People design and construct the objects that we interact with daily. From computer code to electronics to brick and mortar, the next generation of builders, designers, leaders, and thinkers must understand how digital and physical objects in our world come to fruition. This way, they'll feel confident to design and build their own. Design and engineering represent fundamental skills for generating ideas, building and testing models, and implementing solutions1 — where invention literacy1 comes into play.
What is Invention Literacy?
Invention Literacy, as coined by Jay Silver of Makey Makey, “is the ability to read and write human made stuff." To be invention literate, it means you’re able to look at the world around you and think about how something works. When students put on the hat of an inventor, they can see how the world works, and have the confidence to invent new parts of the world. That could be anything from a pen to computer software. While many might believe that inventors go through a series of complicated steps to make their creations come to life, it all starts with writing things down. Students take several investigative steps while learning invention literacy5 :
- Traditional research: Students research authoritative sources like databases and scientific journals to learn the invention's historical context. Students increase their invention literacy by researching, tinkering, and learning about inventions.5
- Crowdsourcing research: Students look at reputable websites to learn about other versions of the invention they want to redesign. Crowdsourcing also involves communicating with experts using Skype2 or other messaging tools.5
- Prototyping: Students use drawings, journals, and modeling to document and recreate the invention.5
Just like the mechanics of reading English, understanding and implementing invention literacy follows the same principles. For example, people start learning about reading and writing as part of an early childhood curriculum. Curriculums should also include lessons about how inventors make things3 and how students can turn their ideas into inventions —or at least how to write about those ideas.3
How Invention Literacy Helps Learners and Educators
Invention Literacy helps learners and educators by providing collaboration, communication, designing, creating, and programming solutions for everyday problems. For example, when a student or educator sees a new invention, they might think, "How did that inventor come up with something so innovative?" Invention literacy1 allows students and educators to use that question to deconstruct the idea and turn it into a hands-on project.1
Educators can spur a student's imagination by asking how an object works and how they can make a new version of that object. Like STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) activities, this question motivates students to take ownership of the project and subsequent learning experiences. When students understand how something works or the premise behind an invention, that sparks inspiration for creating new inventions.
How Invention Literacy Applies to STEM Education
There exists no doubt that STEM continues to grow throughout the field of education. Between 2015 and 2016, STEM-related fields represented approximately 18% (331,000) of the 1.8 million bachelor's degrees awarded.4
STEM allows students to take hands-on approaches to objectives. Invention literacy gives them the critical thinking and problem-solving skills to communicate those approaches. These critical skills transfer across academic and work environments, making them vital for a student's success.
Invention literacy has the potential to accelerate the early development of STEM thinkers.5 Reading and writing about other inventors helps spark inspiration for new inventions or inventive problem-solving solutions.5 That means students take existing ideas, deconstruct them, and create something new or redesign its functionality.
Building strong STEM thinkers involves encouraging students to use their world observations to test theories about how their invention works. Invention literacy also inspires and motivates educators to use innovative teaching approaches. For example, educators can encourage students to model their ideas using cardboard, drawings, toys, or other creative materials.
Sphero Incorporates Invention Literacy Into STEM Activities
Invention literacy allows students to understand the mechanics of things around them and how to create things. Students can take objects apart to learn about what makes them functional, mimic that functionality, and learn where they can make changes or improvements.
Sphero robots and littleBits kits introduce STEM to your children by incorporating invention literacy into engaging, hands-on activities. Kids can learn essential STEM and STEAM skills like coding, circuit boarding, robotics, and more.
Additionally, Sphero activities and littleBits inventions give students an opportunity to explore real world concepts and build their own understanding of the invention cycle through STEM and computer science.
Whether they're learning in-person in school or at home in a remote or hybrid learning environment, each activity is designed to spark your child's inner inventor.
1 Silver, J. (2016, October 21). Invention Literacy. Retrieved January 11, 2021, from https://medium.com/startup-grind/invention-literacy-5915a411e29d
2 SKYPE A SCIENTIST. (n.d.). Retrieved January 11, 2021, from https://www.skypeascientist.com/
3 Taylor, J., Smith, K., Van Stolk, A., & Spiegelman, G. (2010). Using invention to change how students tackle problems. Retrieved January 11, 2021, from
4 (n.d.). Retrieved January 11, 2021, from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/raceindicators/indicator_reg.asp
5 Gravescolleen, /. (2016, September 20). Invention Literacy Research – Part One. Retrieved January 11, 2021, from https://colleengraves.org/2016/06/07/invention-literacy-research-part-one/