,000 students across the United States participated in
the museum’s IvE oerings in 2019 (Public Hearing, Briere, 2019).
Most of these inventions, he noted, are not protected by patent applica-
tions. He reported that some student inventions are “indeed patentable
and even ready for market” (or to be commercialized; p.21). Students
display logbooks about how their inventions were created and proto-
typed, with poster boards and pitches explaining the details. Students,
therefore, incur a public disclosure risk relative to their inventions. Briere
noted that this is true of every “science fair, invention convention, STEM
expo, and pitch competition,” as well as other public events in local
think about American
competitiveness on the
global stage” by
considering “the
example of Korea, where
all K through 12 students
are required to have
Invention Education
before they graduate
high school
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper
58
7. Policy Implications: Suggestions From Testimonies at USPTO on the Success Act
schools and other venues across America (p. 20). He argued that educators need to protect these students’
inventions sooner through the filing of a provisional patent application, and said that many students and their
schools or low-income families are not able to pay the $70 fee required to file a provisional patent, suggesting
that the USPTO create an accessible provisional patent process. The current provision for any applicant who
is 65 years of age or more to advance the timeframes for the examination of the application constitutes a
precedent for treating filers dierently based on age, he contended.
Mr. Briere also urged the USPTO to “think about American competitiveness on the global stage” by considering
“the example of Korea, where all K through 12 students are required to have Invention Education before they
graduate high school” (p. 26). A number of other nations with IvE programs for youth could be added to this list.
Testimony From the University of Iowa’s STEM Innovator Research Team as a Telling
Case to Illustrate the Impact of Invention Education on Providing Opportunity to
Underrepresented Youth
Dr. Leslie Flynn, professor of innovation and entrepreneurship in the
Jacobson Institute at the University of Iowa’s STEM Innovator program,
in her May 2019 USPTO SUCCESS Act public testimony, armed the
importance of access to innovation, invention, and entrepreneurial
thinking for all K-12 students.
She stated:
It is a national imperative that all young adults be provided an education
that invites them to the innovation table. In order for the United States to progress as a nation, we need a larger pool
of citizens engaged in technological advances to fill high-skill jobs. We need to begin workforce development before
students leave our K–12 education system. Students in middle school and high school are already making decisions
about their ability and interest to pursue degrees in STEM and their position in our U.S. workforce.
Dr. Flynn elaborated that the current education and workplace
environment is not providing equal \opportunity for all:
As evidenced by recent STEM work force and patent data Undersecretary
Peter highlighted this morning, women and other groups are not pursuing
opportunities in comparison to their male, white counterparts. The current
educational system does not distribute opportunities equally to all K–12
students and, by extension, to all U.S. citizens. (Public Hearing, Flynn, 2019)
In 2013, in collaboration with over 50 industry experts, STEM Innovator
was created: an innovation platform to engage middle and high school
In order for the United
States to progress as a
nation, we need a larger
pool of citizens engaged
in technological advances
to fill high-skill jobs.
women and other
groups are not pursuing
opportunities in
comparison to their male,
white counterparts.
The current educational
system does not distribute
opportunities equally to
all K–12 students
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper 59
7. Policy Implications: Suggestions From Testimonies at USPTO on the Success Act
student teams in designing solutions to complex problems while working with business and industry partners.
Currently, the program is in 38 U.S. states and serves approximately 45,000 students annually. Students engage
in a start-up methodology that takes them from idea generation to possible commercialization. Students engage
in authentic practices of innovation, including rapid prototyping, data-driven decision making, agile and lean
methodologies, design thinking, collaborative teaming, computational thinking, and utilization of digital platforms
for research and development.
Students gain access and exposure to many careers they didn’t know exist through multiple interactions with
industry experts. Through the experience, students demonstrate a variety of skills, mindsets, and knowledge we
seek in post-secondary students and a highly skilled workforce. The goal is to transform the student experience
from sit-and-get to generate-and-create. Our current education system does not engage all students in these
experiences and therefore is not preparing them for the future.
Dr. Flynn used evidence from a three-year longitudinal study of high school students engaged in the STEM
Innovator program to argue that engaging in continuous and authentic invention and entrepreneurship experi-
ences with community partners has a positive impact on student outcomes, especially those underrepresented
in STEM.
The STEM Innovator Portfolio, a digital educational technology tool, was used to collect data and artifacts from
multiple sources—including virtual community partners—across the student’s educational experience. This allowed
outcomes to be captured over years. Because the STEM Innovator platform is infused in the student’s normal
school day and mostly in required classes, all demographic data match those of the communities studied. The
population of 2,000 high school students studied identifies as 48% female and 49% male. Thirty-two percent
of participants identify as a racial minority and geographically, an equal number of participants are drawn from
rural, urban, and suburban areas.
