Lemelson Foundation Invention Education Workshop

I’ve just spent two days in Washington, DC, with a group of 50 thought leaders working on ways to help our students learn to be more creative, inventive, and innovative. The event is hosted by the Lemelson Foundation, and here’s their mission:

The Lemelson Foundation uses the power of invention to improve lives, by inspiring and enabling the next generation of inventors and invention-based enterprises to promote economic growth in the US, and social and economic progress for the poor in developing countries.

The 50 people gathered here include:

  • nonprofit foundations who are funding creativity education (Paul Allen foundation, Henry Ford foundation, Lemelson Foundation)
  • Educators doing invention education, like the Lemelson-MIT “InvenTeams” high school program
  • Successful inventors
  • Scholars who study creativity and innovation (that’s me)

As I head off to the airport, here are my initial impressions.

  • Most of the participants want to do invention education through schools. But the most successful invention education programs are after school programs, summer enrichment programs, and science center programs. What makes it so difficult to implement invention education in a traditional school environment?
  • Most of the participants associate invention education with science and engineering. But we need creativity and invention in all disciplines, including policy, arts, social innovation, international affairs, economics, business processes…I wish there had been more discussion of this broader conception of invention.
  • I worry that “invention education” overly focuses on an outdated myth of the solitary lone genius. But research shows that creativity and innovation today always emerge from group dynamics, conversation, social networks, and collaboration. How can we re-envision invention education to avoid the traditional connotations of the solitary lone genius?

I’m really happy that the Lemelson Foundation has dedicated their substantial resources to this important national issue: enhancing the creative potential of everyone. I’ve been inspired by these two days, surrounded by smart people who care about creativity and education.

3 thoughts on “Lemelson Foundation Invention Education Workshop

  1. Sounds like it was a great workshop. Would have loved to be there! With respect to your bullets:

    – I suspect not enough teachers have the experience, are willing to yield control to the students, and can mentor groups and thus are likely doomed from the start – maybe don’t even start. PBL done in groups has worked in oh, so many schools; indeed, following some of the “competitions” held these days, there are lots of inventive outcomes.

    – to me and lots of others, it’s precisely those other disciplines that make PBL driving questions so motivating for students.

    – As a deciple and advocate of “Group Genius” (heard your keynote at ASEE in Honolulu years ago and read much of it on the plane back home), I totally believe in the importance of teams to individual effective, deeper learning. As noted earlier, teams are or should be a given!

    Thanks for this first overview and for your blog. I look forward to future posts!!!

  2. Keith,
    I loved Zig Zag and put in a request to Wiley to use parts of it at the K12 level as a blended learning opportunity. Additionally, I work with k12 schools as a consultant, I work with KANEKO as part of a creativity project, and am a former art teacher . As this progresses, please let me know how I might be involved. This is the right work.

  3. Thank you! Yes, it will need a new set of skills for teachers, to become mentors and facilitators. Everyone here agrees that teachers first have to go through the invention process themselves, before being able to be good mentors. It’s the same with creativity education and with entrepreneurship education.

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