Are inventors a product of nature or nurture, born or bred? The age-old debate about nature or nurture is on again and this time it has been examined through the lens of inventors.
“Who Becomes an Inventor in America? The Importance of Exposure to Innovation” is a new study from four economists who shed light on this issue by researching and characterizing data on over one million inventors from both patent records and tax records. The authors examined income, gender, race, innate intellectual ability, childhood exposure to innovation and inventors, and college attendance.One particularly interesting note is that while one would guess that most inventors come from well-known technical colleges such as MIT, “the college which produces the fourth-highest share of inventors in the data set is little-known Kettering University in Flint, Michigan—edging out brand-name institutions like Stanford and Carnegie Mellon. This despite the fact that Kettering students enter the University with much lower SAT scores and parental wealth” (The Economist, 2017).
Exposure to Innovation
In the study’s conclusion, researchers explain that “exposure to innovation during childhood is a critical factor that determines who becomes an inventor. A lack of exposure to innovation can help explain why high-ability children in low-income families, minorities, and women are significantly less likely to become inventors. Importantly, such lack of exposure screens out not just marginal inventors but the “Einsteins” who produce innovations that have the greatest impacts on society” (Bell, Chetty, Jaravel, Petkova, & Van Reenen, 2017).
Kettering University FIRST Robotics Center
Kettering University understands that exposure to innovation is key to building the next generation of inventors. Its ongoing hosting of elementary and middle school robotics teams and day camps at the FIRST Robotics Community Center demonstrates its commitment to facilitating that exposure. Programs range for students in grades 1-12 and range from building with legos to more sophisticated robot assembly and programming.
Innovation Increased by Creating STEM Learning Environment
Cultivating a love of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in a child is far easier than many would imagine, as children are inherently experiential learners. They are curious about how things feel, how things work, and how they can interact with their surroundings. Capitalizing on children’s innate ability to investigate, while creating a positive learning environment in which they feel safe exploring, is essential to instilling a love of STEM.
The following tips may be helpful for thinking about how to engage kids in STEM topics:
1. Do not give in to the stereotype that girls are not good at math or science
This stereotype is damaging for many reasons but perhaps the saddest is that it can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. When girls implicitly, and explicitly, receive repeated messages that they are not able to succeed in math and science, they believe those messages. The motivation for a young girl to improve upon skills she believes she is inherently unable to master is nil. Instead, work to help both boys and girls excel in math and science.
2. Research fun engineering projects, toys, or games for kids
Plank sets, circuit boards, solar kits, and robots are just a few of the hundreds of projects, toys, and games available for kids. Playing is learning and when introducing these kinds of activities to young children, one is helping to make positive associations with STEM.
3. Encourage hands on, experiential learning
No book will give a child the feeling of staring into a shark’s eyes, the sense of touching a starfish, or the sound a lion’s roar. Bringing children out into the world, especially to museums, aquariums, or zoos can foster a love of experiential learning. Also, the interactive elements of educational components in these settings are geared towards all learning styles. There are teachable moments everywhere. One can easily associate STEM concepts during a walk in a park, a trip to the grocery store, or a visit to the doctor’s office. Humans are wired to remember those things with which they engage directly. Hands-on learning does not disappear after a test is taken!
4. Relate everyday experiences to STEM topics
One does not have to look far for examples of STEM concepts in daily life. The math of banking, the science of cooking, the technology of computers – it’s all right here. Teaching kids STEM concepts necessary for engaging in daily life is a great way to spark a love of STEM.
5. Focus less on grades
Both boys and girls struggle with mastering STEM concepts. Often students lose interest in what they are learning if they are not getting the grades they would like. Providing a safe learning atmosphere, and placing more emphasis on learning and less on grades, helps keep students interested in STEM topics.
The more children are encouraged and supported in learning about STEM, the more likely they will continue studying STEM throughout their education. Ideally, this will lead to their graduating and finding their place in an economy that is increasingly dependent upon their skill and expertise.
The Economist (2017, December 4). Childhood surroundings matter more than genes for would-be inventors. Retrieved from economist.com/news/united-states/21731971-new-study-shows-importance-exposure-innovation-childhood-surroundings-matter
Bell, A., Chetty, R., Jaravel, X., Petkova, N., & Van Reenen, J. (2017). Who becomes an inventor in America? The importance of exposure to innovation. Retrieved from equality-of-opportunity.org/assets/documents/inventors_paper.pdf