Get SET! for A Tool for Young Inventors

After video interviewing 54 young inventors (grades K-8) to Inspire Innovation in other young inventors (and available for viewing on this site), our Young Innovators Project team learned a lot, including the fact that young inventors often choose unreliable sources for finding the information they need to answer their questions or make decisions at various points in the invention process. We decided to do something about that; so we submitted a proposal to The Lemelson Foundation to develop a quick and easy-to-use tool that would help young inventors assess the quality of their sources of information.


The Lemelson Foundation is dedicated to "improving lives through invention" by supporting invention activities at all levels and for all ages. The Foundation is particularly interested in youth and invention education programs and activities.


We are pleased to announce that we were awarded a one-year grant to develop and test a digital tool we're calling "Get SET!" (Source Evaluation Tool). The tool was designed for upper elementary/middle school inventors.


We now have developed a teaching package, with help from librarians and teachers, containing the draft tool and complementary teaching support materials and, hector

to finalize it, will be conducting a pilot test of the entire package in late spring with 20 teachers of invention education programs. For the pilot test, the invention education teachers will teach a lesson on resource evaluation to their students, practicing using the Get SET! tool as a group with a common resource, and then practice using it individually with a source they have used or were planning to use while inventing. The student also will receive guidance from the tool's animated character Hector (our young inventor friend you see here), throughout the lesson. We'll take what we learn from the pilot test, revise our materials, and post them to our site this summer.


So, stay tuned to this blog for updates on this project, for which we'll share the results of our pilot test with you, as well as other information about how to freely access the Get SET! tool and its support materials, right here on The Innovation Destination site. We'll also tell you about some other exciting new projects in the works, for which we will be creating more innovative and inspiring new materials that librarians and teachers can freely use in their invention education programs, projects and activities. 


author: Ruth Small


Lessons Learned: Piloting a Program in a Pandemic

The Innovation Destination hosts the many products of an IMLS-funded grant called "Making Literacy-Innovation Connections for Rural Public Libraries and their Youngest Patrons" or informally referred to as Inspiring Invention Through Stories. The program was designed by six librarians supported by a project team of producers and developers. You can discover more about the background, approach, session plans, and access the digital tools by visiting the project's overview page. The purpose of this article is share one more story (we're sure you have heard many and/or experienced your own) about library programming during a pandemic. Inspiring Invention Through Stories


This project began months before the pandemic was unleashed on our nation and the world, just as participating librarians prepared to deliver the project program, as designed, in a library-centered, face-to-face fashion. We had ten library partners in two pilots giving the project team the opportunity to fine-tune aspects of the program in between pilots, based on formative feedback. Pre-COVID-19, things went well. The story component of the program was proving to be strong and was effective in connecting children to the problem-scenarios and the STEM activities in service of solutions. Through our private FaceBook group, participating librarians thousands of miles apart shared, for example, the novel ways in which their young patrons built bridges to solve one of the problem scenarios posed in the library session. We kept making modifications and improvements based on our partners' suggestions and insights.


Then, a sign of what was to come . . . one NYS librarian in a small rural community was proud of how she had set up her area for the sessions and laid out the large map poster of the imaginary town's various locations (each location was tied to a program session's problem-based scenario for which children had to use both inquiry and inventive thinking skills to solve), character bookmarks, related books, etc. Her set-up was welcoming and colorful. It was March 2020. It was time. No young children came. How disappointing!


Our library partners, in general, struggled to stay open to the public. Some opened for a couple of weeks and then shut down again. The lesson we learned as a project team was the same one our library partners were learning . . . FLEXIBILITY IS KEY!


The project team worked closely with librarians to determine their needs at this challenging time. We tried to make additional resources available if libraries decided to do the program as outreach and we worked to create materials for remote program delivery, as well. One of the key components of the program is the story element but reading copyrighted materials online can be problematic. While we were able to have our second group of libraries start and finish the program after a long hiatus, we realized we still needed to tackle that issue. We have since begun developing eBooks based on the problem scenarios posed in the program sessions. These eBooks have a Creative Commons license and are freely accessible to any librarian to read online if it becomes necessary to pivot to virtual delivery for any reason now or in the future. No worries about copyright. Ten eBooks have been written for this project and two are fully produced. We are sharing one of titles below and hope you enjoy (link below image). If you're interested in learning more about starting this literacy-innovation program at your library, visit the project's overview page, or reach out to one of the authors who were the project directors.

A Small Adventure in Curiosity Creek

A Small Adventure in Curiosity Creek


The Making Literacy-Innovation Connections project was made possible, in part, by a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum & Library Services.

author: Drs. Marilyn P. Arnone & Ruth V. Small


Mentoring Young Innovators

As educators, we are often asked to mentor a new colleague to our organization. Most of us have been lucky enough to have someone we call our "mentor" at some point in our lives, sometimes several mentors along the way.


But do we really know what that means? Most of us don't. We think of a mentor as someone who offers advice and perhaps guides us until we and they think we can make it on their own. But authentic mentoring is much, much more than that.


