Invention Education Toolkit

Invention Education Toolkit Photo Credit: Cecilia Snyder. Girls carrying water. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) via flickr


This sheet provides background information about invention education and guidelines for creating a mentor development spreadsheet.

Invention Education

Invention education has at least two key differences from traditional classroom approaches:

  • First, the classroom is hierarchically flat. The teacher is part guide, project manager, coach, safety officer, and concierge—not the know-it-all at the front of the classroom issuing instructions. With an invention education approach, students take responsibility and initiative for organizing and progressing through iterative phases of discoveryplanning, project initiation, completion, feedback, assessment, and review.
  • Second, non-traditional sources of classroom knowledge and expertise are valued—perhaps even prioritized—over conventional texts, exercises, and problem sets. Inviting a practicing, problem-solving engineer into class to apply her or his knowledge and serve as a project mentor is one of the most potent forces of learning there is because it becomes rooted emotionally in a relationship—with a person, with categories of knowledge, with habits of mind, and problem solving techniques.

Here are some background resources for invention education:

Creating Mentor Development Spreadsheet

Developing a mentoring relationship is a key part of finding one’s path in the innovation space and receiving help in many forms—conceptual, practical, introductions to potential collaborators, offers of use of equipment or lab space, possible financial support.

Note: Mentoring is a relationship—dynamic and ongoing. You are genuinely reaching out for help and you are also prepared to reciprocate in any way you can to your specific mentor.

Optional Assignment
Use the categories below to construct a mentoring database. A spreadsheet format works best, but use the format with which you are most comfortable so you maintain contacts and observations, and crucially, next steps in these vital relationships.

Enter these categories and log the information they generate.

  • Name
  • Title
  • How this person was referred to you, or became known to you
  • Date you entered this person in your mentoring database
  • Contact information
  • Outreach Letter 1 text: Here you write a short—five sentences—respectful, formal business letter of introduction of you and your request for mentoring from them. Test it and proof read it with your peers—making sure if you have “saved as” you change the salutation and any other customized information. You may email or mail as print.
  • Date Sent
  • Date of Response
  • Remarks, outcomes, next steps: such as advice offered, suggestions, referrals
  • Follow up text: Here you respond with a formal acknowledgment of their response, express thanks and appreciation for it, and suggest a five-minute phone meeting, at their convenience, to discuss three to five questions (which you compose). Send the questions now so they can prepare and know what to expect—and that it really is just five minutes of their time.
  • Date of Response
  • Remarks, outcomes, next steps

Repeat as needed, and add relevant categories as needed.

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