If you ask eighth grade science teacher Tracy Vassiliev to identify some myths about innovation, she would say, “People often do not recognize the importance of innovation in science. Nor do they appreciate the role that failure plays in innovation. Not everything works, and failure often has a negative connotation, instead of being embraced as a learning opportunity. It’s also important to realize that innovation doesn’t happen all at once. Ideas evolve and change over time.”
These are all lessons that Tracy learned after attending the United States Patent and Trademark Office's (USPTO) National Summer Teacher Institute (NSTI). Each year, Tracy’s students at the James F. Doughty School in Bangor participate in the Maine State Invention Convention. Tracy learned about NSTI when she was researching professional development opportunities that would help her support her students’ convention efforts, and she decided it was a perfect fit.
“I didn’t know much about intellectual property (IP) before attending NSTI," she said. "I knew there were patents, and students were supposed to conduct thorough patent searches before pursuing invention ideas, but that was the extent of my knowledge.”
Tracy applies NSTI lessons in her classroom
After attending NSTI, Tracy feels she now understands IP, the innovation process, how to conduct better patent and trademark searches, and how to market inventions. She also understands that scientific innovation is just as important as scientific literacy. Tracy shares all of this with her students, and she makes sure they know they have one year from the date they publicly disclose their invention to apply for a patent. She pushes them to follow through and helps them throughout the process.
Tracy has also applied other lessons from NSTI in her classroom. She and her students read STEM articles and try to relate the concepts to unique, meaningful invention ideas. They also participate in brainstorming activities.
“Highlighting the importance of innovation has been very helpful to me in the classroom. Students are more engaged in the lessons because I encourage their creativity. I give them the confidence to put everything on the table when they brainstorm. I tell them to let their minds wander and make random connections. New ideas must be nurtured, not chastised. Collaboration is key. I tell my students to bounce their ideas off each other. They understand that any idea can evolve and become workable.”
Tracy has worked with her school’s librarian to develop a better strategy for students to conduct patent searches. The process requires more metacognition, so students end up developing better search terms, which lead to more robust results. This strategy saves students time because they no longer spend hours on an idea, only to discover that it has already been invented and patented.
What advice would Tracy offer fellow educators who are considering attending NSTI? She would encourage them to apply, especially teachers in STEM fields, because NSTI supports science and engineering practices by highlighting the scientific process and engineering design. It helps teachers hone important skills that are necessary when working in a STEM field. She’d add one more thing:
“The NSTI schedule can be grueling, but the rewards are immense. It’s professional development on steroids!”