The 15th annual Gates Invention Competition is in the books, and once again we were wildly impressed with the creativity our inventors displayed.
The 15th annual Gates Invention Competition
is in the books, and once again we were wildly impressed with the creativity our inventors displayed.
Discover and Design
The adventure starts in the fall, when Middle School students are challenged to think about the world around them. What problems exist? What difficulties need to be solved to make life better? What products already attempt solutions, and can those products be improved? Research into these queries takes several weeks.
Next, working alone or with a partner, inventors conceptualize their ideas while keeping detailed notes in their inventors' logs. With a lab full of tools and custom-ordered supplies, each invention begins to take shape over the course of many more weeks. Guided by Gates coaches, challenges during the construction stage are met with determination. The designs almost never build out as the inventors imagine and modifications become commonplace. It's all accepted as part of the discovery process.
“I tried to assemble my invention using different types of glue,” said Bradley Donaldson, Grade 8, “but the none of the glue would hold and I had to find another solution.”
Lessons about inventing turn into lessons about life. “It was fun to explore and make mistakes,” said Sophia Birner, Grade 5. “Every time my idea failed I tried to figure out why and correct the problem.”
Display and Demonstrate
The next part of the invention process is the presentation aspect, which is twofold: verbal and visual. During the expo, students talk to more than 100 curious peers, teachers, parents and judges. They prepare an "elevator pitch," or a short description of their ideas, as well as longer speeches in case they are chosen as finalists for the awards.
Students also create a compelling display showcasing their invention and its benefits. Towards the end of the program, students feel the pressure to finish their inventions and polish their presentations. The deadline approaches quickly for most.
Working prototypes in place, students stand in front of their displays equipped to explain and discuss their ideas in a science fair-type expo that demands the entire gym floor. Over the course of more than two hours, inventors share their elevator pitches dozens of times and answer countless questions. Their nerves kick in each time a judge steps over with a scrutinous eye and a notepad in hand.
“The sheer number of projects was impressive, and I noticed more students experimenting with electronics and programming,” said Mike Soltys, Ph.D., a Gates judge.
Fellow judge Bill Waelke added, “This year we saw the first invention that came in the form of an app, which was particularly impressive given the coding skills that are required.”
Other visitors are simply wowed by the comprehensive knowledge demonstrated by students. One parent called it, “A science fair on caffeine,” and commented on the obvious time and effort spent preparing for the competition. Parent Graham Gerlach said, “Students were organized, enthusiastic and confident. There are a lot of good salesmen here.”
Acknowledge and Award
Once the expo closes and the inventions are carefully packed away, the waiting begins. Judges sequester themselves to give their full attention to vetting the best of the best ideas. Finalists are invited back the next morning to address the panel of judges, who have many options for bestowing recognition: first, second or third place in two divisions (Grades 5/6 and Grades 7/8) and patent nods. The top three winners get cash awards while patent contenders can go on another journey that may result in the award of a US patent. This year, four Gates inventors received their patent awards for inventions designed in 2012.
Finally, the time comes to announce the results. To cheers and applause, several inventors are called forward to receive their prizes. As the assembly slowly fades away, coaches reflect on the year of innovation, perseverance and achievement.
“This year more than in the past I saw the kids celebrate their failures,” said Marty Twarogowski
, Gates coach and director of information services. “They were willing to talk about their mistakes and how they overcame them. That’s such an important part of developing a growth mindset about learning.”
Gates Invention Competition Winners
First Place: Ava Barish and Catalina Rodriguez, "Acca Aid"
Second Place (tie): Sara Musani, "Plane Pal" and Grace Dale, "Toasty Tootsies"
First Place, Patent Nod: Sophie Goldberg, "No Skin Skis"
Second Place: Alec Romo-Nichols, "Thermo-Break"
Oliver Greenwald and Sam Nassif, Grade 8
Erin O’Shaughnessy and Lacey Rifkin, Class of 2012