They spent months brainstorming and building and breaking and fixing and testing and getting their creations almost perfect.
That’s why it was no surprise to see some young inventors abruptly make a couple of high-speed circuits around the Student Union Ballroom at Middle Tennessee State University‘s 29th annual Invention Convention, nimbly dodging teachers, judges, parents, siblings and fellow fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders and boomeranging back to their assigned spots and their 340 devices, gadgets and games.
These 700-plus young innovators from 36 schools across the Midstate had to burn off some of that creative energy somewhere.
They’ve spent more than 18 months cooped up at home, attending virtual school, then finally real school again, inventing something for the Feb. 17 event.
The pandemic canceled the 2021 Invention Convention, which would have been MTSU’s 29th regional event. Some participants used the extra time to refine their 2021 inventions, while others started over with new ideas, approaches and presentations.
Each year, the students use a maximum of $25 to create and present an invention from one of two categories, “Games” or “Make Life Easier.” For the second time, a new category, “Entrepreneurship,” gave the young pioneers a chance to showcase how they’d market their inventions.
Ultimately, their efforts led this year to a better tire lock, a more efficient vitamin reminder, an effective cord controller, safer ornament storage, pet care helper and other life-easing solutions to near-universal problems. Their unique new games aimed to make learning about decimals, history, spelling and other subjects even more memorable and useful.
And their grasp of how to get their ideas to the public led to plans for biomes, cafes and gift businesses.
Richard Finley and Makiya Lankford, for example, developed “The Extenda Stool,” which attaches to a grocery shopping cart with a lightweight chain, to help shoppers more safely reach items on upper shelves.
The students from Shelbyville’s East Side Elementary School spent less than $25 on their invention for the fifth grade “Make Life Easier” category, which Lankford said was inspired by a teacher’s experience.
“We thought people could get the amount they needed without falling or dropping anything,” Finley explained. “We found a way to prevent that from happening.”
‘The heroes … are the teachers’
MTSU Department of Elementary and Special Education professor Tracey Huddleston established the Murfreesboro Invention Convention in 1993 in tribute to her mother, True Radcliff, a longtime fifth-grade teacher who conducted “Invention Convention”-type events at her own school.
The Invention Convention participants are public- and private-school students in Coffee, Davidson, DeKalb, Franklin, Grundy, Rutherford, Sumner, Warren, Wilson and Williamson counties.
About 100 received certificates, ribbons, trophies and praise for their 2022 creations; several of those winners are headed next to the national Invention Convention May 31-June 3 in Dearborn, Michigan.
Four inventors also took home the “Eagle Award,” established and presented by longtime education professor Wil Clouse of the Clouse-Elrod Foundation to encourage “maverick thinking.”
The “Tire Lock,” invented by sixth grader Anderson Fortner of Smithville’s DeKalb Middle School, received an Eagle and also won first place in his grade’s “Make Life Easier” category.
Andrew Debrah, Erwin Jenson and Joshua Conferderate‘s “Cancer Killer” entry earned the Coles Ferry Elementary School fourth graders from Lebanon, Tennessee, the Eagle for their entrepreneurship savvy.
Wilson Bank & Trust also saluted six inventors with its new Ben Franklin Award, which includes a cash prize, to recognize their drive for excellence to “make life easier.”
• Rutland Elementary’s Emily Shelton and Aubrey Baker of Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, won the fourth grade Franklin Award for their “Patty Cake” invention.
• Carter Gordon and Walker Graves of Gladeville Elementary earned the fifth grade honor for their “La Más Pura Del Agua (The Purest of Water)” invention.
• And Cooper Jones and Tucker Bouldin of Murfreesboro’s Middle Tennessee Christian School received the sixth grade Franklin Award for their “No Snooze Mat.”
“The heroes in this whole process … are the teachers,” Huddleston said. “They make this event a success — they provide the foundation needed for their students to develop and nurture their inventions.
“The teachers take the students through a design process beginning with brainstorming and identifying a problem they would like to solve, or a game to reinforce knowledge, or a new service. The process then continues with researching, modifying or redesigning, and then even brainstorming some more, before they get to that final product.
“They’re amazing; their passion for their students being successful makes them superheroes to me. They’re just the best.
“The Invention Convention would not take place at all if it were not for our two sponsors, Wilson Bank & Trust and the Clouse-Elrod Foundation,” Huddleston added. “We’re very fortunate to have these special people to encourage and support this event.”
Each Invention Convention showcases an everyday invention and explains its history, such as a tape measure, golf ball, USB charger or sunglasses. It also features at least one guest speaker, which have included astronauts, artists, athletes, musicians, scientists and historians, and in recent years, the young inventors’ peers.
Conventioneer Maddox Prichard of Gallatin, Tennessee, whose award-winning, now-patented “Measuring Shovel” stunned the first national Invention Convention in 2016 and ABC’s “Shark Tank” judges in 2019, returned from high school to offer encouraging words and to introduce the 2022 event’s showcase invention, the guitar pick.
That came in handy for speakers Jacob Schrodt and Toby Friesen, veteran musicians who explained, and demonstrated, how their instruments — Schrodt’s drums and Friesen’s guitar — evolved and some of the inventions developed to use with them.
Hayden Thornell, a fifth grader at Murfreesboro’s Erma Siegel Elementary, knows a little of that feeling of success, too. He invented quite a succulent business idea after his parents nixed his summer 2020 plan for a lemonade stand.
The resulting “Classy Cactus Farm” gift-box idea has become a successful family business that his mom, Jill Thornell, recently began running full-time.
“He developed every bit of the idea, and the community rallied behind him,” she said of her eldest son, who won both the Judges’ Favorite All-Grade Entrepreneur and the All-Grade Entrepreneur categories.
“People would be buying not just one but five (gift boxes), and then we started selling on Etsy and it blew up. It’s something he was able to take ownership of from Day One.”
You can learn more about MTSU’s Invention Convention, sponsored by the College of Education, at www.facebook.com/MTSUInventionConvention. The national convention website is https://inventionconvention.org.
The Thornells’ Classy Cactus Farm business website is https://classycactusfarm.com.
— Gina E. Fann (firstname.lastname@example.org)