Blogs

7

February

Can Time in Nature Inspire Young Innovators?

SMALL Talk
Official Blog of
The Young Innovators Project
Center for Digital Literacy, Syracuse University

 

By Guest Blogger Marilyn P. Arnone, Ph.D.

Co-Director, The Young Innovators Project

Center for Digital Literacy, Syracuse University 

Introduction

 

Many of the young innovators we interviewed for the Young Innovators Project have developed innovations for health care, safety, and household improvements; most have been technological in nature. This is not surprising as these children were born digital and they are more comfortable with technology than their grandparents and even some of their parents, although it is often at the expense of spending more time with electronic devices and less time in nature. Innovation spaces, STEM programs, and invention conventions across the country provide guidance and support for children to innovate. Yet, this author wonders if part of children's preparation to innovate should also include both free and guided nature exploration and play. Can time spent in nature actually increase creativity and problem-solving so critical to innovation? The research suggests that this may actually be the case. 

 

What the Research Says

 

Exposure to nature is important to creativity, problem-solving, and even intellectual development. In his acclaimed book "The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age," author Richard Louv discusses how creative people are often "drawn to the outdoors for refreshment and ideas" (2012, p. 35). There is a growing body of research that also suggests that being outdoors may be conducive to getting our creative juices flowing. 

 

 A study by Atchley, Strayer and Atchley (2012) found that a team of young adult backpackers scored higher in a test of creativity after spending four days on a trail hike as compared to a control group. Proximity to nature was also found to increase cognitive abilities, specifically a child's ability to focus (Wells, 2000). This enhanced "focus" was also found in another study of outdoor play and learning (Nedovic & Morrissey, 2013). Even simply exposing high school students to nature imagery can enhance creative performance according to a study by van Rompay (2016). With several conditions that varied the unpredictability and spaciousness of the imagery, high school students who were exposed to imagery with the highest degree of unpredictability and spaciousness scored the highest on a measure of creative thinking.

 

Nature-based risky play is play in which children experience some degree of uncertainty or challenge and is positively associated with exploration and an understanding of the world. In one recent study, researchers examined the effects of an intervention to increase nature-based risky play; the intervention involved the redesign of an outdoor playspace to maximize natural materials and opportunities for exploration. The early childhood educators who participated in the study reported improvements in both problem-solving and creativity among other results such as a decrease in boredom and stress after the intervention (Brussoni, Ishikawa, Brunelle & Herrington, 2017). Wells and Evans (2003) also found that life stress was lower in children with exposure to nearby nature. Kiewra & Veselack (2016) found that pre-school children's creativity in terms of problem-solving and ingenuity were increased when outdoor classrooms included predictable spaces, ample and consistent time, open-ended materials, and caring and observant adults who support creative play and learning. 

 

With the above studies in mind, it hardly seems like an intuitive leap that adding an element of nature to children's innovative thinking activities might contribute to increases in their innovative thinking.

 

Getting Started: Promote Inventive Thinking in School and Public Libraries Through Connections with Nature

 

You can certainly start small by bringing what nature you can into your library. From a "nature loose parts" station (natural outdoor materials like stones, twigs, pinecones, shells, and more for children to combine, take apart, or design with) to providing visual stimulation influenced by nature throughout the library. Bring children outside to explore in nearby nature, take a nature walk, observe natural patterns and color, practice "reading" the clouds, collect natural artifacts, create a journal, draw what is seen. These and other simple outdoor activities will help open creative pathways in the brain and set the tone for more inventive thinking exercises. 

 

There is another benefit to exposure to nature as part of an inventive thinking curriculum; it may trigger creative ideas in students for solving environmental problems in their own communities. Additionally, it has often been stated that children need to develop an appreciation for nature before we can expect them to become its future stewards. In fact, some research has shown that positive direct experience in the outdoors guided by a trusted adult is an important factor in later involvement in protecting one's environment (Chawla, 2007). It stands to reason that this very connection to nature may inspire future young innovators to create the inventions that will protect and sustain our precious planet. 

