As STEM educators and supporters of STEM schools, you work with the inventors of the future — your students. What do you tell a student who has drawn up plans for a promising innovation? What’s the next step? How did the great U.S. inventors grapple with the triumphs and failures of innovating and still persevere? Being innovative can spark many questions, and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has answers for you and your students. The office has a wealth of information and educational activities that focus on invention and creativity, and it’s available to STEM teachers and students. Linda Hosler, the office’s deputy program manager, tells us more:
Q: Why did your office decide to offer educational resources to students and teachers, and how does the work of your office connect to STEM education?
A: A significant part of the mission of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is a commitment to education and outreach. Our education and outreach efforts focus on the creation and protection of intellectual property (IP) — this includes inventions, knowledge discovery, creative ideas and expressions of the human mind that might have commercial value and are protectable under patent, trademark, copyright or trade-secret laws.
We invest in STEM and IP education to inspire the next generation of American innovators. Anyone, at any age, can be an inventor and entrepreneur, so we have programs that impact pre-school-age kids through high school and college-level students, and adults.
Q: What is your office’s goal in providing such educational programs and resources?
A: We want to encourage and support American inventors of all ages, fields and backgrounds. We want them to innovate and then to protect their ideas and businesses.
By providing these resources, we want students to be energized and think of themselves as inventors. We want adults to know about the importance of American innovation and our IP system.
Q: Tell us about the resources offered to younger children, teens, parents and educators?
A: The USPTO’s Office of Education and Outreach provides hands-on activities, videos and resources for kids from elementary school to high school, plus resources for parents and teachers.
Students can find stories of young inventors and innovators as well as hands-on Maker and inventor activities that they can try themselves. The youngest innovators can explore coloring pages, puzzles, quizzes and mazes, while older students can try their hands at launching rockets, navigating the Race to the USPTO, building a mechanical grasper, exploring Extraordinary Innovations or checking out one of the USPTO Inventor Card Activity Challenges.
Older students as well as teachers and parents enjoy the Science of Innovation series, a project created by the USPTO in partnership with the National Science Foundation and in collaboration with NBC Learn, the education arm of NBC News. This summer, we will also conduct the 5th annual National Summer Teacher Institute (NSTI) on Innovation, STEM, and Intellectual Property.
The USPTO has a number of partnerships with organizations that allow us to reach students and adults, either in-person or online, for example at festivals, fairs or competitions. We collaborate with the Smithsonian Institution, the National Academy of Inventors and the National Science and Technology Medals Foundation to offer events and programming for all types of audiences.
Our biggest partnership is with the National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF), which the USPTO co-founded in 1973. USPTO and NIHF together run the free museum located at USPTO headquarters in Alexandria, Va., which not only honors the extraordinary inventors of the Hall of Fame, but also has exhibits that allow everyone to explore stories about invention and IP.
In addition, NIHF, in partnership with the USPTO, runs educational programs to encourage creativity, exploration and inventiveness in people of all ages and backgrounds, including children, teachers, parents, college students and independent inventors.
Of these, the largest is Camp Invention, a weeklong summer camp for students in grades K-6. Camp Invention is unique because it brings together the stories of the Hall of Fame inductees with hands-on STEM activities that also feature content about entrepreneurship and IP.
Certified local teachers receive training about STEM and invention to run Camp Invention. The teachers report that they then use that professional development in their classrooms during the school year. Middle and high school students can also participate in Camp Invention as Leadership Interns.
Another fantastic offering of NIHF is the Collegiate Inventors Competition. This competition for undergraduate and graduate student inventors encourages and drives innovation and entrepreneurship. The competition finalists travel to USPTO to meet with an esteemed panel of judges, made up of USPTO experts plus Hall of Fame inductees, to discuss their inventions and brainstorm the next steps.
This competition has awarded more than $1 million to 183 of the country’s most innovative college students.
Q: What feedback have you received from students and adults on these offerings? What seems to be the most popular?
