I don't mention my IED class much (Introduction to Engineering Design), that's a PLTW class, but I love it. It's a nice change of pace from the math courses I teach. The kids get to do hands-on things. We get to play with Inventor (an AutoCad program), AND best of all, I have the freedom to add my own things to the curriculum if they fit or if we have time.
For example, our first few units were on brainstorming and inventions vs. innovations and technical sketching and drawing and such. During our innovations unit, a student asked what patents were and what would qualify as something you could patent and if you invented toothpaste, does that mean no one else could make toothpaste or if they made it a different flavor, THEN could they market it? And so on. I told her the little I knew about patents, and we went on with what we were doing, but that kept niggling at my mind.
Enter our new mini unit that we're going to sprinkle throughout the year and see how far we can take. Their first homework assignment was to find 3 new-to-them facts about patents, and then to brainstorm a 1/2 page of questions they had about patents. I'm doing all their homework with them this year, so I did it too. The following class we shared out our questions. There were some good ones: how long does the application process take? How do they decide who is the patent "winner" if 2 people submit an application at the same time? What qualifies you to work at the patent office? etc.
Their next homework is to pick 3 of their questions and become an "expert" at the answers. My ultimate vision (naive? doable?) is for us to try and patent something. They're freshman (so I'll be "near" them for 4 years), and who knows how far we'll take it, but I thought it would force us to learn what it's all about. If a 5 year old can get a patent, I'm thinking our chances are okay.