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Oregon educator, Katrina Hull, is preparing the next generation of problem solvers

Katrina Hull looks back and doesn’t know how she ended up as a CTE teacher.

“I think I just kept saying yes, over and over,” says Hull, who said “yes” to implementing an after- school engineering program and getting more funding and opportunities for her Title I students.

Hull got her students creating and solving problems for things within their community. They presented at Portland State University at the Big Demo Day and got invited to participate in the University’s clean tech challenge, an invention competition with cash prizes.

Inventing some machinery to turn lunchroom plastic into filament, Hull’s students swept the college competition and walked out with about $20,000 dollars in prizes.

“It was a big deal. And this was all because we could afford a 3D printer in our classroom,” says Hull.

A teacher’s currency

After the competition, Hull also started taking her high school geometry students to competitions. “I took a group of those honors geometry students on a field trip because in teacher currency, that’s all that you have, right?” says Hull.

It was on that field trip a student asked what they could do that would lead to opportunities like the competition. Hull did her research and started to implement the Lemelson MIT Program. Winning the Excite award, Hull’s students invented throughout the entire 2018-2019 school year.

“Not all students have access to after-school opportunities. So, for us at McCay High School, we said, ‘what can we do to bring invention out into the classroom?’” says Hull.

By pulling Invention Education into the classroom, Hull found her way into Career and Technical Education (CTE).

Building the program – things to know

“You have to be comfortable with not knowing, which is so uncomfortable, especially as a math teacher,” says Hull. “That was something that was really hard for me to grasp, but within Invention Education, the magic is that journey. It’s failing along the way. And when we fail, who do we bring to the table to help us overcome that obstacle?”

Hull encourages educators and administrators, who are starting out, to find the people in their community that can help supplement that failure and will help them learn. “You’re going to learn alongside your students and that’s going to be really exciting.”

Hull stresses the importance of failure. “We in education expect our teachers to be these content level experts that stand on these pillars that can do all these incredible things. But really, the world is changing. And I don’t need my students to understand content at a deep level. I need them to understand how to problem solve at an advanced level,” says Hull.

She believes Invention Education is a way she can get her students to an advanced level of solving problems. In her classes, she hosts a bit called failure favorites. Students hold up their failures and have fun discussing them with peers.

Hull understands that invention is often about iterating upon things. Looking back at her experience in a math classroom, she wishes she would have taken more opportunity to celebrate that learning process along the way.

Power in diverse abilities

After bringing students to a presentation at the Lemelson Foundation, a student told Hull how a presentation that made her reflect on their own ability to speak confidently and clearly with her accent because she heard an expert speaker do it.

“It’s a diversity of backgrounds and experiences. It might be skin color. It might be the sound in their voice. It might be the shoes that they’re wearing. It might be the food that they’re eating,” says Hull. “I need to be looking for (diverse) opportunities to make connections for my students.”

Hull reflects on how differences in ability, like hearing impairments, sometimes might make some students feel uncomfortable or incapable. There is power in showing kids that they can do what they want to do by showing a diversity in representation of others with similar backgrounds.

The importance of networking

In the virtual reality of teaching today, Hull is constantly looking for opportunities to connect students with diverse professionals.

“For teachers, there wasn’t like a networking class. I think for business majors there’s always (an expectation) like you’re gonna go to these events. You’re going to socialize. This is gonna be the time that you can network,” says Hull. “I think we (teachers) forget that we actually know how to network really well because we do it with students and it’s not much different doing it with adults.”

Hull has been amazed at how many opportunities she has found through networking on platforms like Facebook.

“It’s amazing how often you’ll find that there are all sorts of people out there. I mean, I bet hundreds of thousands of people out there that have interesting experiences, jobseekers, all those things that are willing to participate. They just don’t know how nobody asked them. So they don’t.”

Bringing invention education into core classroom concepts

In the beginning of building an engineering pathway at Mackay High School, 40 to 50 students requested the pathway in a school of about twenty five hundred, which seemed like a decline. Hull brought invention education into that work and the number of students requesting the pathway increased to 500.

“I think it happened because we were celebrating the learning,” says Hull. What I would take back to the classroom, really, is that celebration of the learning.”

Assignments became reflections on learning versus being heavily content focused. The reflections allowed students to understand their trajectories and progress.
Hull thinks something similar could be done in a math class by asking students – Can you explain where you are on this continuum of learning? Where did you get stuck? How did you overcome that? And what are we doing moving forward?

Letting students try things to fail and get the answer is a way for students to understand math, almost a different language, and gain a new skill set is something Hull thinks is critical.

The power of Invention Education

“Invention Education has the power to be a generational change,” says Hull. With the impact of current changes, Hull believes Invention Education gives students the understanding that they can solve problems in their community.

“They can go to college. They can go to trade school. They can start a job like whatever it is for them that will then impact generations to come. It’s not impacting that individual student as a silo, it really is a generational impact,” Hull says.

“We are helping our students learn to think. And we’re helping them to problem solve. We really are preparing them for something that we’ve never experienced in the world before. And they’re going to be great. They’re going to lead us into whatever is next.”

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.

Katrina Hull PhotoKatrina Hull, Career and technical education teacher from McKay High School in Salem, Oregon
Twitter: @MrsHull_Math

Katrina’s primary focus is giving students a solid foundation while in high school that they can use as a springboard to jump into what is next. She has a deep passion for seeing all students succeed and giving students opportunities to connect to role models that look, and sound like them. This work has led katrina to heading up the CTE engineering pathway at McKay