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July 12, 2021

A student inventor becomes an invention educator

One of Jesirene Buenaventura’s lasting middle school memories is the invention she and her best friend came up with in Grade 7 – the Squam – and the fun they had at a Spring 2007 Invention Convention.
 
“It was basically a squeegee with a spray bottle attached to it and a sponge,” Jesirene explains. “I'm not quite sure where we got the inspiration or if it was as functional as we had hoped, but I have nothing but fond memories of the Iprogram. I’m still in touch with a lot of my friends from then and to this day, the Squam will come up randomly in our conversations.”
Jesirene Buenaventura with her BFF, inventors of The Squam, in Grade 7 (left) and Jesirene as a Grade 7 teacher today (right).
Jesirene Buenaventura with her BFF, inventors of The Squam, in Grade 7 (left) and Jesirene as a Grade 7 teacher today (right).

So it was a blast from the past when, in March 2021, a fellow Grade 7 teacher at Queen of Heaven Elementary School in Milton, Ontario, suggested that they engage their classes in Investigate! Invent! Innovate! – The Learning Partnership’s foundational innovation education program recently redesigned for virtual teaching.
 
“Our original idea was to do a passion project. But we said, why reinvent the wheel, there's probably something out there that has the steps laid out for us.” That’s when they came across I3 and Jesirene immediately recognized it as the same program – adapted for online teaching – that she had participated in as a student.
 
She recalls that their Invention Convention “was more ‘old school’. We had the three-panel bristol board displays, and people walking around with clipboards. We were all so nervous! It was just such a fun day. I think that's why I remember it so much because it was so different from what we were typically doing in our class.”

Jesirene’s journey from student inventor to invention educator

Science, engineering and technology were early passions for Jesirene. “I was that kid who would pull apart pens and put them back together. I was always curious about how things worked. My dad was an engineer and was so proud when I came home with projects where I was building something. But while I loved physics in high school, and was curious about my options (including pursuing engineering), I wanted to be a teacher all my life,” Jesirene said.
 
She credits the I3 program with helping her realize that, while she enjoyed inventing, what she liked even more was showing people how she built it. “More than the invention itself, the I3 program sparked my passion for presenting what I had learned. It really did prepare me for a future of presenting, teaching and exploring.”

Starting the invention ball rolling

Jesirene and her class really enjoyed the problem identification and market research parts of the I3 curriculum. “I asked kids to brainstorm what kind of problems they have and that's where they're just like, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam – throwing out every kind of problem they had. The inquiry process was broken down so nicely and was so easy for students to understand. The teacher dashboard has every single lesson planned out and is so extensive,” Jesirene said.
 
I3’s lessons on the differences between an invention and an innovation, and on how to determine what problems are actually worth solving, also led to a lot of rich class discussion.
 
The flexibility of the lesson plans (there are 19) allowed Jesirene and her co-teachers to condense the materials over two weeks in time to participate in the National Invention Convention and take advantage of The Learning Partnership’s corporate volunteers, called Inventor Mentors, who provide advice and feedback on student projects. “The idea of business people looking at your work is so valuable – it’s not just a teacher, who might not be an expert, giving feedback,” added Jesirene.
 
Jesirene also points out that the experiential, project-based learning allowed her to give marks on multiple subjects. “I loved the marketing components [newly added to the refreshed I3 program this year thanks to The Learning Partnership’s Lead Entrepreneur Education Partner, BMO] – the students learned how to advertise their product and do an elevator pitch. I was able to get a media mark and an oral mark from those lessons.”
Just some of Jesirene Buenaventura’s Grade 7 class inventions.

Inspiring invention and innovation during the pandemic

Jesirene noticed a big difference in the kinds of problems students wanted to tackle compared to her own experience as a student. “Their problems seem more complicated than what my friends and I faced. One of our problems was, for example, pitting an avocado. Students today wanted to solve the problem of being on their phone too long.”
 
A lot of the students’ problems (and solutions) were tech-based – something that initially caused Jesirene some concern. “Creating an app or a website sounded very complicated to me. I wondered how a Grade 7 student could build or solve such complex problems.”
 
On top of that, COVID restrictions meant it was impossible for students to obtain materials to make a physical prototype. “I asked them, ‘what can you do with what you have, how can you still solve the problem?’ They had to think harder and further,” Jesirene noted. The students had to flex their problem-solving, critical thinking and creativity muscles – exactly the core competencies that I3 seeks to cultivate.

Surprises and opportunities for learning

She and her co-teachers noticed that some students went well beyond anything they could have imagined. “One of my students created a website to educate people about phishing attacks and safety on the internet – not a problem I would have ever thought about solving! Another student, an artist, said his neck hurts when he draws. Because he didn't have a lot of materials at home, he ended up creating a 3D prototype online of what his invention would be. It was an excellent opportunity for him to learn new digital skills beyond the purpose of the original assignment.”
 
In other cases, I3 offered students opportunities to build on or display skills that Jesirene hadn’t yet seen in the (virtual) classroom. “I had one student who created a wheelchair for dogs with disabilities who pointed out to me that it wasn’t an invention but an innovation from something she created in Grade 3 or 5. She was very proud to let me know how she was taking her original idea and making it better. She sees herself already as an inventor!”
 
Another student came up with a solution to a personal problem he experiences as someone with allergies: making allergy bracelets more fashionable and useful by creating them as watch accessories. “It was nice to see that personal connection ignite his interest in innovating,” Jesirene said.

Celebrating their passion for innovation together

This year’s first-ever, all-virtual National Invention Convention offered students a chance to see other projects, enriching their experience (especially because they were unable to get together to work in groups).
 
Once underway on June 1, 2021, Jesirene sent the link to her class and they spent several periods together exploring close to 100 projects. Based on her own experience, she asked students to envision themselves being in their own gymnasium and walking through the convention. “I told them to go through each of the projects. See which ones are like yours and see how they solved a similar problem differently. Click on projects by people you don't know. In the group chat, they were typing ‘look at this one, look at that one’ to each other. It took me back to Grade 7 and how excited I was about everyone’s projects. They really enjoyed being able to see each other's work.”
 
In the true spirit of innovation, Jesirene has reflected on how to make the experience even better next year: “I’m going to make sure we have time to do everything properly. Hopefully by next year students will have more material and can work together in groups.”
 
Despite the challenges of the pandemic year – or perhaps because of them! – the three Grade 7 teachers at Queen of Heaven are looking forward to teaching the program again. “It was an all-encompassing project laid out so nicely that I would recommend it for every other teacher to do,” Jesirene said.
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