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An interview with Portland, Oregon Educator Kristin Moon

Testing the boundaries

When Portland, Ore. teacher Kristin Moon taught in middle school, her classroom was directly above the school office. One day, her class was learning about engineering invention and began to test some apps measuring sound and force that the students found. It was only a matter of time when her class of 32 began jumping up and down at the same time to test the app sensors. 

“I completely forgot that I was above the office and, suddenly, the school resource officer runs upstairs to see what we were doing,” says Moon. “At first, the students got silent, but they slowly explained that they were jumping to test an app with sensors for force and sound. He joined us!”

The jumping that day continued, resulting in both the assistant principal and principal running upstairs to find out what was happening as well. Both administrators joined the students in jumping from chairs to produce more sound.  

Moon tested the boundaries, in a safe space, thus engaging her students and keeping them curious. She did something different and the learning stuck. 

“Middle school is that testing age. So, being able to show what that looks like to be safe, to be able to do those things and model that as a really important thing as they try and figure out what that looks like for them,” says Moon.  

Brining invention into the curriculum 

Invention Education wasn’t always a part of Moon’s classroom. While the foundation of Invention Education was always a part of her style, she didn’t realize this until she started helping out with an afterschool program focused on engineering challenges. The students in the program were predominately Black, Brown and Indigenous youth – youth historically marginalized from opportunity with a narrative limiting their capability. 

“There’s a lot of narrative around what kids (especially Black, Brown and Native students) are capable of,” says Moon. “They started winning in these national competitions and more than that, my principal started seeing what the kids could do.”  

With her principal wanting more, Moon was able to convince the school to add an Invention Education elective. She has worked with other educators to imagine what learning could look like and advocate for district level changes.  

Student impact  

Moon was assigned to a math and reading intervention class, supporting students who are not achieving at grade level, based on standardized assessments. Instead of pulling out a textbook to get her students up-to-speed, Moon used invention to practice and apply skills. With invention education, the students saw themselves as capable of learning and they then removed the label that the test score had given them. 

Families have also seen the opportunity with Invention Education as well. Moon shares stories of parents demanding their students have access to the classes. 

“It really starts shifting the narrative about building on kids’ strengths and opportunities rather than the deficit thinking about the way that we have historically described children,” says Moon.  

Learning during a pandemic

Moon lives and teaches in Portland, where they are operating under a comprehensive distance learning model. Everyone is teaching and working from home. Like so many, Moon has found that the pandemic has elevated some of the issues long plaguing education, including access to opportunity. 

Moon has worked to leverage community partners to get materials to students for more hands-on learning. For example, it is a privilege to have things in the home that stick items together – tape, glue, etc. She realizes that those items may not be standard in every home. 

Teachers in Oregon have also worked together to connect community partners to support learning, as well as to engage students that seem checked out. Moon has found that regions doing Invention Education have better attendance and participation rates. The project-based, problem-based learning allows kids to see themselves in the work and engage their community about problems that are important to them. With Invention Education, students decide what’s important for them to solve. 

Invention education doesn’t mean more stuff  

Moon finds that when educators think of Invention Education, they often get stuck on stuff and having access to the latest technology. She notes that those items aren’t necessary and that learning can take place using recycled materials. 

“When I started off, my budget was $100 dollars for the entire year. I really had to think about how to leverage those low cost things; how you can reuse stuff,” says Kristin.

“The other important thing I wish I had done a better job of is asking more about what kids want to do and getting more comfortable faster with me not having to be the expert in their room,” she says. Moon reflects on the false narrative, especially found in secondary education and STEM that teachers should know everything. 

Moon takes it a step further, mentioning that teaching students to fail is critical. Learning happens when kids can pick themselves back up and try again. Moon believes the best thing a teacher can do is provide a space for failure. She notes that failing in front of students is the best way to demonstrate what to do with failure.   

The power of invention education

“Invention Education is really steeped in kids,” says Moon. “I think that it is the opportunity for kids to see themselves as capable of solving the problems that matter to them and their community. That they don’t need to go outside of that in order to figure that out.” 

This summary was produced as part of the Invention Education: Portraits, Strategies, Starting Points podcast series. 

The STEM Learning Ecosystems Community of Practice and the Lemelson Foundation have partnered to bring you this series of critical conversations on the importance of invention education. 

Kristin Moon PhotoKristin Moon, Program Administrator Technology & Engineering, Portland Public Schools

Twitter: @STEAM_kmoon

Kristin has been a math, science, and STEAM teacher for 20 years. Additionally, Kristin has worked with Oregon MESA (Math, Engineering, Science Achievement) as a school chapter advisor, invention education curriculum writer, and provided professional development for chapter advisors and mentors. In the past year, Kristin has collaborated with 4 invention educators to create the Invention Education Ambassadors who are committed to supporting during the school day educators learning how to integrate invention into classroom instruction. Kristin is currently the Technology and Engineering Program Administrator for Portland Public Schools in Portland, Oregon, to work with schools, teachers, families, and community partners in her school district to integrate place-based invention and STEAM learning opportunities for students who are historically underrepresented in STEAM fields.