Kids mix common sense, creativity at Invention Con...

Kids mix common sense, creativity at Invention Convention (+VIDEO)

A video projected on screens in the crowded ballroom of MTSU’s Student Union Thursday showed footage of the Invention Convention through the years, capturing young inventors earnestly explaining and demonstrating their creations for the camera.

Judge Trey Schruff, left, talks with Byars Dowdy Elementary School fourth-graders Warren Denton, center, Oscar Stoffer and Nathan Muktikar about their invention, “Paper Airplance Launcher,” Thursday at the 22nd Annual Invention Convention in MTSU’s Student Union Ballroom. (MTSU photos by Andy Heidt)

Those scenes were mirrored on the ballroom floor as more than 300 young Midstate creators attending the 22nd annual Invention Convention earnestly explained and demonstrated their innovations to play games or “make life easier.”

There was a “Lunch Box of the 21st Century” on the screen, an “Ant Annihilator” live on the ballroom floor and a “Paper Airplane Launcher” both on screen and live. One observer joked that the only way to determine whether what was on screen was live was to look at the hairstyles.

“The best part is that you are here because of your inventions,” Dr. Tracey Huddleston, a professor in MTSU’s Department of Elementary and Special Education and the creator and organizer of the Invention Convention, told the excited fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade participants from public and private schools in Coffee, DeKalb, Franklin, Robertson, Rutherford, Sumner and Wilson counties.

“This is a very favorite time of year for a lot of people on this campus because of your being here.”

Participants submit written, detailed descriptions of their inventions, which can cost no more than $15 and be no larger than 2 feet high, long and wide. The top entrants in each category — inventions that are games or inventions that make life easier — are invited to attend the Invention Convention at MTSU and to demonstrate and describe working models of their creations to judges.

Dr. Kathy Burriss, elementary education department chair, said she was proud to “be in the midst of some very great thinkers today” and challenged the conventioneers to support each others’ ideas and come up with even more useful, helpful inventions.

“I went to an Invention Convention when I was in sixth grade, and they talked about talking phones and talking cars. How many of you have a GPS now? They talked about 3-D TVs. What if somebody had laughed at those ideas then?” she said.

Savannah Seay, a fifth-grader at Castle Heights Upper Elementary in Lebanon, left, talks about her invention, Scarfios, with Melissa Graves, whose son is also a student at Castle Heights, during Thursday’s Invention Convention at MTSU. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)

Burriss also used a personal challenge to seek the young thinkers’ help with a solution, explaining that visiting her family in New York is difficult because the drive is 12 hours one way.

“Can you invent a train that goes 200 miles an hour? That would cut our 12-hour drive to four hours. And if it goes underground, we’d never have to worry about the weather!” Burriss said as the children laughed and nodded in agreement.

Savannah Seay, a fifth-grader at Lebanon’s Castle Heights Upper Elementary School, developed her invention to “make life easier” after a trip out west last fall.

“We visited Colorado in October and it was almost in the negatives out there!” she recalled. “They almost had a blizzard while we were there, and I thought about needing something to keep warm around your head and neck.”

The result was “Scarfios,” a hood-and-scarf combo of colorful, lightweight fleece fabric that’s not as easily lost — or as cumbersome — as traditional two-piece head- and neckwear.

“It’s a scarf, and then the hood looks like the letter O, so … Scarfios!” Seay explained. “People at school have asked me a lot of times to make one for them, but I’ve told them I have to ask my mom first, because it can take a lot of money to make a lot of Scarfios.”

Young inventors await a visit from the judges at the 22nd Annual Invention Convention in MTSU’s Student Union Ballroom Thursday.

Melissa Graves of Lebanon, whose son, Daniel, is one of Savannah’s classmates, said she’s fascinated by the excitement and interest that the Invention Convention evokes in the youngsters.

"American Ninja Warrior - The Board Game," created by Winfree Bryant Middle School sixth-graders Chase Birdwell, Mitchell Ballard and Jack Dodson, is shown at the 22nd annual Invention Convention at MTSU Thursday. The trio's game took home the top prize, the State Farm Excellence Award, in the sixth grade games category.

“American Ninja Warrior – The Board Game,” created by Winfree Bryant Middle School sixth-graders Chase Birdwell, Mitchell Ballard and Jack Dodson, is shown at the 22nd annual Invention Convention at MTSU Thursday. The trio’s game took home the top prize, the State Farm Excellence Award, in the sixth grade games category.

“He watches ‘Shark Tank’ a lot,” Graves said, referring to the reality show that pits inventors against each other to seek investors’ funding and support to bring their creations to market.

“There’s great interest among the kids in the inventions, and it’s a lot of fun for all of them. It’s very exciting for them to get to do this.”

Huddleston established MTSU’s Invention Convention in honor of her mother, a fifth-grade teacher at a private school who conducted Invention Conventions for her students. When her mother retired, Huddleston said, “I decided to do it on a bigger scale.”

The event, sponsored by State Farm Insurance, regularly draws parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers, administrators and other interested folks to celebrate the young inventors’ creativity.

It also features a special guest speaker and a focus on a unique yet everyday object, including Play-Doh, chocolate, sunglasses, Frisbees and ChapStick. This year’s invention was the golf ball.

Thursday’s guest speaker was Grammy-nominated country singer/singer Jamie O’Neal, whose No. 1 singles “There is No Arizona” and “When I Think About Angels” showcased her own creativity and innovative ideas. O’Neal has started her own record label and is releasing a new album later next month.

“I grew up with a dream of creating music, and I guess I was inventing songs,” said O’Neal, who was accompanied on guitar for her two hits by producer/engineer Rodney Good, her husband and an admitted childhood inventor himself.

“It’s incredible to know that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. It’s incredible that you all have come up with so many great individual ideas out here today,” O’Neal told the youngsters. “My motto is ‘Don’t give up, don’t give up on yourself, and don’t let anybody give up on you.’

“Remember that somebody has to be the next big thing, somebody has to be the next big inventor. Remember that if you believe in your dream, you can do anything.”

You can watch a video from the 2014 Invention Convention at MTSU below. A list of this year’s winners is available at

— Gina E. Fann (