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Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

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Three children in yellow t-shirts sit in front of a old-fashioned traffic light and small brick gatehouse in a larger building; one holds a blue and white "handicapped" parking sign

From left: Inventors Claire Kinnaman, Anna Gareau, and Cooper Dyson are Team Scandicapped, the winner of the President’s Choice award at the 2019 Invention Convention U.S. Nationals. The team was led by Nancy Ernstes, Cobb County Schools K-12 InVenture, in Georgia. / Photo by Nick Hagen

Invention Convention Worldwide invites students to solve problems and invent through hands-on, real-world, project-based learning activities. In 2019, more than 100,000 K-12 inventors competed at the school level. Winners advanced to state competitions, hoping to be one of the 492 granted access to Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation for Invention Convention U.S. Nationals. A trio of young inventors and their invention, Scandicapped, won the competition’s coveted 2019 President’s Choice award from The Henry Ford’s President and CEO Patricia Mooradian.

Scandicapped, invented by fifth-graders Anna Gareau, Claire Kinnaman, and Cooper Dyson, has a simple premise. Using an accessible parking sign fitted with LED lights and RFID technology found in pet microchips, drivers would be discouraged from illegally parking in reserved spaces.

According to the trio, it’s an idea that came to life in their classroom at Cheatham Hill Elementary in Marietta, Georgia. First proposed by Anna, Scandicapped’s inspiration is personal, a problem she identified within her own family, since her sister has hydrocephalus and uses a wheelchair. Her family’s frustration in parking lots is constant, Anna said.

For five months, the three fifth-graders brainstormed after school to define the problem and outline their design solution and concepts—all under their teacher’s guidance. Final iterations of Scandicapped allow a fitted solar-powered sign to read a chip embedded in a driver’s placard or license plate. When the plate’s chip is verified, the parking sign’s LED lights glow green to indicate legal parking. When a car is parked illegally, the sign’s LED lights glow red to alert drivers of their mistake. If ignored, the continued red flashes also alert the public and law enforcement of the infraction.

The team’s research shows those infractions would get noticed. Within just 35 minutes of observing their elementary school’s retrofitted accessible parking signs one school morning, nine violations occurred. “They were mostly younger, teenagers,” said Claire. “They don’t really know how much their actions can affect people.” What’s also interesting about their test, she added, was how half of drivers who did park illegally moved their vehicle when the prototype sign glowed red.

Team Scandicapped followed much of the protocol The Henry Ford has applied to its own innovation learning framework, Model i, when working on their ideation. Model i connects habits of innovators and actions of innovation to provide an interdisciplinary language and approach to learning. Habits such as empathy and collaboration, along with actions such as defining the problem, designing solutions, and optimizing through feedback and iteration, are within the framework. All of these practices and processes were a major reason why the Scandicapped inventors won the competition’s President’s Choice award. “I was shocked and amazed,” said Cooper of the honor.

Leadership at The Henry Ford was equally amazed at the resourcefulness of Team Scandicapped. “The work of Cooper, Claire and Anna so closely embodies the mission of this great institution,” said Patricia Mooradian, president and CEO of The Henry Ford, “reflecting on the fact that 10 percent of the population is disabled in some way and we have to do what we can to make the world more accessible to everyone.”

Since 2019, the Invention Convention Worldwide program has grown to support 147,000 K-12 student inventors. To ensure the safety of students, their families, and everyone involved, the competition was hosted virtually in 2020 and 2021. After two years, Invention Convention Worldwide is excited to welcome students back to The Henry Ford June 1–3, 2022, for Raytheon Technologies Invention Convention U.S. Nationals 2022. We are looking forward to celebrating the creativity and ingenuity of these students this summer!


This post was adapted from an article by Susan Zweig in the January–May 2020 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

education, accessibility, Model i, by Susan Zweig, innovation learning, cars, childhood, inventors, Invention Convention Worldwide, The Henry Ford Magazine

Man in blue suit and bow tie takes a selfie in front of a building with large logo reading "The Henry Ford"
Teacher and Model i practitioner Spencer Kiper.


