Jennifer McGough, a teacher at George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology, won an invention challenge at the National Summer Teacher Institute with some creativity, hard work and a lot of bee puns. Her winning invention was a bee-themed activity timer for children.
The technology education teacher’s group of three won best overall invention at the weeklong Tampa, Fla., institute from July 29 to Aug. 3, hosted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the University of South Florida’s College of Education. Their winning creation was a bumble bee-themed timer to help children transition between tasks, called the EZ-BZ Timer.
McGough said she arrived in Tampa and learned the 50 participants would be competing in groups to invent something, in order to learn about patents, trademarks and intellectual property as well as build new strategies for teaching. The next day, she and her group jumped into action.
"I have a little bit of a competitive streak in me,” McGough said.
McGough said the project was rewarding because it fit perfectly with her technology education curriculum, which teaches students at Carver “how to collaborate, be creative and think critically.”
After 10 years as a middle school science teacher, McGough was hired at Carver three years ago as a part-time technology education teacher and “fell in love with the tech-ed program.” The program teaches students about the engineering design process and helps them create their own prototypes.
“She’s definitely an innovative teacher,” said Duncan Clements, a retired technology education teacher at Carver who mentored McGough when she arrived at the school. “I think that translates to being an innovator overall.”
Michael Grubbs, coordinator of the technology education program in Baltimore County, said he encouraged technology education teachers to apply for the National Summer Teacher Institute because its format fit with “the direction that we’re going.”
“We’re trying to get students to do more capstone-style projects to get them to think outside the box, think creatively, use the design process and use their resources to come up with some sort of finished project,” Grubbs said. McGough’s group, which included teachers from Washington state and Georgia, decided to invent something to help young children around ages 4 or 5.
“A girlfriend of mine had said she wished there was something that could help her with her kids sharing,” McGough said. She came up with the idea of a timer that played music and helped children understand when to give someone else a turn playing with a toy. That idea expanded into helping children transition between activities, like going from playing on an iPad to brushing their teeth.
After making sure there were no similar existing patents, McGough and her teammates settled on a bee-themed timer, with a charger that looked like a hive and worked like a nightlight. The concept included an app that parents could use to record their child’s voice and customize sounds.
While her teammates prepared a presentation and patent drawings, McGough built the prototype of the timer out of foam, paper and felt, she said.
The three presented their invention to a panel with a PowerPoint presentation, a skit, a jingle and a lot of bee puns, McGough said, such as: "Have you heard about this product? It’s the bees knees.” McGough’s group won a prize for best overall invention.
"We were extremely excited,” McGough said.
In the coming school year, McGough intends to bring what she learned at the institute into her own classroom, having students complete a similar group invention challenge.
“It gives me kind of a different perspective on having the kids think about that their ideas could really be something,” McGough said. “There’s nothing stopping them from going out there and inventing something that could be the next patent.”
The institute also had workshops and lectures on intellectual property and patent law, knowledge Grubbs said he hopes McGough will bring back to students in Baltimore County Public Schools, which have at least one technology education teacher in nearly every school. In addition to learning to document their work, Grubbs said knowledge about patents teaches kids about “giving credit where credit is due – good character, ethics and civility.”
Hands-on learning, Grubbs said, is a valuable aspect of technology education, helping students “bring what they learned to life.”
As for the EZ-BZ Timer, McGough said the group is looking at getting a provisional patent, and maybe one day the product will be on store shelves, she said.