UPDATE: Check out the winners here.
In September, Spark!Lab partnered with ePals, an education media company and safe social learning network, for the second annual Invent It! Challenge. The contest challenged students to think about real-world problems and invent something that could help solve it. We received nearly 300 entries!
Members of the Lemelson Center team served as judges. As we prepare to announce the winners, they reflect on the contest.
I was definitely surprised by the total number of entries for this year’s contest, of the 30 videos I viewed it was a real treat for me to see so many girls taking on challenges ranging from fashion mishaps to handling smelly garbage (as if there was any other kind).
A 10-year-old New Jersey inventor created the “Catcher Robbery Report,” a unique system that enabled a camera hidden in a secret compartment of someone’s backpack to remotely send a photograph and data about the thief to the victim/police, which I thought was an interesting problem to address. Also, I thought the 11-year-old inventor from Turkey cleverly addressed the familiar problem of “stumbling out of bed in the middle of the night into total darkness on your way to bathroom or kitchen for a drink of water,” by creating a pair of “slippers sunshine”—portable motion sensor lights placed in the front of the shoes to help guide the wearer to their destination.
My favorite part about judging the Invent It! contest was seeing the range of problems and challenges the students set out to solve—everything from how to keep your nose warm in the winter to a binder that’s stylish and easier to carry to a snow and ice scraper that you can use from inside your car. (I have to admit that as a person who really dislikes winter and cold weather, that one was a personal favorite!) Each of the inventors obviously took the “Think It” part of the invention process seriously. I was also amazed at how many of the entries had a strong “Sell It” component. It was clear that the students understood that invention isn’t just about having a great idea; it’s about knowing how to get that idea to market. I was particularly struck by the number of entries that used celebrity endorsements in their marketing. Martha Stewart and Food Network’s Guy Fieri both made appearances in the entries I judged! All of the student inventors showed so much creativity, ingenuity and inventive thinking, and I am already looking forward to seeing what they come up with next year!
One of my favorite things about judging the ePals contest was getting to see all of the creative solutions kids had for the variety of problems they tried to solve. One little boy was trying to solve his problem of getting too hot when he was sleeping and another was trying to wake up sleepy drivers. The boy who tried to solve his problem of being hot may not have come up with a world changing invention but his solution of replacing some of the pajama cloth with mesh was creative and he went through all the steps an inventor would—including making a prototype, testing it out, and developing ways to improve it. The boy who developed a way of waking sleepy drivers also genuinely went through the steps of an inventor and both boys had a real passion for solving the problem they identified. The best part of judging the contest was seeing pictures or videos of the kids with their inventions. Their pride really came through.
I was surprised that some kids decided to address very serious issues, such as childhood obesity. The invention was a wristwatch-style device that would count calories and alert its user when they hadn’t exercised or ate too much. I was impressed with the level of seriousness most kids took in physically creating their prototypes. Some included images of themselves using sewing machines, stapling, or using interesting materials. I didn’t think they would take it so seriously, so that’s awesome.