 

Conclusion

 

The benefits of spending time exploring in the natural environment have been shown to have dramatic benefits to both children's and adults' health and well-being. There is now ample empirical support for the potential to increase students' creative performance by spending time in nature. Additionally, spending time exploring the outdoors also helps to develop an appreciation of nature in our children such that they are motivated to invent solutions to some of our planet's most pressing environmental problems, locally and globally. All this is worth educators' consideration as they develop innovation spaces and programs that inspire creativity and inventive thinking. Consider making just a few small changes to get started and if you see results, do some creative thinking yourself to see how you can expand your efforts to connect children to nature and, in so doing, unlock their creativity.

 

Post-Script: Two of the studies I mentioned in this post also alluded to the increased focus observed in children after spending time in nature. Flow, a theory of optimal human performance put forth by Cszikszentmihalyi (1975), is often associated with a keen sense of focus when a person is engaged with a task that is stimulating and challenging but achievable. In my next post, I will make some connections between flow theory and innovation. 

 

 

REFERENCES

 

Atchley, R.A., Strayer, D.L., Atchley, P. (2012). Creativity in the wild: Improving creative reasoning through immersion in natural settings. PLoS ONE, 7(12), 1-5.

 

Brussoni, M., Ishikawa, T., Brunelle, S., Herrington, S. (2017). Landscapes for play: Effects of an intervention to promote nature-based risky play in early childhood centres. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 54, 139-1550.

 

Chawla, L. (2007). Childhood experiences associated with care for the natural world: A theoretical framework for empirical results. Children, Youth and Environments, 17(4), 144-170.

 

Cszikszentmihalyi, M. (1975). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. Harper & Row.

 

Kiewra, C., Veselack, E. (2016). Playing with nature: Supporting preschoolers' creativity in natural outdoor classrooms. The International Journal of Early Childhood Environmental Education, 4(1).

 

Louv, R. (2012). The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with life in a virtual age. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books.

 

Nedovic, S., Morrissey, A. (2013). Calm, active and focused: Children's responses to an organic outdoor learning environment. Learning Environments Research, 16(2), 281-295.

 

van Rompay, T.J.L., Jol, T. (2016). Wild and free: Unpredictability and spaciousness as predictors of creative performance. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 48, 140-148.

 

Wells, N. M., Evans, G. W. (2003). Nearby nature: A buffer of life stress among rural children. Environment and Behavior, 35(3), 311-330.

 

Wells, N. M. (2000). At home with nature: Effects of 'greenness' on children's cognitive functioning. Environment and Behavior, 32(6), 775-795.

 

 

 

Dr. Marilyn Arnone is co- director of the Young Innovators Project, a professor of practice at Syracuse University's iSchool, and a certified environmental educator in the state of NC. This blog post is the basis of a book chapter that the author is currently preparing.

 

author: Dr. Marilyn P. Arnone
29

January

The Young Innovators Project

SMALL Talk
Official Blog of
The Young Innovators Project
Center for Digital Literacy, Syracuse University
 
By Ruth V. Small, Ph.D., Director
Young Innovators Project
 
January 2018


The topic for this month's blog is "Inclusive Innovation." In 2012-2013, a research team at Syracuse University's Center for Digital Literacy, in collaboration with the Connecticut Invention Convention, conducted a study* investigating the attitudes toward innovation activities, motivational supports, and information needs of young innovators in grade 4–8 as they progressed through the innovation process. This research, one of the few, to date, looking at the process from a child's perspective, led to our proposal that was awarded a National Leadership Grant by the Institute of Museum & Library Services (IMLS), which resulted in the creation of this website, The Innovation Destination and all of its contents.

 

In our study, we were looking for evidence of factors that contribute to or support the innovation process and who and what motivates or "demotivates" that process. We hoped that, from those data, we might uncover how school librarians might play a role in facilitating that process. We surveyed 90 young inventors in grades 4-8 who had participated in local and/or statewide invention fairs and other competitions, followed by interviews with 19 of them.