For years, The Henry Ford has been committed to providing unique learning resources and experiences for educators, drawing on lessons from our past to inspire the next generation. At the core of these learning resources is Model i, a unique learning framework which provides an interdisciplinary language and approach for teaching innovation learning based on the Actions of Innovation and Habits of an Innovator.

When Spencer Kiper, a middle school teacher in Bossier City, Louisiana, traveled to Dearborn in 2017 to receive The Henry Ford’s 2017 Teacher Innovator Award, Model i might have been in its infancy, but Kiper was hooked and put it into action in his classroom.

Designed to spark an innovative mindset, The Henry Ford’s Model i framework promotes something even more fundamental: a sense of what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes. “Understanding the perspective of others, or the struggles or strifes of groups of people, that is something we don’t spend a great deal of time doing in education,” said Kiper, who was also the 2019 Louisiana State Teacher of the Year. “With Model i, this is the first thing you do. From the get-go, it inspires a very different kind of feel in the classroom.”

Connecting schools to The Henry Ford’s collections, Model i intrigued Kiper during his 2017 visit to The Henry Ford. He’d been looking for ways to fuel design-inspired thinking and problem-solving skills in his middle school STEM students—a framework that could generate fresh, insightful solutions and streamline coursework. At the time, Model i was in its early stages, much of its substance not yet finalized. That didn’t deter Kiper from dropping basic Model i concepts into his classroom.

“One of the biggest hurdles I face as a teacher is overcoming that ‘I can’t do this because I’m not creative’ mentality,” said Kiper, who believes Model i is a roadmap back to creativity that hasn’t been nurtured over time. “By starting with small problems, you allow students to ease their toe back into being creative and see little wins, little successes. And then you introduce them to the big problems. That’s a pretty big dividend.”

Group of children stand and kneel around an arcade game made out of cardboard
Spencer Kiper’s Destination Imagination team constructed a working cardboard arcade to compete against teams from around the world at a recent Destination Imagination global final.

According to Phil Grumm, senior manager of learning services and on-site programs at The Henry Ford, educators like Kiper have become pseudo co-authors of the ever-evolving framework. “When you put Model i into the hands of an expert teacher and superuser like Spencer, he finds his own connections and relevance, and deploys it in creative and innovative ways we never intended nor anticipated.”

For Kiper and his students, Model i was a natural fit with STEM on Screen, a film festival/mini invention convention Kiper had created to bring industry leaders to students to give real-world feedback on their world-enhancing innovations. It also found applications in his Campus 2 Campus Connection with Centenary College of Louisiana, which gave pre-med biology students the opportunity to strengthen empathy skills by mentoring Kiper’s STEM class. “Studying our artifacts and stories shows us that empathy is a critical habit for innovators to practice and develop to not only solve relevant problems but identify them in the first place,” said Grumm.

Kiper likes to praise Model i’s focus on de-stigmatizing failure and explaining why mistakes must be baked into every creative process. Embedding failure into learning also makes teachers better prepared to teach, which is why Kiper, who was recently named instructional technologist for Caddo Parish, Louisiana, readily employs Model i in his teacher education courses. “As an ideological concept, it can be placed in any sort of educational context and see success,” he said. “It’s a fun and engaging way of learning that’s going to stay with you for the long haul.”

In June of 2021, The Henry Ford launched the inHub website to provide educators around the world with access to The Henry Ford's innovation learning resources. Educators can sign up for a free inHub membership to receive unlimited access to all of The Henry Ford's learning resources, in addition to professional development opportunities. Become an inHub member for free today to get started.


This post was adapted from an article by Susan Zweig in the June–December 2020 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

by Susan Zweig, The Henry Ford Magazine, Teacher Innovator Awards, teachers and teaching, Model i, innovation learning, education