Polly Jones, former educator and regional program manager at the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF), works with school districts in upstate New York and Long Island to instill a love of innovation and creativity among the children of the Empire State through engaging STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs.
Before joining NIHF, Jones was a research librarian and an educator. Most recently, as an educational technology specialist for Utah’s Tooele County School District, she collaborated with teachers to bring technology into classrooms. One highlight of this experience was her involvement in NIHF’s Camp Invention® and Camp Invention Connect® programs.
We invite you to read below for our conversation with Jones, in which she shares how her experience with NIHF’s hands-on curricula inspired her to work for our organization.
What was your experience with NIHF prior to joining us in 2022?
I was first introduced to camp in the late 1990s when I taught at Canton Country Day School in Canton, Ohio, and was recruited to be an Instructor for Camp Invention.
Fast forward 25 years and imagine my surprise when I came across Camp Invention at a STEM conference in Utah! I had such a nice chat catching up with Regional Program Manager Christine Jayo! It wasn’t long before I was directing two new programs in Utah. I was so impressed with how the company had streamlined the whole experience. I loved how the packaging came sorted by module and session. It had become a turnkey product, ready for immediate use.
Could you share some of your memorable Camp Invention experiences?
I taught middle school in the late 1990s, and I recruited kids from my classes to help with Camp Invention. There was a boy named Joe who participated as a Leader-in-Training, and watching him in this role was incredible. He blossomed as a leader and the kids truly loved him. You could tell how much he loved the kids too!
Then last summer, I ran an in-person camp of about 40 participants as well as a virtual Camp Invention Connect program with a school on a reservation in Utah. I received a message from one of the campers about a week after camp ended. She thought camp was so fun, she requested we all continue to meet once a week for the rest of the summer! This shows just how impactful those five days were to the children and how important those camp connections were for them.
Do you think Camp Invention makes a lasting impact for students and teachers?
Camp Invention is as impactful for children as it was for me.
I believe that making learning fun is vital, and research (see the work of John Hattie) shows that student engagement is one of the most important things you can do to improve students’ learning. NIHF’s research and testimonials from parents and campers attest to the fact that with just one week of Camp Invention, campers show tremendous growth. Camp attendance impacts their grades, attendance, test scores and so much more.
I think what is most remarkable is that NIHF has championed STEM and invention education before those terms were educational buzzwords. The message of creativity, innovation and hands-on learning has been a hallmark of the programming from the beginning. And the education team continues to write amazing curricula year after year.
For me, as a Camp Invention Instructor and Director, this was life changing. I was able to use the experience and transfer some of those pedagogies into my classroom. I like to think that I created a safe environment and a culture of problem solving and hands-on learning for my students — in all subject areas, not just STEM — and it definitely made me a better teacher.
Did your time with Camp Invention influence your decision to work here?
Absolutely! loved being an educator, and when I decided that it was time for me to move on from the classroom, it was a difficult decision. I knew I couldn’t just apply for a random job; I needed to work somewhere in education, at a company I could believe in. NIHF’s mission really speaks to me. I love being a part of a movement to give students the skills and desire to be thinkers and problem solvers.
This spring, I took Spacecation™, one of the Explore module experience kits, to my 5-year-old granddaughter in California. At the end of the week, I heard her tell someone she wants to be a scientist when she grows up. This one experience with one science kit changed her whole life goal!
Is there anything else you believe educators should know about NIHF education programs?
I am truly happy with my decision to come work at NIHF’s headquarters, and one thing I have learned is that the people here truly care about our children and their education.
For example, with the interruption of learning caused by the pandemic, social-emotional learning (SEL) has become increasingly important. NIHF has met that challenge head-on, adding SEL opportunities throughout the curricula.
Recently, NIHF’s research has shown students are anxious about presenting ideas. And again, the curriculum was adapted to give students more confidence when expressing their ideas. NIHF is continually striving to provide the best possible solutions for what our students need. I couldn’t be prouder to be part of this incredible team.
Interested in learning how you can bring NIHF’s invention education programs to your district? We invite you to visit our website to learn more!