Dr. Flynn explained that the study demonstrated how “the skills and mindsets of innovators, inventors, and
entrepreneurs—grit, adaptability, creativity, risk-taking, collaboration, idea generation, critical thinking, and
communication—are significantly increasing across time, and students are able to identify why the change is
occurring.
Dr. Flynn presented key findings from the research on engagement among women and underrepresented
groups in the innovation, invention, and entrepreneurial ecosystem.
These include:
Finding 1. We know the list of skills, mindsets, and knowledge needed to engage in the innovation and
entrepreneurial process. These were identified by industry leaders and benchmarked versus additional
national research and federal workforce documents. Examples of these mindsets and skills include risk-
taking, adaptability, resilience, initiative, empathy, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, data-driven
decision making, science and engineering practices, and digital fluency.
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper
60
7. Policy Implications: Suggestions From Testimonies at USPTO on the Success Act
Finding 2. The STEM Innovator digital platform allows students to identify and reflect on how and why these
attributes are changing over time as a result of engagement in the innovation process. Results indicated all
high school students significantly increase their innovation and entrepreneurial skills and mindsets. Students
provide evidence of what experiences influence their growth; for example, Emily from an East Coast public
school states, “I know I don’t have to be a perfectionist. Failing is important and critical. That is what my
industry partner taught me, and I believe him.
Finding 3. When the data is disaggregated by gender, we see significant growth at the same rate for females
as for their male counterparts [p< 0.05]. There is no dierence between males and females. This data
provides evidence that young adult women are as capable as male peers to attain and demonstrate
competencies in innovation and entrepreneurial skills and mindsets.
Finding 4. When the data is disaggregated by race, students of white, non-Hispanic background and all
other underrepresented groups all significantly increase their skills and mindsets, and do so at the same
rate [p< 0.05]. There is no achievement gap. Again, our white non-Hispanic students and all other races
can equally engage in the innovation process and demonstrate these skills when provided the opportunity.
(Public Hearing, Flynn, 2019)
Key action items the administration can take to facilitate engagement among women and underrepresented
groups in the innovation, invention, and entrepreneurial ecosystem include:
1. Young adults, especially women and underrepresented groups, need to be able to engage in the
innovation and entrepreneurial process while still in our K–12 education system so they persist and
identify as inventors.
2. To accomplish integration in school, legislation and public policy need to support integration of
innovation into all K–12 schools.
3. Research and development funds through interagency government sources need to catalyze
development of curriculum, instruction, and assessment in K–12.
4. Call to Action for private-public partnerships needs to occur to invite business and industry partners
into the K–12 arena. This includes financial support and employee mentorship of K–12 student teams.
5. In-service teachers need to be provided access to professional development on how to catalyze
innovation schools.
6. Teachers identified their ability and capacity to teach the innovation skills and mindsets to their students
before engaging in the STEM Innovator professional development program. Although they identify
having some of the skills and attributes like resilience, they have no idea how to facilitate these into
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper 61
7. Policy Implications: Suggestions From Testimonies at USPTO on the Success Act
their practice. They also indicate they have no capacity to lead teams in bringing an idea [solution] to
sustainability and how to work with industry partners. (Public Hearing, Flynn, 2019)
In her written testimony, Flynn provided additional detail on the research findings, implementation strategies,
and policy considerations to include more students in the innovation process. Including invention opportunities
in the school day is currently a challenge due to lack of educator training.
Our work with educators across the country makes it clear they have no formal training and limited knowledge
on how to facilitate invention in their schools. It is imperative to provide in-service professional development
and pre-service training. Professional organizations such as NSTA, ACTE, and NCTM need to provide more
platforms for this work to advance the conversation and to provide more access for educators. (Flynn, 2019)
U.S. businesses state the next generation of workers must be highly skilled
and possess the mindsets to engage in an increasingly complex global
market; they need workforce-ready innovators. To accomplish this,
industry must make a substantial commitment to engage with K–12
schools in meaningful, authentic, and long-term relationships.
Past engagement strategies—where employees talk to a class about their
work, put on a demo show, or provide a tour to a small group of students—
are not eective, and only reach a small number of students, mostly those
from well-resourced schools where the employees’ children attend school.
(Flynn, 2019)
Dr. Flynn highlighted the Iowa Governor’s STEM Council (https://www.iowastem.gov) as a model for other states
to explore when creating state education policy. Bipartisan legislative support has increased public-private
partnerships to fund teacher professional development (Real World Externships, STEM Scale-Up), community
partnerships (STEM BEST), incubator capital (Innovation Fund), and networking centers to share resources
(STEM Regional Hubs).
