Lancer Letter – Inventionland

Submitted by Richard Scaletta, GM School District

In an article by Steve Denning in the October 29, 2014 edition of Forbes Magazine, he looked at work by Wiens and Jackson of the Kauffman Foundation on the creation of jobs in the United States. They stated, “In fact, between 1983 and 2011, companies more than five years old destroyed more jobs than they created in all but eight of those years.” They went on to report that “New businesses account for nearly all net new job creation and almost 20 percent of gross job creation, whereas small business do not have a significant impact on job growth when age is accounted for.” They add clarity to their report by saying, “New and young companies are the primary source of job creation in the American economy.”

If this is true and if the goal of public education is, in part, to contribute to the nation’s economy by creating the right kind of workers, why then does the public school system not systematically encourage creative thought in the context of business, multi-disciplinary problem solving, and entrepreneurial qualities all in the context of collaboration?

Starting in 2017-2018, General McLane will begin a two year project to systematically plant seeds in our students and give them the tools to become inventors and entrepreneurs. We are currently seeking funding to fully develop this project but are stepping out this year with an exciting program called “Inventionland.”

To really appreciate Inventionland, you have to go there which we have done with different teams on 5 occasions last year. It has been in existence for 25 years in Pittsburgh. Started by founder, George Davison, this company will take an idea for a product and carry it through to marketing and distribution. Davison developed a nine step process to do this and that process has been turned into a curriculum.

Inventionland is in a very large industrial sized building. Inside this large building is a pirate ship, a cave, a tree house and several other unique structures. At the center is a castle with a “Knights of the Round Table” meeting room. These are the places the adults work. It is Davison’s way of sparking creativity among his employees.

At Inventionland, they will take ideas from companies or individuals, vet them and if they like them, will take them from design to production. If you have an idea for a product like, for example, something you would see on an infomercial, you can go to their website and pitch it. If they like it, they’ll invite you to Pittsburgh to give the full pitch. Go to Youtube and search for Inventionland and you’ll find a number of videos.

We are very excited to make this curriculum available to our seventh graders through our Technology Education department. We hope to expand it to our high school in 18-19. For this year, seventh graders will have the opportunity to walk through the 9 step invention process, developing an idea that has come from their minds. This will be only the second year this curriculum has been used anywhere as we will join about 35 schools in the Pittsburgh area using the curriculum. At the end of the class, each group of students in the class will have the opportunity to pitch their idea to a team from Inventionland.

I believe that having public education involved in the efforts to improve the economy of the Erie region is critical. According to the Innovation Collaborative website, “Entrepreneurship is key to job growth and wealth creation.” A principal of economic growth noted in the Destination Erie plan states: “Foster new economic dynamism by promoting a culture of innovation that supports existing fast-growing firms and new business formation.” By promoting innovation, inventions and collaboration among students in the K-12 arena, these principles will be served.

The recent creation of the Erie downtown innovation district is strong evidence of the need for the programming in schools like Inventionland. The Erie Refocus plan states, “Entrepreneurs will not choose to locate in the region or stay in the region in sufficient numbers if Erie cannot compete with peer cities on the grounds of livability and lifestyle.” As Erie begins to create greater livability and lifestyle, we can give the tools of entrepreneurship and innovation to those already living here, empowering them to be creative in the community in which they have been raised.
Inventionland is one prong of a three-prong approach to promoting creativity, innovation and collaboration among our students. Stay tuned for more to come . . .

The Lancer Letter is a weekly editorial by Richard Scaletta, Superintendent of Schools, General McLane School District. Opinions expressed are Mr. Scaletta’s views on the issues and subjects of discussion, and not necessarily those of or our sponsors.

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