A: The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive for our programs. We find that parents, students and teachers are excited to see the USPTO and stories about inventions in their communities.
We hear stories about students who have participated in, or been influenced by, our programs who have gone on to file and receive patents, started their own businesses or talked about the confidence they have gained from exploring the invention process.
Camp Invention receives incredibly positive feedback year after year from students, parents and teachers. It is so popular that some children attend every year, then once they age out, they will return as Leadership Interns, or camp counselors to the younger kids.
We have licensed local teachers who believe in the value of Camp Invention so much that they keep bringing it back to their districts every summer.
The numbers also bear out this great feedback. Camp Invention and the National Inventors Hall of Fame’s other educational programs are in all 50 states, plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, reaching 150,000 children and 18,000 educators annually. With our partnership with the Hall of Fame, we’ve impacted 1.4 million students with hands-on STEM and entrepreneurial content since 1990, of which we are very proud.
The Science of Innovation materials have been very popular among teachers, students and parents. The materials were launched in 2013 for use by middle and high school educators to introduce students to IP and STEM concepts and highlight the connections among invention, innovation, IP and STEM. To date, we estimate that 1.5 million people have seen the Science of Innovation collection. The resources are available free to the public.
The NSTI has also been extremely popular and last year saw a record-breaking 500-plus applications submitted for the 50-spot program.
Q: Tell us more your educational events, especially the upcoming National Summer Teacher Institute on Innovation, STEM and Intellectual Property: Who might benefit from attending?
A: We are constantly collaborating on educational events, especially with our partners mentioned above, such as holding talks at the Smithsonian, sponsoring Camp Invention around the country, or “An Evening With”, a new program held primarily on college campuses that features the laureates of the National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.
Our annual National Summer Teacher Institute (NSTI) is specifically for elementary, middle and high school teachers who want to increase their knowledge about making, inventing and innovating. The USPTO typically partners with a university to provide a week of immersive training for K-12 teachers on patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, invention and entrepreneurship in the context of STEM.
The NSTI is part of the USPTO’s ongoing efforts to foster innovation, competitiveness and economic growth domestically and abroad.
This year’s program will take place July 29-August 3. The program is open to in-service K-12 teachers throughout the United States and U.S. territories. This year’s program is offered in collaboration with the University of South Florida (USF) College of Education and the David C. Anchin Center and will be hosted on the USF Tampa campus. Unfortunately, the application closed on June 8, but watch our web site for news about future programs.
Q: Does your office provide any resources to STEM networks, such as STEMx, that might be helpful?
A: Yes, many of the resources are available on-line at www.uspto.gov/kids. We also welcome people to explore the information of the National Inventors Hall of Fame and take a virtual tour of the NIHF Museum. We also provide materials such as inventor notebooks and trading cards upon request.
The USPTO will provide hands-on and web-based professional development workshops for formal and informal educators upon request and subject to availability. We will attend Maker Faires, science expos, social studies fairs, invention conventions, arts festivals and STEAM conventions upon request subject to staff availability and resources.
Q: What is the best way for students, parents and educators to become involved with your programs and resources?
A: To get involved with any of the National Inventors Hall of Fame programs, including Camp Invention and the Collegiate Inventors Competition, visit www.invent.org.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with us concerning your office’s efforts to reach out to STEM students and educators?
A: On June 19, the USPTO is issuing its 10 millionth utility patent. This is a historic milestone, not just for our office but also for the history of American innovation. American inventors have played such a critical role in the growth and development our economy and society, and we want to inspire the next generation to keep inventing!
We’re urging everyone to celebrate this milestone with us this summer by taking a closer look at the inventions all around you that play such a big part in our everyday lives. We have put together a webpage that goes through the history of patents in the U.S. plus shares various ways that people can get involved, including two social media campaigns, #Tenfor10 and #TheRealMcCoy. Check out https://10millionpatents.uspto.gov/.