If you ask Yolanda Payne to describe her experience at the United States Patent Office's (USPTO) National Summer Teacher Institute (NSTI), she’d say, “Attending NSTI is a life-changing experience. It is a lot of hard work, but it’s fun learning new things. At NSTI, you learn things you and your students will benefit from. It will make you a better teacher. Anything that captures students’ attention is winning for a teacher.”
As an education professional with a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education, a Master’s in Instructional Technology, an Ed.S. in Curriculum and Educational Technology, and soon a Ph.D. in Language and Literacy, Yolanda has a passion for learning and often seeks out professional development opportunities. That’s why when she received an email about NSTI, she knew she had to apply for the program.
Yolanda challenges herself at NSTI
What was Yolanda exposed to at NSTI? She participated in hands-on science activities that illustrated a key point to her. She learned she can introduce her students to innovative experiments that require little to no money—inexpensive ways to reach them and make them think.
Yolanda also learned a lot in the Invention Challenge, during which teachers were divided into teams to create an invention that was commercially viable or useful. Yolanda’s team, which consisted of teachers from Texas and Missouri, created a product they named the Maker Mod, a cabinet with a table that can be folded up or down with different shelving options. The team has kept in touch after NSTI and even filed a provisional application for a patent on their project.
During her time at NSTI, Yolanda appreciated the opportunity to be around like-minded people. “When you are an educator, it can be isolating because you go into your classroom or office and focus on your area. Through NSTI, I was able to meet other educators who are as passionate about their students’ learning as I am.”
Yolanda applies her NSTI experience in her classroom
Now that Yolanda has returned to her job as the media specialist at H.B. Stroud Elementary School in Athens, Georgia, she has used what she learned at NSTI to alter her perspective and the way she sees her students. “I think differently about failing. FAIL = First Attempt In Learning—‘I did not get it this time. Let me try something else.’ It makes students think about their problems and how they can solve them, instead of waiting for someone else to fix them.”
With her new perspective, Yolanda has used what she learned at NSTI to make some tangible changes. For example, she has added maker spaces to her library—areas where students can tinker and create. Maker spaces have no instructions. They are organic environments where students can be creative.
At a school with over 400 students, located in a county with one of the highest rates of poverty in Georgia, it is imperative to expose kids to making and let them see themselves as makers, innovators, and inventors—as producers, not just consumers. This leads to creating a safe space for students, where they are comfortable asking questions and they are open to possibilities.
Today, Yolanda encourages her students to ask questions. Growing up in a large family in rural Mississippi, she understands the attitude some students have that they should be quiet and make-do in school. She wants her students to feel empowered and realize that they are full of possibility, despite their circumstances, just as she was.
This year Yolanda hopes to introduce an Invention Convention to her school. She wants kids to realize the validity of their ideas and understand that innovation and invention do not have to cost a lot. A notebook, gel pens, and colored pencils are often all that is needed to get started.
Looking back on her NSTI experience, Yolanda is happy that she attended the program and pleased that she has been able to apply so much of what she learned to positively impact the lives of her students. “If you’re an educator who enjoys learning, and you’re passionate about your students’ learning, you have to attend NSTI. It’s an experience you won’t forget or regret.”