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Teacher, Doug Scott, shows us how to get the disconnected kids involved

Rocket Boys

“I had four students that participated on our Lemelson MIT event team in 2013 and 2014 – Ford, Jason, Nick and Jim,” says Massachusetts teacher Doug Scott, reflecting on their underdog status. Some of the members of the team were D-level students, much like his own high school record.

“I had these four kids that really reminded me of the movie October Sky, where they were kind of these underdog kids and they, you know, put together rocket systems. These four kids, they were kind of searching for something to do and they ended up joining our team and they did great. They put in thousands, no kidding, two thousand hours on an internship that they did with me as seniors and they really were the backbone of that project,” Scott explains.

Scott credits Invention Education to transforming students, just like the rocket boys, to spark interest in ways traditional learning programs don’t.

“It gives a lot of students who maybe never have that spark in a traditional learning program, the opportunity to try something different, to touch, to build, to spark something in their minds that they can change those things,” he says.

Exploration as a child

As a kid, Scott “made a lot of junk” – half of the things worked and the other half didn’t.

“I was really fortunate. I had an uncle that was very mechanical and his buddy, Rusty, was kind of a junkyard mechanic,” says Scott in remembering his weekends growing up.

Discovery through invention

Scott recently supported a team of student inventor’s to lead The Shield Team 2020. Teachers and students from all across the country produced over 60 thousand face shields to combat COVID-19 as a result of this work.

The class was experimenting with hats and eventually designed little clips to go on the brim of a baseball cap or any sort of hat to affix a shield out of any kind of hat with a brim. Some educators in Ohio took the hat clips and printed thousands of them to use for students in the Ohio school systems. At least three or four schools systems adopted the hat clips for safety shields.

Getting girls into STEM

Scott knows he can always get boys to show up to the shop, but understands the importance of diversity.

“I can get all those types of kids but it really doesn’t make our team and our projects any better because we usually end up with similar skill sets and personalities,” says Scott. “I’m in a school system where, you know, the most underrepresented group in STEM in our district are the female students. So we started running girl days.”

By creating spaces for the girls, Scott opened the door to female students to get involved. “Female students when there’s empathy involved with helping the police or fire or inventing toys for fourth graders in town, they make that personal connection with those beneficiaries. And that hooks a lot of the girls into invention education and STEM.”

Scott finds that once the girls are invited in they stick with it and excel. He believes it is critical to expose this type of learning and opportunities to broader swaths of the student population.

“We learn that those differing experiences and perspectives really add something pretty dramatic to the conversation, that empathy skill is something our boys need to maybe learn more of,” says Scott.

Where to start – equity

Scott points to some useful lesson plans on PBS published by the Lemelson Foundation to get people started.

“Those are great starters. But I would say that you need to understand that you’re letting go of control of your classroom a little bit when you do this,” Scott says. “You’re no longer saying, OK, everybody, we’re going to build a popsicle stick bridge and then we’re gonna crush it or we’re gonna do an egg drop for a typical engineering projects. It becomes a situation where you say to them (students), I don’t know what problem you’re going to identify. And I don’t know what solutions you’re going to work on.”

Scott maintains that his role as a teacher is to facilitate the learning process. Starting small and letting kids learn about the process as they explore will quickly transform you into the best teacher.

The power of invention education

“The empowering part of invention education is students learning to identify a problem and solve it. Once they learn the process of higher levels, higher levels of problem solving and thinking, they become independent thinkers and independent problem solvers. And those are the type of people that we need in the world.”

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.

Doug ScottDoug Scott, Educator from Hopkinton High School in Hopkinton Massachusetts
Twitter: @MrScottBot

Doug has taught 9th-12th grade engineering, robotics, and technology for 17 years.

And has led numerous robotics and competitive technology teams to state and regional championships as well as national and international competitions. Nationally, his technology teams have won seven titles and multiple top-three placements. During his tenure at Hopkinton, Doug has helped grow the robotics program from six students to 160 in grades 6–12.

A major focus of Doug’s work has been “minding the gender gap” in STEM. Doug has helped increase female student enrollment in his department from seven to 35 percent in just four years.

Doug accompanied students from his Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam to the 2014 Office of Science and Technology Policy White House Science Fair where The team’s invention was awarded a U.S. patent. He serves as a fellow for the Lemelson-MIT Program and an ambassador for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Doug also helped draft national invention education standards.