The often-mysterious chambers of childrens’ imaginations will be on public display as the Invention Convention comes to Columbus this weekend.
Local students from both Olentangy and Delaware City school districts will be represented as they compete for scholarship money, patent proposals and honored recognitions.
The 344 students from the Central Ohio area include 31 Olentangy and 17 Delaware City finalists, who are to meet at the Center of Science and Industry (COSI) on Saturday.
“You never know —and I’m serious about this — what they are going to come up with,” said the convention’s promotions manager Jerrie West Strickling.
Of the 301 inventions, some of the locally concocted ideas include the Fight Stopper, Bruise Eliminator, Tooth Renewal, Avery’s Onion Goggles, Third Hand Umbrella, Squirter to the Rescue and Shoocks.
Many projects embrace the inventors’ youthfulness, Strickling added. She sees a lot of kids “trying to get out of chores,” with inventions that keep siblings out of the room or that make making the bed more convenient, for example.
Yet the event is not childs’ play. The Invention Convention has given about $500,000 to Ohio students since 1993, according to convention’s Executive Director Cherylyn Rushton.
Additionally, some students are encouraged to pursue patents after their work is recognized at the convention.
Rushton cited an Olentangy student, Matthew Boles, 10, who is gaining national recognition as he files for his provisional patent. She said he created a portable, healthy, hot breakfast on the go for last year’s convention.
The year before, Kaylee Drerup, now 11, won the 2009 Grand Prize Edison Award — a $2,500 college scholarship supplied by College Advantage, Ohio’s 529 Plan.
Her prototype, “The Super Nutrition Nanny,” scans food products’ nutrition labels and conveniently rank them as a “bad,” “OK,” or “good” health choice.
“I’m on a trampoline and tumbling team and our coach tells us to eat healthy before a meet, but sometimes kids don’t,” said Kaylee. “So I decided to make an invention.”
Pat Farrenkopf, Olentangy’s Director of Gifted Services and district director for Invention Convention, said that is the whole idea behind the Invention Convention project: encouraging young minds to tap into a problem and encouraging them to find a solution.
“We talk about 21st century skills,” said Farrenkopf. “It’s important for all students to develop creative skills, collaborative skills, critical skills and communication skills — it’s all in the Invention Convention.”
Rushton emphasized the importance of collaboration, saying that great ideas do not develop from just one student, but instead requires the support of educators and parents.
Kaylee, for example, said her dad helped carve the wood to create the prototype and her mom contributed her scrap-booking materials to complete the design.
In turn, the Invention Convention’s mission is to support the educators and the teachers by providing a completely free program, Rushton said.
“There is no lack of talented students in Ohio,” said Rushton. “It’s about supporting, and that’s the challenge that we’ve taken on.”
She said the convention has grown over the past 17 years that it has been in Ohio. After being established in Sandusky, the event moved to Columbus in 1996 where it was a three-county private event.
Today, it features 21 school districts across seven counties. Next year, Rushton hopes to include the Toledo area and transform the convention into a statewide event. Columbus would then become a city for the state finals as well as the regions, she added.
As the Invention Convention has progressed over the years, so have the student participants, Rushton said.
“What makes an inventor different than other people is that they actually do something and don’t stop until they achieve the goal,” said Rushton.
“The world is full of problems. The world is also full of people who have ideas … but inventors take that idea and convert it to reality, making the problem lessor or making the problem go away,” she said.
The elementary and middle school students can be a source of inspiration, even to adults. When she’s tired and “feeling challenged,” Rushton said she looks to the “endlessly curious and endlessly imaginative” kids who tend to notice details and potential solutions that are right in front of adult’s faces.
She is adamant about a belief that kids are more creative than adults.
“What happens as a result of growing up, you begin to be affected by responsibility and other people,” Rushton said. “A young person who’s five or six or seven hasn’t started to carry any worry, haven’t been barraged by negatives yet. They haven’t learned they can’t.”
From noon to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, the students are to be judged on how well their invention works. There assignment was broad: to address a problem and attempt to solve it. Anything more specific might stifle creativity and thus defeat the purpose of the event, Rushton said.
Students will be asked to communicate how their invention works and explain its relevancy. Without those skills, great ideas literally sit on the workshop shelf, Rushton said.
Coinciding with the Invention Convention, “The Supporting Innovation Expo,” is scheduled for today and the following Saturday. This component is to showcase various area businesses, education facilities and youth programs.
Volunteers are also encouraged to participate as judges. Registration is still open online at just-think-inc.com/columbus/judge_invite.html.
And for those still wondering what Shoocks are, Farrenkopf said they will have to attend the event — she is not about to give competitors any ideas.