 

While I won't go into all of our findings, I'd like to focus on one of them. We discovered that almost all of these young innovators demonstrated a deep sense of altruism, reflected in their choice of and passion for the invention they created, as they proceeded through the process. Their innovation focused on a need that they observed or experienced in someone else---a family member, a classmate, a friend---and, typically, that someone else had some type of disability.

We had noticed this empathic attitude in young innovators a few years earlier when we interviewed a first grader who had won his state's invention competition. He wanted to help his grandfather after watching him struggle to pick things up with his hand because it shook so much due to Parkinson's Disease. So, this young boy set out to create a mechanical glove that helps people manipulate their fingers and he did it!

 

We began to see example after example of this type of empathy in our later study. For instance, one child inventor noted that he had observed a classmate at his school who had difficulty working at his desk because his wheelchair wouldn't fit under it. So, our young innovator created a desk with an adjustable height and width as his solution to the problem.

Another young innovator talked about his friend who had been born without ears, due to a condition known as Treacher Collins Syndrome, but had hearing aids surgically implanted where the ears would be. Our young innovator discovered that, when he and his friend went to the movies, the boy could only hear through one or the other hearing aid so he missed much of the dialogue. So, our young innovator created a portable remote control that allows those with this disability to choose to hear in broadband (everything) or single band, (only one specific noise), as well as a dial to adjust the volume. Pretty cool, eh?

 

As we listened to these stories of these wonderful inventions we began to wonder, what about the kids with disabilities, themselves, as innovators? Do they participate in innovation programs and activities? And, do we think about our innovation spaces in Universal Design terms? For example, is a child in a wheelchair able to maneuver and participate in my school's makerspace? Are there quiet spaces for children with autism to work within my robotics lab?

 

Furthermore, are the innovation lessons and activities we offer designed according to Universal Design for Learning principles? For example, are we thinking about multiple ways in which our information can be presented or demonstrated so that a student with a disability is able to fully participate, such as providing an alternative audio recording for children with a hearing impairment or adding closed-captioning to a video for those with a visual impairment?

 

In this website's Inspiring Innovation videos, you will discover some young innovators who reveal they are on the autism spectrum and how they are able to manage their disability to achieve success. We need to begin thinking of other ways in which we can fully support and guide young innovators in our schools by applying UD and UDL principles to our innovation spaces and programs to make them inclusive to all students.

 

If you have some ideas about this, please share them with us by emailing me directly at drruth@syr.edu. Thanks and see you next month!

 

*To learn more about this study, go to http://www.ala.org/aasl/sites/ala.org.aasl/files/content/aaslpubsandjournals/slr/vol17/SLR_MotivationalNeeds_V17.pdf

13

December

Young Innovators Project

SMALL Talk

Official Blog of

The Young Innovators Project

Center for Digital Literacy, Syracuse University

 

By Ruth V. Small, Ph.D., Director

Young Innovators Project

 

December 2017

 

 

 We are so excited that we were able to officially launch this website to the school library community at two presentations at the national conference of the American Association of School Librarians in Phoenix, Arizona in mid-November. First, co-director Marilyn Arnone and I introduced the site at the AASL IdeaLab, an electronic poster session showcasing dozens of interesting projects by and/or for school librarians. Our presentation was entitled "Beyond Makerspaces and Robotics: School Librarians Teaching, Mentoring and Inspiring Young Innovators in Their Schools." We demonstrated all of the features of the site to a wonderful mix of librarians from across the nation, at various stages in creating innovation programs in their librarians.


The next day, we presented "Beyond Makerspaces: Become Mentor-Librarians to Aspiring Young Innovators in Your School" at a well-attended concurrent session. This session was especially wonderful because we were joined in the presentation by four school librarians from Virginia, Connecticut, Florida and North Carolina who had participated in a mentoring experience with our Young Innovators Project.