Over the past several years, we have interviewed more than 100 children in grades 4-8. We found they have two major things in common. They all have a passion for inventing. And they all report having an adult mentor. Most often it's a parent (more often the mom), but it can also be a grandparent, a sibling, a friend, a teacher, or an expert in the area most related to their invention (e.g., a mechanical engineer, a physician). Sometimes the mentor enters their inventing process at the very beginning and stays with them until they have completed all of their competitions. In other cases, the mentor is there for only the critical stages in the invention process, such as the ideation state or the prototype stage or the competition prep stage. The mentor might help the young inventor through a difficult time (e.g., can't get the prototype to work, have discovered their invention as already been invented). Whatever the timing of the mentoring, each young innovator explained how grateful he/she was to have that mentor by his/her side when needed. And the need could be one of several types, such as direction, encouragement, specific information, etc.

This morning Dr. Marilyn Arnone interviewed Dr. Lois Zachary, one of the leading experts on mentorship in the world. Dr. Zachary has written a series of books on mentoring, from the mentor's perspective, the mentee's perspective, and the organization's perspective. I recommend them all. They first take you through her four-phase Mentoring Model and then dig into the details of effective mentoring relationships. This model has been used by organizations ranging from schools to Fortune 500 businesses to the United Nations. And by our team at the Young Innovators Project.


We developed a set of six self-paced, online learning modules as part of The Innovation Destination's section, "Mentoring Young Innovators." The modules are: (1) "The Promise and Potential of Mentoring"; (2) "What Is Mentoring?"; (3) "The Predictable Cycle of Mentoring"; (4) "Qualities of a Mentor"; (5) Mentoring Young Innovators Through Learning & Motivation; and (6) "Mentoring Tips." The training also contains games, quizzes, videos, photos, and related readings.


Once we completed development of the mentorship training, we pilot tested it with nine school librarians from seven different states and made revisions, where needed. These nine librarians then used the model to mentor one to three aspiring young innovators (specifically, those who had no adult mentor in their lives) in their schools for three months and were asked to keep journals of their experiences. If you'd like to know about their experiences, I included some of what they reported in my article entitled "Young Innovators and Their Mentors: School Librarians" published in June 2018 in Teacher Librarian. I am planning a future article that fully explores these experiences through their journals and the exit interviews I conducted with the librarians after the three-month period was concluded.


The Innovation Destination's mentor training is completely free and targets librarians, teachers, parents, and anyone else who mentors young innovators. All you need to do is to click on the Mentoring Young Innovators tab on this site and then register (and remember your password) and you can train to be an effective mentor. We require registration so that we can report user demographics (no names just how many states, job titles, and types of organizations are represented) to our funders.

author: Dr. Ruth V. Small, Ph.D., Project Director


Innovation and STEM-Connected Learning

Young Innovators Project

April/May 2018 Blog

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


NOTE:You may have noticed a delay in posting our monthly blog. That is due to a recent decision to change our policy from monthly to bi-monthly (every two months) blog postings. This will give us an opportunity to better develop topics of interest and seek out guest bloggers for future posts.


The topic for the current blog is:


Innovation and STEM-Connected Learning


There is a lot of interest in schools, libraries and other formal and informal learning places in fostering creativity and innovation in children. The need is greater than ever to challenge our nation's potential young innovators (inventors and entrepreneurs) to seek creative solutions to perplexing local, national and global problems through educational programs and activities that support our future economic vitality.


The makerspace movement has spawned an abundance of school-based innovation programs and activities, from robotics labs to coding courses and from genius hours to financial literacy courses, popping up in public and private, urban, suburban and rural, large and small schools, pre-schools to high schools, and librarians are playing an important role in all of them.


Over the past several years, the interest in innovation activities has increased in the school library field. A review of messages on the LM_NET school librarian listserv indicates that requests for information about innovation spaces, resources, tools and activities increased fromonly 7in 2010 to well over 100in 2017 (Source: LM_NET Archives). When this Young Innovators Project website was officially launched at the November 2017 AASL conference in Phoenix, AZ, nearly 5000 school librarians and other conference attendees visited this site in its first month of existence.


There is also growing interest in an approach to education known as "connected learning." For many decades, we have heard about a goal of "individualized learning," where education is tailored to the interests and abilities of the individual student, but have seen little evidence of it in practice, possibly because it seemed to be narrowly focused without much guidance as to how it might be achieved.


Connected learning offers a broader approach to the concept of individualized learning, providing a growing portfolio of research that helps guide its use. Connected learning offers a range of ways to customizes learning through the use of a range of technologies (e.g., production technologies, presentation technologies, social media). It addresses all three domains of learning (cognitive, psychomotor and affective) by integrating students' personal and passionate interests, committed support from peers and caring adults, and an active use of higher order thinking skills (e.g., creative problem-solving, critical thinking, evaluation) for learning, via active creation, experimentation and design for solving problems across disciplines and both in and out of school.


