Invention education is an exciting, evolving field and one in which students can marry classroom and hands-on learning with social concerns about the world to “invent green.” Invention education teaches students how to create new products or processes or to improve upon them through innovation. It suggests students find a problem that wants solving and use STEM-centric skills (the scientific method, trial-and-error, deductive reasoning) to develop a solution.
There are two sides to the phrase “inventing green.” What probably first springs to mind involves coming up with inventions that are, in and of themselves, healthy for the planet. They help to improve the planet’s health, just by their existence. A new way to purify waste water, less toxic household cleaners, or cat litter made from recycled paper rather than strip-mined clay might be examples of such green inventions.
The second side to inventing green is to incorporate the tenet of doing no harm into your inventing process. In order to do that, your invention may (or may not) focus on improving the health of the planet, but it does take Earth’s well-being into every step of your invention’s life, from design and manufacturing to packaging and from usage to, ultimately, disposal.
For instance, if you want to build a new type of phone, you’d want to think about where you’re sourcing your parts from. Are you doing any mining for its metal components, and, if so, are the mines causing damage to the planet or its people? Might your factory run on solar or wind power, rather than relying on fossil fuel for its energy source? Are you going to package it in plastic or in a box? How will your phone’s battery be disposed of when it dies, and are there environmental impacts to consider as it breaks down? Is there a healthier alternative?
Together, these two aspects of inventing green create a holistic approach to innovation in the 21st century. We are developing new products and processes both to improve the planet and to make people’s lives easier and happier. And at the same time, we’re making sure our own inventions do not damage the planet or its residents. This is a cornerstone of modern invention education, and it is imperative to make sure the next generation of inventors is prepared to embrace it.
In an attempt to help unite inventing green and more traditional invention education, Science NetLinks has created a collection of lessons, tools, videos, blog posts, and other resources, which we're releasing through our Inventing Green collection for grades 6–12. We hope they offer you some new ideas for incorporating invention education and inventing green into your classroom.
Have you taught invention education or inventing green to your students? Would you like to learn more or advance the conversation? Join Science NetLinks for a webinar, Bringing Invention Education into the Classroom, on Thursday, January 26, 7–8 p.m. EST. Learn about our new resources and find ways to challenge your students with invention education through discussion with AAAS' Bob Hirshon and STEAM educators Doug Scott and Kristin Moon. Register here.