Learning Real-World Skills through Invention Convention

All fifty students in the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering will be entering Invention Convention this year. Invention Convention is a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) competition where an elementary or middle school student designs, builds, and presents an original invention to a panel of judges. This process encourages student achievement in so many real-world skills–from using the engineering design process to communicating ideas clearly. Invention Convention has different levels of competition, beginning with a local event, then a regional event, then a state event, then finally a national event. Students who are scored in the top tier of competing inventors progress to the next higher level. For the Academy students, we will hold our local Newington Invention Convention on March 16th, 3:30 to 5:30 PM, in the Academy facility. Our generous corporate mentors at GKN Aerospace and PCX Aerostructures will serve as judges. Families are welcome to come and watch. Here are some photos of the Academy 8th graders hard at work on their invention designs last week:

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Invention Convention – A Great STEM Experience for Students

The students at the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering, plus a few others from our school district, all competed in a local Invention Convention yesterday. Invention Convention is a contest that is one of the best ways to interest students of all learning styles and abilities in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). It is an individual effort – each student uses a basic, age-appropriate engineering process to design and build an invention that solves a problem that the student has identified. The inventions can be any size or scale, and the student must either build a physical prototype or a physical model of the invention. During the contest, the student presents his/her invention to a small panel of judges by showing the invention and using a trifold display board to help explain it. At our local Invention Convention, the judges were Eric Chandler, Ewelina Maselek, and Tiedah Evans, all engineers from a local aerospace firm, GKN Aerospace, led by the Director of Sales, Bruce Fiedorowicz. We had 28 students competing and about 50 spectators, made up of family, friends, and school staff. In the end, we had four finalists who qualified to go on to the Connecticut state-level Invention Convention on April 30th at UCONN’s Gampel Pavilion.

Here are the finalists  – Alexis Santo, Jasmine Barber, and Jaiden Woods (finalist Alek Jorge was not able to be present):

 

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Our judges from GKN Aerospace (left to right), Eric Chandler, Tiedah Evans, Ewelina Maselek, and Bruce Fiedorowicz:

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The competition as the judges circulated among the inventors:

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Preparing for STEM Competitions

As we finish the second week of school at the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering at John Wallace Middle School, students are learning the Engineering Design Process (borrowed from NASA), and how it compares to the Scientific Method (source: www.makeitsolar.com). Both of these are problem solving methods, but each is more appropriate in certain situations. We reviewed the scientific method first, since students have learned that in the past. We did a lab using a computer simulation to determine the density of water, and we practiced writing a full lab report. Today, we focused on the engineering design process, and the students had a couple of engineering design challenges. One involved making a FPG-9 (foam plate glider, 9-inch) and experimenting with its control surfaces. Here are some photos:

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These type of activities are a lot of fun for the students and me – but they also serve a purpose. Students learn to work in teams and quickly develop, test, and refine solutions. They also learn how to meet deadlines, as some design challenges have strict time constraints. Students must present their ideas, as well, and defend their choice of design. All of these are life skills.

We will be developing these life skills much more fully by participating in regional and state-level STEM competitions. Each competition will require the students to organize themselves, schedule practices, determine roles of team members, and then practice for the competition. Here are competitions I am planning to introduce to the students so that they can plan to compete:

I will be seeking mentors for many of these contests – please contact me if you can help. Practices will be every other Friday afternoon – see the Academy annual calendar for the dates.