Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Teaching children to be inventors

In a study in 1966, 24% of South African children could see themselves as inventors in the future, and of that group almost none of them were girls! I wonder how many children would think that today? I wonder if a larger percentage of the group would be girls? 
Problem solving with grade 3 pupils 
Paul Torrance says that children should be encouraged to invent things from as early as possible, and they should be encouraged to view a career in inventing as a positive option. Alexander Graham Bell was nine years old when he invented a talking doll which ultimately led to him developing the idea for the first telephone. Well known inventors like Bell actually invented things his whole life - his most famous invention is the telephone. We therefore mustn't think that an inventor has to be famous - most inventors invent things all through their lives, and few invent something as far-reaching as a telephone! Young girls need to see a future for themselves in science and in inventing things. This requires an inventive or problem solving mind, and a knowledge of scientific principles which would influence the situation around the problem to be solved. Very few people also realise that almost all inventors had a 'sidekick' - the person who might actually have done most of the technical planning or most of the actual doing to create the invention....remember Mr Watson?
So what do we do in our schools today to encourage children, particularly girls, to be inventors? In the old days inventors were taught drawing, observation and visualisation skills. Certainly the basics of those skills are taught from preschool at most schools. At Pinelands North we teach technology in several different ways to increase the opportunities of learning . This means that while most schools have one or two hours per week of this subject, we focus on Computer Technology, the specific skills needed for woodwork and needlework and on the theory of Technology. Our children also learn art and drama, and these subjects can also be focussed on in the extramural programme too. Communication skills are very important as an inventor because if you cannot communicate what you have invented it still won't be used or patented. 
Orals and projects about real inventors, their careers and their real stories is important for all to hear. The inspiration of people like Edison, Ford and Bell really cannot be underestimated - children love those stories of people solving difficult puzzles after hardship! Children need to know that a problem isn't going to be solved the first time you tackle it so perseverance and 'grit' are required, and often an inventor has to really persevere to sell the idea after the problem has been solved too. The 'new' idea is not going to quickly become a world wide seller immediately.  
Balancing 15 nails on one nail!
The emotional and social behaviours, and thinking skills of very bright children at Pinelands North are developed through our Creative and Talented Programme. The social/emotional  part of the programme encourages children to identify their emotions and learn to deal with the outside world in a positive way. In the development of their thinking, children have been encouraged to choose an inventor, research the inventor's life and then pretend to be the inventor, and give a speech that person might have given. This project was very successful!
An idea we haven't used as yet but intend to, is to ask children to make notes of the problems that are raised over 24 hours by their parents, friends or neighbours. After this they think through the problems, trying to think of solutions to some of them and then invent something to 'fix' the problem.
The truth of the matter is that even in our Creative and Talented Programme, we have more boys than girls, even though we are conscious of the need to identify girls. We see this as an ongoing challenge which needs to be addressed every time we consider adding children to our programme. Maybe we need to encourage more families not to stereotype girls from birth and to give their girl children technical problems to solve at an early age?

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