Johniah Gomez was tired of getting caught in the rain without her umbrella. So the Meriden 6th grader decided to make a backpack with an umbrella built right in. Now she just pushes a button and the umbrella opens up, keeping her dry and leaving her hands free. Gomez’s umbrella backpack was just one of more than 600 inventions on display Saturday at the 28th annual Connecticut Invention Convention (CIC) at UConn in Storrs.
The CIC showcases the creativity and problem-solving skills of Connecticut students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Gomez attended the event along with nine other inventive 6th graders from Thomas Edison Middle School, the magnet school in Meriden.
The CIC, begun in the 1980s as a program for gifted and talented students, has expanded to include all students. “The best for the best is the best for all,” said CIC President Honora Kenney.
Students are asked to think of a problem they encounter in their everyday lives and invent a solution for it. They have to keep a log of their progress, including the setbacks they encounter along the way and how they overcame them.
Conceiving, researching and creating an invention uses skills from many different academic areas, including math, science, history, and library skills, according to CIC Vice President Charles Baumgartner. “It emphasizes why they are learning,” he added.
“It’s a lot of hard work to go from having an idea to solving a problem,” said Dr. Janice Mooney-Frank, science teacher and adviser to the Thomas Edison group. A CIC “Hall of Fame” teacher, Frank has taken part in the CIC for the past 18 years. Thomas Edison has participated since the school’s opening a decade ago.
Frank’s students began working together last fall as classmates, but attended the convention on Saturday as friends. Forming those new friendships was Gomez’s favorite part of the CIC experience, she said, smiling at pals and fellow inventors Meriam Meraay and Rachel Kallely.
In addition to their new friends, the young inventors gained other benefits from the experience. “I learned how to be creative and how to be confident in presenting my ideas,” said Meraay, inventor of the Safety Belt, a strap worn around the waist with pockets for first-aid supplies. She got the idea when a friend fell and got hurt during a field trip.
“When kids have an opportunity for creative thinking and problem solving, it gives them a life skill that allows them to solve problems for themselves and others,” Frank said.
Thomas Edison was just one of more than 100 schools that participated in this year’s convention. Many of the students competed in local invention contests to earn the right to attend the CIC. Past participants have been featured on the Ellen DeGeneres show and on PBS’s “Cyberchase” and “ZOOM.”
Hosted by the UConn School of Engineering, this year’s convention took place at Gampel Pavilion, home of the UConn Huskies basketball team. Cheers rose from the crowd on Saturday, but they weren’t for a spectacular move by Kemba Walker or a Maya Moore three pointer. They erupted during the closing ceremony that bestowed awards for innovative thinking on about 60 deserving young inventors.
Students won ribbons, trophies, $100 savings bonds and a variety of other prizes--not for their athletic prowess, but for their brainpower. One lucky young woman even won a free patent search from the law firm of McCormick, Paulding and Huber. If Hiccupops--her invention for curing the hiccups—hasn’t already been patented, the firm will pay for the application for her.
For the judging process, students were placed in groups of 10 by grade level. Three inventors from each group were singled out. Brendan Medovich of Thomas Edison was one. He earned recognition for his AV Hero—an adapter that allows older electronic devices such as DVD players and televisions to work with their newer counterparts. How did he get the idea?
“It all started with my Playstation and my brand new TV,” he related.
While some students received special awards, “all inventors here today are winners—and we mean it,” said Kenney. To prove it, she said, the CIC gave out T-shirts and goodie bags to each inventor.
Frank agrees. “No matter how you do,” she said, “having an opportunity to go to the invention convention, meet other inventors and do creative problem solving--you are a success.”
Looking out over the convention floor filled with hundreds of creative inventions, some by children as young as five years old, fills Frank with hope. She said, “It makes me feel good about our future.”
The Safety Belt by Meriam Meraay—An adjustable belt with pockets for holding first-aid supplies
Thomas Edison Middle School Inventions
The AV Hero by Brendan Medovich—An adapter that allows older electronic devices to work with newer ones
A Perfect View by Nicole Karpinski—Goggles that help TV viewers find a spot to watch without eye strain
The Smart Pack by Katie Grasso—A backpack with a built-in recorder to create a reminder of what you need to bring to school the next day and a thermal pack to keep your back warm in the winter or cool in the summer
The Coke Mobile by Calista Barker—A vehicle powered by gas created by a chemical reaction between Coke and Mentos
Clip-On Heels by Rachel Kallely—A shoe with removable heels of various heights to cut down on shoe costs and provide extra closet space
The Umbrella Backpack by Johniah Gomez—A backpack with a built-in umbrella
The Note Board by Justin Roxas—Two notebooks in one with a built-in checkerboard
The Disposable Shoe Mop by Porter Brasell—Shoes with disposable dust cloths on the bottom to clean the floor as you walk around
The Dog Gone Kitty Play Center by Jordan Legendre—An enclosure for cats to go when they are scared of dogs or small children