The mentoring training grew out of some research I conducted a couple of years ago. First, we found that young people who are innovative are typically imaginative, curious, creative, and intrinsically motivated and love to experiment and choose to explore and tinker, sometimes alone and other times collaboratively. I also discovered that not all of these creative youngsters know how to direct and express those qualities, nor do they have the high-level inquiry skills that facilitate their success as innovators. Finally, I learned that every one of the 20 young innovators I interviewed and 70+ I surveyed had an adult mentor in their life---guiding, encouraging, and motivating. Unfortunately, there are many highly creative and innovative children who lack mentors at home as well as in school to provide the type of support and encouragement all young innovators need to be successful. Who better to step into this role but school librarians, the only ones the school who teach critical inquiry skills, have access to a wealth of resources, and work with every child in the school? I made sure our IMLS grant included a mentoring training component to encourage school librarians to step up to become mentor-librarians to these potential young innovators and provide them with the tools they need to do this. Developing mentor-librarians has become a key mission of The Young Innovators Project.
We selected ten librarians nationwide to work with us to pilot test parts of our online, self-paced mentoring training program. They then completed the full training program and committed to mentoring 1-3 aspiring young innovators in their schools. They were asked to select students who might not have adult mentors in their lives. During their mentoring experience, these enthusiastic librarians kept an electronic journal so we could document what occurred for research purposes. After they completed their mentoring period, they participated in an email debriefing interview.


Four of these outstanding school librarians participated in our AASL presentation, sharing some of their experiences with the audience at AASL, what they had learned, what they might do differently the next time, etc. Attached is a picture of us at AASL's IdeaLab where we first presented The Innovation Destination website. Left to right: Lisa Newburger, Librarian, Piedmont Open Middle School, Charlotte, NC; Dr. Marilyn Arnone, co-director of the Young Innovators Project; myself; Tracey Cain, librarian, Reams Road Elementary School, Chesterfield, VA; and Shelley Stedman, Librarian, New Fairfield Middle School, New Fairfield, CT. Missing from the picture is Marge Cox, librarian, Veterans Memorial Elementary School, Naples, FL. These librarians did a phenomenal job of describing their mentoring experiences and what they learned from them.


We are currently in the process of analyzing all of the data from the journals and email interviews and will be writing at least two articles for professional journals in the next few months. We will used what we have learned to help plan the next iteration of mentor training, when we hope to take this project to the high school grades.


If you are interested in being a mentor-librarian to aspiring young innovators who visit your library, I encourage you to click on the Mentoring Young Innovators tab of this website, register (it's free), and complete the training. We think you will find it valuable for working with any young person, but particularly those budding young innovators who need your guidance and encouragement as they go through the innovation process.

1

November

The Young Innovators Project

SMALL Talk

 

Official Blog of

The Young Innovators Project

Center for Digital Literacy, Syracuse University

 

By Ruth V. Small, Ph.D., Director

Young Innovators Project

 

November 2017

 

Welcome to the first post of SMALL Talk blog on The Innovation Destination website of the Young Innovators Project (YIP). YIP is funded by a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum & Library Services. Its mission is to provide a variety of unique tools and resources for school librarians and other educators who support youth innovation activities through "The Innovation Destination," the project's innovative and free website. The Innovation Destination was created specifically by and for school librarians and young innovators (elementary-high school). It contains (1) lesson plans and learning activities, (2) relevant support resources, (3) self-paced mentor training for educators and parents, (4) this blog and the centerpiece, (5) a searchable database of 500+ video interviews with successful young innovators nationwide, that will teach, inform and inspire America's aspiring young inventors and entrepreneurs.

 

This YIP blog provides a platform for sharing your ideas, experiences and best practices and for posing questions and exploring new ideas with colleagues, researchers and experts on the topic of innovation and youth. We will also have a number of guest bloggers who will stimulate your thinking, test your creativity, and share their ideas and experiences.

