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Inventors Club Project History

In 2002, Kimberly Morris of Publishing Matters was engaged by HISD’s Sharpstown Learning Community to design and develop a collaborative writing and publishing project in which the entire Sharpstown Learning Community could participate.

The Sharpstown Learning Community is a group of four schools serving an ethnically diverse population of students in grades K-12.  We defined the goals of the project, by asking ourselves the following questions:

  • How can we get kids to want to grow up to be inventors and innovators?  
  • How can we invest the kids who excel in math and science with the same kind of prestige and glamour as the kids who excel in sports and social activities?
  • How can we make kids better problem solvers?
  • How can we utilize the Sharpstown Learning Community’s richest and most abundant resources – teachers, students, and diversity?

Thus, The Inventors Club was conceived, a book series in the tradition of Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Goosebumps, The Boxcar Children, Lemony Snicket, Captain Underpants, and The Time Travel Trio.

The finished product would have high entertainment values designed to appeal to young readers. It would also incorporate academic content designed to appeal to teachers and provide a variety of cross curriculum teaching applications.

Phase I would concentrate on content gathering from grades 4 – 8, and incorporate that content into a manuscript.

Phase II will take the original manuscript and incorporate more science content generated by grades 9-12, and more art content generated by grades 1-5. 

The project kicked off in January of 2002 with Phase I underwritten by a Houston Annenberg Challenge Grant. A core group of participating teachers formed a creative development team that met with author Kimberly Morris on Monday afternoons from 2pm-4pm

Those brainstorming sessions resulted in the creation of four characters, settings, tone, and a plot synopsis.  Writing and drawing prompts related to inventing were distributed to students. A syllabus relating the topic of invention to all academic disciplines was distributed to teachers. Teachers went into the classrooms with the materials and came back to the creative meetings with new ideas, fresh input, and endless amounts of creative energy.

The project culminated with 50 classroom visits by Kimberly Morris to facilitate student participation, present creative writing workshops, and review material with students. Group creative meetings produced powerful synergy resulting in the following major story elements:

  • The key emotional subtext of the first book (Mystery of the Chupacabra) sprang from a series of visits to one class in which the students talked about being the only English speaker in the household.  They are honored to have “adult” roles in the their families, but they are sometimes overwhelmed by the responsibilities and complexities that the role involves.  In a district where 67 different languages are spoken, surely this was an issue that would resonate with many of the students.
  • A series of meetings with one classroom of students, primarily Hispanic, helped to define and shape the character of Leticia Garza, (the principal character of the first book), and provide the motivation that would push her through the story. Leticia’s motivation is to earn back her father’s love and respect after believing, (mistakenly), that he blames her for the loss of their home and business.
  • There were many discussions as to what type of business Leticia’s family had lost, what kind of business they would start, and why they would be forced to live with Leticia’s Aunt Gilda, whose influence Leticia resents. Many students suggested car repair. Many others suggested fashion. They ultimately decided that Aunt Gilda’s clothing designs were what made her necessary to the family’s economic survival.
  • Students working in group sessions were asked to flesh out each of the four main characters, and did so by providing details and idiosyncrasies of personality that brought the characters to life.
  • During the orientation meetings with Ed White teachers in January, the humorous image of the “overly invested” parent emerged – the parent who stays up all night completing the child’s homework or science fair project, and accidentally winds up hijacking the experience. This provided another major “motivation” and plot element for the story.
  • By the end of the school year, the teachers had collected huge amounts of individual student work relating to ideas for inventions. There were many invention ideas and drawings that appeared over and over again in the student submissions – robots, flying cars, and rocket packs were the most popular. Time travel, telepathy, and “smart” machines were also ideas that seemed to capture their imaginations. 

It was now time to start putting all the pieces together.

Every submission, every worksheet, every drawing, every doodle, every conversation, every classroom visit, every teacher suggestion, and every raised hand in a class provided an important piece of this sprawling jigsaw puzzle of a writing project.  At least 350 students participated, and 266 turned in permission slips that would allow usage of their name as a creative contributor when the book is published.

By the end of the process, this large and diverse group of students and adults had created a story set in a place we recognize, with characters we care about, and filled it with smart and funny invention ideas designed to solve a variety of problems ranging from urban transportation to facial wrinkles.

It is a VERY cool project.

If you would like to find out how your school, corporation, or district can participate, please contact Kimberly Morris.

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