Flynn said:
We need multiple opportunities for educators to engage with industry to build and enact public-private partnerships
in schools, many educators need a couple years before they feel confident and empowered to do so, and the STEM
Council’s programs make the process more eective and allow multiple engagement opportunities. (2019)
Many of the recommendations outlined by Dr. Flynn signal a need for greater federal investment in IvE. Existing
federally funded grant programs, such as the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps program, have helped
expand learning opportunities focused on innovation and entrepreneurship at the post-secondary level, but
regulations are not written in ways that support open-ended team-based invention projects for K–12. New
U.S. businesses state the
next generation of work-
ers must be highly skilled
and possess the mindsets
to engage in an increas-
ingly complex global
market; they need work-
force-ready innovators.
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper
62
7. Policy Implications: Suggestions From Testimonies at USPTO on the Success Act
federal program initiatives could be launched to support the growth and expansion of IvE eorts (Arkilic, 2019;
Fasihuddin & Britos Cavagnaru, 2019) in ways that address the identified needs. Federal investment in invention
is likely to yield benefits that meet or exceed outcomes from federal investment in science and technology—in-
vestments that have helped the United States maintain its national leadership role in science, military endeavors,
and as an economic engine (Gustetic, 2019).
Securing federal investment in IvE will require champions who will focus on policy changes in education that
address the needs we have identified. The bipartisan Congressional Inventions Caucus, formed in 2015 to
educate members of Congress and their legislative stas about invention, intellectual property, commercialization,
and other aspects of this vital segment of our economy, is an example of a legislative body that could (and
should) focus on the requisite changes needed in the ways schools and universities are funded and held
accountable for particular outcomes.
8GAPS IN
INVENTION
EDUCATION
RESEARCH
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper 65
8 GAPS IN INVENTION EDUCATION RESEARCH
The authors and contributors to this WP recognized the need to bring together the
body of research that surrounds the newly emerging field of IvE. The group also
acknowledges that the existing research has raised many questions that warrant
further study. Nine topics in need of further research are described below.
1) Pre-K to Career Pathways to Invention and Entrepreneurship
The WP presents evidence of the importance of children’s exposure to and engagement with IvE from the early
years, including Pre-K and elementary school. Longitudinal research is needed to track the learning, progress,
and pathways of youth involved in IvE programs in order to assess the impacts of exposure to IvE across time
and events. Additional findings surrounding the pathways, supports, constraints, and ways of helping young
inventors overcome obstacles would help with the development of programs and adaptation of curricula in ways
that reflect research-based practices.
2) Contributions of Competitions and Prize Programs to Inventors’ Development
More work is needed to understand the role of competitions and prize programs in supporting young inventors’
development. The Lemelson-MIT Program’s national student prize(s) for collegiate inventors, the Regeneron
Science Talent Search, The Henry Ford National Invention Convention, and the Jacobson Institute’s Innovator
Competition oer potential sites of study.
3) Community Engagement and Invention Education
Research is emerging to indicate the benefits of community partnerships in facilitating students’ work and
development as inventors. Further studies are needed to inform understandings of the ways teachers and
students find and utilize resources in local communities and how the communities interact with the students and
educators. Research is also needed to explore the impacts school-community connections around invention
education have on the community (i.e., formation and development of the IvE ecosystem), including perspectives
of community members who actively engage with the students. In addition, few studies have focused on the
beneficiaries of students’ inventions.
4) Transdisciplinary Nature of IvE
This WP argues that IvE is transdisciplinary. Future studies could build on what is known to develop a deeper
understanding of IvE’s transdisciplinary nature. Further studies are needed to make visible the particular
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper
66
8. Gaps in Invention Education Research
disciplines IvE draws on, when, where, in what ways, for what purposes, and with what learning outcomes both
during the program and over time, as students move on to other grades, programs, or educational pathways.
Related to examining the transdisciplinary nature of IvE is the need to understand which disciplines and which
aspects of the various disciplines inform IvE practices and are taught and learned in IvE. The developing field of
discipline-based STEM education research (Henderson et al., 2017) emphasizes the need for discipline-specific
content knowledge, and IvE researchers will need to demonstrate which disciplinary knowledge and practices
can (and cannot) be developed and in what ways through the IvE programs. IvE researchers may need to expand
collaborations with discipline-based scholars to demonstrate how IvE intersects with varied disciplines and
fields, including various subjects in science, technology and computer sciences, engineering, mathematics, arts,
medicine, business, humanities, and others.
5) Comparisons of IvE with Other Areas of Focus in Education
Further research is needed to determine how IvE processes, practices, and intended outcomes align with those
in other areas with organized constituency groups in education, especially those that promote problem-focused
learning and/or community engagement in the development of solutions to real problems identified in commu-
nities. Future work, for example, could examine the intersections of IvE with problem-based, project-based, and
inquiry-based learning approaches to teaching and learning. Studies could examine the relationship of IvE with
the pedagogical practices found in makerspaces and other informal education settings. The potentials of IvE for
service learning could also be examined.
