Student problem-solvers prepare for Invention Convention

By Kevin Hotary - Staff Writer
Colchester - posted Tue., Feb. 14, 2012
Laura Messinger talks with students about their inventions at a recent luncheon for students participating in the annual Invention Convention.
Laura Messinger talks with students about their inventions at a recent luncheon for students participating in the annual Invention Convention.

Started in 1983, the Connecticut Invention Convention (www.CTinventionconvention.org) is a nonprofit educational organization formed with the goal of promoting and nurturing creative problem-solving skills in young children through invention. Starting with yearly local events at the approximately 100 participating schools across the state, the Invention Convention concludes with representatives from each school displaying their inventions to the public and to the judges at the University of Connecticut’s Gampel Pavilion in the spring.

“I wish that all education was like this,” said Laura Messinger, enrichment teacher at Jack Jackter Intermediate School and at William J. Johnston Middle School.  Messinger initiated the Invention Convention program at these schools about seven years ago.

Open to all students in grades 3 through 8, preparation begins in January. Students enrolling in the event attend two weeks of three-day-a-week luncheons, learning how to come up with an invention, how to build and improve the invention, and how to confidently present their invention to a panel of judges.

“This will probably be the only time when the students' homework is to go out and find problems,” said Messinger of the first luncheon meeting, where students are given tips on developing ideas for solving problems in the real world. Later luncheons describe ways to put together visual displays and how to talk, and answer questions, about an invention. Students are shown previous years' invention displays, and practice their presentation skills with common everyday objects – for example, a pencil or folding chair – that they are to pretend is their new invention.

Before the luncheon meetings with students were started, about two-thirds of all students who started a project for the Invention Convention left before completing the project. Since starting the luncheons, the retention rate has improved to about 50 percent.  Students from Colchester schools have also done well at the state-wide convention, winning special awards nearly every year, she said.

“That shows how challenging this is,” said Messinger.  She and the other teachers will meet with the students to help them with problems and to provide encouragement, but otherwise, the inventions are worked on at home in the student’s free time. “Their inventions have to be done in secret,” said Messinger.

The goal of the Invention Convention process is not only to help students learn how to identify problems that need to be solved, but also to learn engineering skills in designing and building their inventions, as well as public speaking and entrepreneurial skills, as they try to convince the judges and the public of their invention’s importance.

“Think of this as a commercial that grabs your audience,” said Messinger to the students, as they worked on their presentation skills.  She encourages students to not only show the finished prototype for their invention and to describe how they came up with the idea, but to also point out the challenges that had to be overcome in completing the product.  

“Make sure that the judges know how hard you worked on your invention,” said Messinger.

Completed student inventions will be on public display on Thursday, March 8, from 6 to 8 p.m. at JJIS.


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