Step into the Gates Invention Lab on a spring afternoon, and you just might catch a glimpse of the next big invention! Each year, Graland’s young inventors eagerly anticipate the opportunity to participate in the Gates Invention and Innovation Program.
This year’s Middle School participants have been working diligently to prepare for the May 16 expo and competition.
Sophie F. and Megan H. are both busy eighth graders, and the last thing they want to worry about is finding their homework, calculators, pencils and Chapstick in their school bags.
“When you have too much in your bag, it’s so hard to find anything!” says Megan.
To solve this problem, Sophie and Megan invented the “Infinity Bag,” a burlap book bag with removable extensions that can make the bag smaller or larger.
“I know that my school bag is sometimes not big enough to carry all of my things, but there are also times when I don’t need as much room,” Sophie explains. “Having extensions for the bag makes fitting everything so much easier.”
While faculty oversee the Gates students while they work, the role of a Gates coach is not to solve the problem for the students, but to help them find the tools to solve the problem on their own. “I basically provide support, encouragement and make sure no one saws their fingers off,” laughs Gates Coach Jorge Chavez, math teacher.
The Gates program was designed to create an environment for students in which they can independently seek out new innovations while critically thinking about how to solve real-life problems. It is not uncommon for students to run into unexpected challenges while creating their invention, but that’s part of the learning process.
For fifth graders Alex M. and Zoe A., the challenge was figuring out how to fit a variety of first aid supplies into the limited space on a bike’s handlebars. “We wanted to make sure that kids have a first aid kit with them when they ride their bikes,” says Alex. “But we didn’t want it to be as bulky as some of the kits that fit on the back of a bike seat - That’s why we decided to put the materials inside the handlebars.”
The girls first tried to place the materials in a plastic bag inside the handlebars. “The bag wouldn’t fit, so we tried wrapping the supplies around a pipe, and it fit easily into the handlebars,” says Zoe. “I learned that you always have to be flexible and sometimes even change your ideas.”
Eighth grade Gates student Eli M. used his knowledge of Quick Response (QR) Code, a type of matrix barcode with a large data storage capacity, to create a small, portable identification (ID) tag that can store a person’s personal information. “That way, you don’t have to carry a cumbersome ID card if you are going out for a run,” explains Eli. Eli learned the importance of perseverance during the invention process and excitedly recalls the moment when he first knew his invention was working properly. “I used my coach’s iPhone to scan the barcode, and up came the information I had stored!”
When asked if they would recommend the Gates program to their peers, these young inventors answer with a resounding, “Yes!” sixth grader Patrick B., inventor of an extendable snow remover for high branches explains, “Besides being really fun, you get a lot of hands-on experience, and you learn from your mistakes.”
Join these young inventors and many more on Wednesday, May 16, at 1 p.m. in the Fieldhouse, where their creative inventions will be on display for the Gates judges and entire Graland community!