Invention Convention

Get ’em while they’re young….

I sit on a committee at the Schenectady Museum that deals with educating kids about invention and the inventive processes. My job is to go to schools and talk about invention with kids. Understand that these kids are mostly elementary age children, 4th and 5th graders (that’s age 9-11 for any readers who don’t know the US grade system).

Teachers all want their children to behave beautifully for the visitor; I learned early on to warn the teachers that I want the kids to get rowdy. And they do.

I did such a talk today, at an elementary school in Canajoharie, New York, a tiny little town not too far from Cooperstown (Cooperstown is the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame). The kids were very rowdy and very, very fun to talk with. Part of my talk is to get the kids to think up inventions — whether practical or fantastical, and get them to think about how to actually make these things. I do this with light bulbs and with the fact that I need someone to PLEASE invent a transporter such as the one in Star Trek. Heck, flip phones come from Star Trek imagery; why can’t we have a device that disassembles and reassembles atoms? These two things seem to get the juices flowing and we get many fantastical inventions — x-ray vision goggles, flying, fire-breathing dragon aircraft, and the ever-present improvements on the commode (these are 10-year-old boys we’re talking about here). The kids have fun coming up with this stuff, and I love listening to them and encouraging their inventions.

Once each kid has come up with something could be patentable under 35 USC 101, that kid has to set about building a model and developing instructions for making and using the invention. These inventions are then entered at the regional Invention Convention competition at the Museum. The entries are judged by a panel (which I do not sit on) made up of scientists, engineers, and patent lawyers. This panel selects 100 top inventions, then selects 50 from those 100. Those 50 inventions are modeled by their young inventors and the models are put on display for a month (in May) at the Museum. The judges then select a regional winner. The winner of the regional competition gets to go to the statewide Invention Convention competition; that winner gets to enter the national Invention Convention competition. At the national level, there are some serious prizes involved.

This competition is annually held for the New York Capital District and surrounding areas at the Schenectady Museum for school kids of all ages — elementary through high school. If your school does not participate, perhaps you might consider suggesting that it be incorporated into the curriculum. 

There’s nothing like the thrill of solving a problem to get a kid’s juices flowing — perhaps for life.