Documenting the Critical Components and Implementation Variations of the Make-To-Learn Invention Kits

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Yoder, Eric, Education - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Moore, Stephanie, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

The Make-to-Learn Invention Kits are a series of innovative, engineering-focused STEM learning modules that are currently being piloted, primarily in middle school settings. The series traces the progression of key inventions that transformed modern civilization between 1800 and 1960; inventions such as the electric motor, the telegraph, the telephone, and the radio. Open-source digital resource packages called Invention Kits contain virtual, 3D models from the Smithsonian collections, primary and secondary sources such as patent descriptions and inventors’ notebooks, instructional guides, and other support materials for teachers and students. Using these resources, students reinterpret and reinvent the devices using either low-tech tools or advanced manufacturing technologies.

This study focused on the problem of supporting teachers who seek to provide engineering-focused STEM experiences to their students. This is especially important considering that the majority of K-12 teachers have little or no training or experience with engineering pedagogy. For these teachers, the Invention Kits represent an innovation. Educational change research suggests that educational innovations often fail to catch on because would-be adopters do not fully understand what the innovation will look like when implemented in the envisioned way. Innovation Configuration Mapping was developed as a strategy to address this problem. One goal of this study was to develop an Innovation Configuration Map for the Make-to-Learn Invention Kits. In doing so, the study addressed the following research questions: (1) What are the critical components of the Make-to-Learn Invention Kits from the perspectives of the developers and facilitators? (2) How do Invention Kit developers and facilitators describe their visions for how the components should be implemented? (3) In practice, how do teachers adapt the Invention Kits to their context? What components of the kits do teachers choose to implement or emphasize? Do the teachers add new components to the kits? If so, what are these additions?

The Innovation Configuration Mapping process consisted of document analysis, interviews with the Invention Kit developers, and interviews and classroom observations with teachers implementing the Invention Kits in five classrooms across three school districts. Findings related to (a) opportunities for students to fully participate in the process of reinventing the historical devices and develop high-tech and low-tech engineering competencies; (b) the strategies that teachers employed to facilitate knowledge construction of scientific principles; (c) activities through which students appropriated scientific knowledge and engineering skills and applied them to their own inventions; and (d) broader themes that were used to provide students with historical perspective and help them understand the process of invention. Findings detail what these and other components look like according to the visions of the developers and how they were adapted in different classroom contexts.

The results of this study underscore the complexity of the Invention Kits – and integrated STEM learning approaches, in general – which combine subject matter from multiple content areas, engineering-design processes, project-based learning, and modern design and manufacturing technologies. Limitations included a small sample size – at the time of this study, the Invention Kits were being piloted at a small number of sites – and a relatively short study duration. Also, the unique characteristics of the Invention Kits, which utilize advanced manufacturing technologies such as 3D printing, may limit the transferability of the findings until such technologies and related approaches become more widespread in K-12 settings.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
STEM Education, Educational Change, Concerns-Based Adoption Model, Innovation Configuration Map, K-12 Engineering, Educational Innovation, CBAM, K-12
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