Back to Blog
Trends in STEM

New Research Links Camp Invention with Inventive Mindset Development

For over 30 years, the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) has offered innovative STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programming that helps students develop crucial 21st-century skills and become the innovators of tomorrow.

Since 1990, our education programs have served more than 1.9 million children, and 210,000 teachers and Leadership Interns. Central to this continued success is the research and development diligently conducted by our education team, both to contribute to the broader study of STEM education and to ensure that our programs maintain their quality and effectiveness.


Building an Inventive Mindset Through Invention Education

In keeping with NIHF’s commitment to furthering STEM education scholarship, in August 2021, members of the NIHF education team and researchers from Old Dominion University published an article in the peer-reviewed publication Journal of STEM Outreach (JSO) titled “Invention Education as a Context for Children’s Identity Exploration.”

Invention education, an educational movement that “promotes habitual problem finding, creative problem solving, collaboration, and persistence,” is increasingly seen as a way to equip today’s students with the skills and habits of mind necessary to overcome the increasingly complex challenges of tomorrow. The primary purpose of the study was to examine how Camp Invention®, NIHF’s K-6 STEM summer camp, supports the cultivation of an inventive mindset as children explore seeing themselves as inventors and innovators.

For Erica Matheny, curriculum writer and researcher at NIHF, and one of the article’s authors, among the most important outcomes of the research was the development of a new, reliable, validated tool for scholars to gauge students’ inventive mindset.

“We were thrilled that we were able to measure students’ inventive mindset, and then successfully use this tool to better understand children’s self-perceptions at Camp Invention. This enables us to do more to shape the camp experience so that children can ‘try on’ the identity of inventor, creator or entrepreneur while gaining STEM skills and knowledge.” Erica Matheny

Because invention education scholarship is in its infancy, this research represents important contributions that benefit the greater field. Below is a selection of findings from the article:

  • Camp Invention generated a reliable measure of inventive mindset, which was stable over time but largely independent of children’s identification with three STEM subjects typically encountered in school (science, technology and mathematics).
  • During Camp Invention, children’s most preferred activities supported perceived confidence, task novelty and task utility. These perceptions create an ideal setting for identity exploration.
  • Experiences at Camp Invention and in other invention education programs help shape the way children see themselves.
  • Children rarely self-identify as “inventors” on their own. Invention education programs therefore should target many of the subcategories of invention (making, creating, building, etc.) to authentically engage children. This means that direct connections need to be made between the inventive process (making, creating, building) and the concept of invention or being an inventor. Children don’t automatically connect the two.
  • Children should have a framework to see themselves with the identity of “inventor” or “innovator.” NIHF programming helps to make these implicit connections explicit for learners.
  • It might be beneficial for programs to include explicit references to principles associated with persistence in invention and innovation (such as tolerance for risk and failure), and to help children reflect on this in reference to their current and future selves.
  • There were differences between how boys and girls in the study experienced their inventive mindset and STEM identity. Boys were more likely to make a connection between having an inventive mindset and seeing themselves as a “STEM person” whereas girls were less likely to make this connection. This outcome suggests girls who have invention interests outside of traditional STEM fields (such as art, creativity, design, etc.) might not make a natural connection between those interests and invention. To engage more girls in invention education, including areas in addition to STEM might be beneficial.


Download and Read the Full Article Today

To read the article “Invention Education as a Context for Children’s Identity Exploration” in its entirety, we invite you to visit JSO’s website.

Related Articles