 

But why is innovation important to librarians? Harvard researcher Tony Wagner states that if the U.S. wishes to remain competitive in the world, we will all need to make sure "to develop the creative and enterprising capacities of all our students." School librarians, many of whom already teach the skills needed, provide innovation activities in their libraries, reach all students in their schools, and have more flexible schedules than their teacher counterparts, are well situated to play an essential role in this effort.

 

This monthly blog will center on topics of interest relevant to the librarian's role in fostering, supporting, and guiding young students' creative and innovative thinking and activities. While some blog posts will be written by myself as director of the YIP project, many others will be written by a variety of guest bloggers---researchers, librarians, and others who are doing great work in this arena. This first blog post focuses on why and how school librarians have a role to play in fostering creativity and innovation in students.

 

All innovation begins with an unresolved problem that piques one's curiosity, stimulates the imagination, and requires both creative thinking and a variety of inquiry and problem-solving skills to be resolved. The school librarian is often the only educator in the school who teaches essential inquiry skills, provides an environment that motivates a broad range of ideas and creative thinking, works with all students in the school, collaborates with classroom teachers, reaches out into the community, and offers the resources and the tools, and has the scheduling flexibility required to fulfill this role. The library as an "innovation space" provides the ideal environment for stimulating students' curiosity and interest for exploring their creative ideas and librarians are the perfect school-based educators to support, guide and mentor them in their innovation activities.

 

Yet, our research demonstrates that young innovators do not always perceive their school library/librarian in this role. In a 2014 research study, a team at the Center for Digital Literacy at Syracuse University found that, when a given a list of people to whom they go for support and guidance (a mentor), 74% of the 84 young innovators surveyed responded they would turn to a parent, 51% to a teacher, but only 5% to a librarian. In addition, when asked what resources were most important for gathering needed information, 75% responded that websites were their go-to information resource, while 18% said they would use their school library. Most troubling, is that a vast majority of the students interviewed demonstrated a lack of information literacy skills required for finding the information they need and evaluating the information they find.

 

Research has also revealed that there are many young people who do not have an opportunity to participate in innovation activities because they lack an adult mentor in their lives to guide, support and encourage them, have limited or no access to the resources they need, and/or are perceived, even though they have the motivation and creativity, as lacking the ability to be successful.

 

The Innovation Destination is an attempt to address these issues by providing school librarians with the training and the resources to serve in this role, providing ideal opportunities to collaborate with classroom teachers and partner with parents and their communities. Through this role, school librarians teach just-in-time inquiry and creative thinking skills to students of all abilities, mentor potential young innovators, provide access to the key resources and technologies they need to be successful, and, perhaps best of all, excite them about this type of self-directed learning and encourage their natural altruism for solving problems that affect their communities and the world. This is, indeed, a truly awesome role! Best of all, we will show how your involvement in fostering innovation in your school allows you to integrate your activities into the STEM curriculum and opens the door to opportunities for collaboration with STEM teachers.

 

Scholars, researchers, librarians, teachers, parents and young innovators will be invited to be guest bloggers. We hope you will continue to read this blog, join in the conversation, and share your ideas and experiences with your colleagues.

 

See you next month!

 

 

Sources Used

Small, R.V. (2014). The Motivational and Information Needs of Young Innovators: Stimulating Student Creativity and Inventive Thinking. School Library Research, 17

<SLR_MotivationalNeeds_V17.pdf>

 

Wagner, T. (2012). Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World. New York: Scribner, p.4.

The Innovation Destination

 

The Innovation Destination was designed and evaluated by a team from the Center for Digital Literacy at the School of Information Studies, Syracuse University and developed by Data Momentum Inc, in partnership with the Connecticut Invention Convention, By Kids for Kids, New York On Tech, and over 70 school librarians and young innovators.

 

 

Syracuse University Institute of museum and Library Service digital-literacy DataMomentum