Exploring Invention Kits

The purpose of this workshop is to allow teacher educators the hands-on experience of assembling and using the Invention Kits being created and piloted as part of the Make to Learn project. Discussions will be focused on how to use these kits in teacher education courses, such as science methods course, to better prepare preservice teachers to take advantage of the excitement around the maker movement and the incorporation of engineering principles into science courses. The invention kits assembled at the workshop will be provided free of charge and participants will be able to take them home with them. At least the first two invention kits, the motor and speaker, will be completed at the workshop.

Technologies continue to emerge that can provide ever more powerful learning experiences if properly integrated into curricula and used effectively by well-prepared educators. Makerspaces are an emerging phenomenon made possible by technological advances. Makerspaces provide access to technologies such as 3D printers and accompanying design software that enable users to make “almost anything.’ They are spreading rapidly in schools, identified as one of six high tech trends in education by the New Media Consortium Horizon report (Adams, et al., 2016).

Makerspaces are highly relevant to the economic future of the nation. Manufacturing is currently the largest sector of the economy, accounting for more than a third of U.S. economic output. U.S. factories now manufacture twice as much as they did in 1984. More highly skilled workers are needed to support these advances. A Brookings Institution study reports that 35 of 50 high-technology industries are in the manufacturing sector. This trend is likely to continue in the future.

However, at present there is no maker education curriculum that has been widely adopted by schools of education. Consequently, there is a need for resources that will prepare future teachers to make effective use of makerspaces. Making and makerspaces potentially have connections to almost every subject and content area. It is not yet clear where in the teacher education curriculum teachers would be prepared to use these resources effectively, or who would be responsible for introducing future teachers to this content. Most teacher education programs currently provide minimal, if any, preparation in this area.

The Make to Learn Invention Kit sequence was developed through a collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and collaborators working together across a digital fabrication network, FabNet (www.fabnet.us). The project grew out of a maker education initiative that began in 2009, with support from the U.S. Department of Education, the MacArthur Foundation, and the National Science Foundation (NSF grants 1030865 and 1513018) among others. Make to Learn Invention Kits employ makerspaces to reconstruct key inventions in history. Inventions include pivotal ones that changed the course of history, including the telephone, the telegraph, and early electric motors.

The effort is anchored by the Make to Learn Laboratory at the University of Virginia. Make to Learn Invention Kit resources include: (1) a scanned 3D image of the invention, (2) a CAD model of the invention, (3) animations that depict its operation, (4) related historical resources such as patents and descriptions from inventors’ notebooks, (5) instructional guides for teachers, (6) resources for students, (7) assessment items, and (8) accompanying professional development materials.

Make to Learn Invention Kits are designed to address two interdisciplinary objectives:

1. One motivation is to fulfill the mission of the National Museum of American History by helping “people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future” (Mission and History, n.d.).
In this instance, reconstruction of historic inventions provides a lens to understand the way in which the United States became the nation that it is today, and implications for the future.

2. A second motivation is to allow students to understand the science and engineering principles that underlie transformational inventions.
The pedagogical foundation for this work is grounded in the framework for a Princeton course, Engineering in the Modern World, developed by David Billington and Michael Littman (Course Offerings, 2015). The premise of the course is that foundational inventions such as the telephone, the telegraph, and nineteenth century relays are transparent. For example, all of the parts in a nineteenth century telegraph can be observed. Hence its operation is more accessible to learners than a modern-day solid state relay (Billington & Billington, 2013).

The Make to Learn Invention Kits that resulted address curricular standards that span the disciplines. A sequence of two dozen planned Invention Kits span five eras.

1. 1800 – 1840 An Age of Discovery
2. 1840 – 1920 Electromechanical Age
3. 1920 – 1960 Electronic Age
4. 1960 – 2000 Age of Computing
5. 2000 – present Age of Making

Volta’s invention of the battery in 1800 sparked a revolution. The battery led to the discovery that electricity can be converted into motion. This made the telegraph and electric motors possible. Three great networks in the nineteenth century changed our lives in unexpected ways – the telegraph system, the telephone system, and the electrical network. The communication networks altered the course of the Civil War, made weather forecasting possible, and connected the nation through news wire services. The combination of the electrical grid and electric motors transformed industry and home life. These networks also served as incubators of innovation that improved our standard of living and quality of life in ways that have not been equaled before or since.

The principles first discovered by nineteenth century inventors remain the foundation of the electronic devices that power our modern world. One of the best ways to understand these principles and their impact on our civilization is to follow the path of the original inventors. Reconstruction of pivotal inventions in history can give students the foundational knowledge and skills to design their own inventions.

These resources are made freely available in open source format on the Make to Learn web site (www.maketolearn.org). Many institutions will require support and scaffolding to make use of these resources. Some schools do not yet have the resources to acquire maker technologies such as 3D printers. Other institutions have the technologies but lack skills and expertise to take full advantage of their capabilities.

Physical versions of Make to Learn Invention Kits were developed to address this need. Each kit is pre-populated with the parts needed to reconstruct and use an invention. A total of four representative kits are included in the dissemination package developed for the coming academic year. Each invention kit provides a connection to one of the great networks that transformed the nation.

1. The Linear Motor Invention Kit It provides connections to the electrical grid and its power generation and distribution systems. It allows students to design motors and actuators that can be incorporated into mechanisms of their own design.

2. The Dynamic Speaker Invention Kit provides connections to the telephone network. It allows students to understand how sound waves can be converted into electrical energy and transmitted over a network.

3. The Electronic Amplifier Invention Kit provides a bridge between the electromechanical age of the nineteenth century and the electronic age that began in the twentieth century.

4. The HyperDuino Invention Kit combines an Arduino microcontroller with hypermedia software. It allows students to control mechanisms that they invent using solid state relays that are successors to the mechanical relays first developed for the nineteenth century telegraph network.

The Make to Learn system is designed to inspire young inventors. The four representative Make to Learn Invention Kits can be combined in countless ways to allow students to design and construct their own inventions.

Support will be provided post workshop. David Slykhuis and James Rutter are both involved with the project and available via a variety of methods to provide further support. All materials presented in the workshop are freely available online for use at participant’s home institutions.