Connected learning appears to offer a great opportunity for school librarians to begin and/or continue to implement many of the activities they have been trained to promote, such as teacher (particularly STEM teachers)-librarian collaboration, collaboration across schools of types of libraries (e.g., school-public), teaching/application of inquiry, information literacy and problem-based learning skills, development of innovation programs and activities in the library, and mentoring of students with passionate interests (or helping to foster such interests) who wish to to create innovative solutions to related personal, local, regional, national and global STEM-based problems. The YIP website offers librarians and teachers an increasing variety of comprehensive and unique resources to accomplish these goals.


We will continue to discuss these topics in future YIP blog posts. If you are interested in learning more about this topic, we've included a few good places to start in the Reference list below.



See you next time!




Bevan, B. (2016, March 1). STEM Learning ecologies: Relevant, responsive and connected. Connected Science Learning: Linking In-School and Out-of-School STEM Learning,


Heick, T. (2017, Nov. 9). 6 design principles of connected learning. TeachThought: We Grow Teachers.


Holt, L., Colburn, D. and Leverty, L. (2012, March 26). Innovation and STEM Education. Bureau of Economic and Business Research.


author: Dr. Ruth V. Small, Ph.D., Project Director


Becoming an Innovation Mentor in Your School



Official Blog of

The Young Innovators Project

Center for Digital Literacy, Syracuse University


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

Young Innovators Project (YIP)


March 2018


Innovation is the very essence of the American spirit, requiring a combination of effective inquiry, problem-solving, and creative thinking skills, mixed with the curiosity and perseverance for seeking viable solutions to problems. While all children have creative potential, often their innovative behaviors thrive and endure only if supported and encouraged.


School librarians have an opportunity to be the leaders in motivating, educating, and nurturing the potential young innovators in their schools. More than ever before, our nation needs to support and nurture our future innovators who will find solutions to our most difficult local and global problems while supporting our economic vitality.


There is evidence that school librarians' interest in supporting young innovators in their schools is growing. For example, the number of messages on the LM_NET school librarian listserv requesting information about innovation spaces, resources and programs jumped from 9 in 2012 to 88 in just the first half of 2017, supporting the notion that school librarians are increasingly finding ways stimulate and support student innovation in their schools, using resources and tools that help them to understand the needs and processes of their young innovators, and building their ability to create and deliver more effective programs and services to foster youth innovation.


Tony Wagner (2012) found that young innovators, from both affluent and high needs schools, need mentors to encourage their passions. Research indicates that almost all successful young innovators have an adult mentor, typically a parent or other family member, to guide and support them as they go through the innovation process (Small, 2014). But what about students who have great ideas and are interested in innovation but don't participate in or drop out of innovation programs and activities because they lack an adult mentor? Are we in danger of losing the next great ideas for saving our environment, curing diseases, or preventing conflict?


Here at YIP, we recognize the importance of this support. Because of their flexibility, expertise in information skills, and ability to collaborate with STEM teachers, librarians are perfectly positioned to serve as mentors to these creative, aspiring young innovators, supporting them, particularly those without adult mentors in school or at home, and helping them build their confidence and competence to explore, take risks, pursue their ideas, be willing to fail, and use their failures to pursue new ideas. But mentoring goes beyond providing materials and words of encouragement. It is a learning process for both mentor and mentee (Zachary, 2012).


This website offers a set of free and accessible mentoring training for librarians who wish to learn strategies and methods for successful mentoring. The training was collaboratively developed by The Center for Digital Literacy at Syracuse University and The Center for Mentoring Leadership, Phoenix, Arizona. This training includes an introduction, six online, self-paced, self-directed learning modules, dozens of opportunities to actively participate in your own learning, a summarizing recap and quizzes and assessments to demonstrate what you have learned. We encourage you to take our training and then try it out with some of your school's young innovators. Just click on the orange tab, Mentoring Young Innovators, and register or login to begin your mentoring learning adventure.




Small, R. V. (2014, Feb.). The Motivational and Information Needs of Young Innovators: Stimulating Student Creativity and Inventive Thinking. School Library Research 17. 7


Wagner, T. (2012). Creating Innovators. New York: Scribner.


Zachary, L.J. (2012). The Mentor's Guide: Facilitating Effective Learning Relationships." 2nd ed. San Francisco: Wiley & Sons.


ALERT!! Watch for my article "Young Innovators and Their Mentors: School Librarians!" in the April 2018 issue of Teacher-Librarian

author: Dr. Ruth V. Small


Can Time in Nature Inspire Young Innovators?

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 



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. 




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. 





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


Inclusive Innovation

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 Thanks and see you next month!


*To learn more about this study, go to

author: Dr. Ruth V. Small


Young Innovators Project


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.

author: Dr. Ruth V. Small


The Young Innovators Project



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



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

author: Dr. Ruth V. Small

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.

This site has been serving the youth invention community from 2015 - present.