6) Research Methodologies and Methods of Assessment
Ways of studying and assessing open-ended, inquiry-based invention eorts that involve teaching and learning
multiple subjects simultaneously remains a challenge in K–12 and in higher education. Additional research is
needed to inform assessments for team-based eorts as well as those
undertaken by individuals. IvE researchers, in addition to studying varied
aspects of IvE and its potential for students, educators, and communities,
need to start creating methodologically focused literature—such as
handbooks, articles, and books—to make visible ways of understanding
and assessing IvE and its impacts. An emerging field such as IvE draws on
a variety of epistemological and methodological approaches to study IvE
processes, practices, and impacts. Outlining the varied ways of studying
the field could be helpful for new researchers entering the field and
could also help others within the field explore how particular epistemologies
and associated methodologies impact which aspects we study and in
what ways.
Ways of studying and
assessing open-ended,
inquiry-based invention
eorts that involve
teaching and learning
multiple subjects
simultaneously remains
a challenge in K–12 and
in higher education.
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper 67
8. Gaps in Invention Education Research
7) Gender-Related Research
Research has identified a significant gap between women’s and men’s patenting and participation in invention
pathways, yet few studies focus on perspectives of the LGBTQ+ communities. Therefore, more research is
needed to understand how gender-diverse students engage in invention education.
8) Diversity, Social Relevance, and Socially Relevant Practices in IvE
Socially relevant education, intersectionality, and other theories, as well as indigenous and other epistemolo-
gies, need to be brought into the IvE field to examine the perspectives and experiences of diverse groups of
students, their educators, and their communities. IvE programs are locally situated, yet researchers need to
demonstrate how the specific cases may inform the larger field of study. Another research area that needs more
work is analyses of the learning and inventiveness of students with exceptionalities, including gifted or “high
ability” students (Plucker & Gorman, 1999), students with special needs (e.g., Blumenfeld & Sotelo, 2017; Ni &
Martin, 2017), or other specific characteristics.
9) Roots and Routes to Invention Education As It Is Known Today
A historical study of IvE and its role within and beyond schools could expand the knowledge of the field by
helping current researchers understand prior eorts. The study may oer insights into the future of IvE,
including but not limited to ways particular approaches to IvE may need
to change to address the current needs of diverse students, educators,
and society. For example, Colangelo and colleagues (Colangelo, Kerr,
Hallowell, Huesman, & Gaeth, 1992; Colangelo, Assouline, Croft, Baldus,
& Ihrig, 2003), who had studied a state-wide Invent Iowa competition
since its establishment in 1987 within a center for gifted education, have
demonstrated not only the program’s eects and change over time but
also its impact on the state curriculum when Invent Iowa curriculum
guides were made available for all educators.
The nine gaps identified in this WP present an opportunity for the IvE research community to explore their areas
of interest and expertise and to work collectively in advancing the field.
A historical study of IvE
and its role within and
beyond schools could
expand the knowledge of
the field by helping cur-
rent researchers under-
stand prior eorts.
CONCLUSION
AND NEXT STEPS
Researching Invention Education: A White Paper 71
CONCLUSION AND NEXT STEPS
We intentionally drew upon the Computer Science (CS) framework to inform the design of this WP since several
of our topics overlap with those in the CS standards. The CS framework was developed to assist K–12 schools
with the adoption and implementation of the CS concepts and practices embodied in new standards being
taken up in schools across the United States; many schools are working to develop new classes that will aord
students opportunities for learning CS across their years of schooling (elementary, middle, and high school).
The IvE community sees the need for a similar eort focusing on opportunities to help young people develop
the ways of thinking, knowing, and working as a creative problem solvers and inventors. Our ability to make
this dream a reality is dependent, in large part, on our ability to continue to grow this emerging field through
contributions of researchers, practitioners, policy makers, nonprofits, and public-private partnerships. This paper
serves to identify existing research as well as gaps in knowledge, which may guide further development of
research-driven IvE.
The IvE research presented cuts across multiple disciplines and demographic sectors and is driven by varied
theoretical frameworks and methodological approaches. While this WP presents an overview and builds a
foundation of research on invention education in formal and informal learning environments, it also highlights
many gaps that still exist in knowledge of IvE processes, practices, outcomes and impacts on diverse students,
teachers, and communities. IvE is a growing field and an open research community; therefore, we invite
additional researchers to join the IvE research group to share existing research and explore synergies for
further collaborations through dialogue, conference meetings, jointly produced journal articles, books, grant
applications, and policy forums.
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