Lessons Learned on Invention Convention

Students at the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering have competed in Invention Convention for the past two years (the academy’s entire existence), so it’s useful to reflect on what went well and what could be improved. Invention Convention is an outstanding STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) competition where each student designs and builds an invention, either a model or a prototype, and produces a trifold display, then presents these products to a panel of judges. We participated in Connecticut Invention Convention (CIC) both years, and this year we had four students make it to the national competition, National Invention Convention and Entrepreneurship Expo (NICEE).

CIC begins with a local competition that a teacher or advisor sets up in the school or community–I set up one in our academy facility, and I required all of my students to compete and invited other teachers to let their students compete. I followed the CIC guidance, which CIC provides through excellent one-day training sessions with loads of downloadable materials. We set up the area similar to the way the state and national competitions are run with students in “judging circles” of about six students each. CIC provides a process for students to follow to design and build their invention, but I used a similar NASA engineering design process that our academy uses. To get judges for the local competition, I recruited volunteers from two aerospace firms in our town, GKN Aerospace and PCX Aerostructures. CIC recommends using outside, impartial judges, vs. teachers or parents, and I found this to be excellent advice. The first year I did all this, I gave my students some informal time to present their inventions to one another before the competition. Their feedback after the competition was that they had some difficulty knowing what to say to the judges. Therefore, this year I gave my students a few days to practice presenting. We started with a day where we brainstormed as a class on what to say, then we took those items and created a 2-minute pitch that every student practiced and gave to the class. In feedback after this year’s competition, many students felt the pitch was helpful, including those that competed all the way up to NICEE.

Our experience at each level of Invention Convention this year was very positive. I have posted previously on our local Newington Invention Convention, on the Central Regional CIC, and and on the state CIC. In summary, this year we had about 60 students compete locally, of whom nine (15%) were allowed by CIC rules to advance to the regional competition–the nine top inventors picked by the judges. Of these nine, eight (89%) advanced from the regionals to the state competition (CIC). Of these eight state competitors, four (50%) advanced to the national competition (NICEE) and won major awards at CIC. These percentages are very high, well above average, and I attribute them to our continual focus on creative work and engineering design in the academy and on our preparation for Invention Convention following CIC guidance.

This year was the first time we sent students to NICEE. The competition was held at a small venue, the US Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, VA, and only one parent was allowed in with each student. I thought this was unfortunate, as I would have liked to attend. Next year’s competition at the Ford Museum in Michigan should allow for more people to attend. However, I followed the competition online, including the awards ceremony that was streamed live. My observations were that the NICEE criteria for awards were generally in line with those of CIC, but NICEE seemed to emphasize commercial potential of inventions over solving problems in various fields. Nevertheless, my four NICEE competitors told me afterwards that they felt they were well prepared for the competition. In the end at NICEE, one of the four students (25%), Olivia Mullings, was a runner up for the Innovation in Electronics award for her Temp Safe invention that helped save babies or pets locked in a hot car. Here are photos from my four students who competed at NICEE:

Academy students Olivia, Shiven, Jasmine, and Alek prepare to compete in National Invention Convention and Entrepreneurship Expo (NICEE)



I strongly recommend Invention Convention as one of the best STEM competitions your students can enter. While I like team STEM competitions and have coached several of them, I think that the solo competition in Invention Convention is also very beneficial since it gives every student a chance. If you are a STEM teacher in Connecticut and use the materials that CIC provides, you should find it is not difficult to coach your students or even to set up your own local competition.

Academy Students Win Top Awards at Connecticut Invention Convention

On Saturday, April 29, 2017, Ms. Garavel and I cheered on seven Academy of Aerospace and Engineering students at the state-level Connecticut Invention Convention (CIC) at UCONN – Storrs in Gampel Pavilion. These seven students were the winners at the Central Regional CIC event on April 8th – four eighth graders, and three seventh graders. Inventors at CIC could win two types of awards: judges gave Recognized Inventor Awards to the best two inventors in every circle of eight or nine inventors, and various sponsors also gave awards. Two of our eighth graders and two of our seventh graders earned two or more awards today, and one eighth grader, Olivia Mullings, got four awards, including the top award at the very end – and all four of these students were selected to compete in the national competition in June — here are the details:

7th grade Academy winners:
Jasmine BarberSno Away (rolling snow shovel that avoids back strain) – Recognized Inventor Award and Connecticut Science and Engineering Fair Award.
Shiven PatelStop, Drop, and Spot (beacon to help find fire extinguisher in smokey room) – Recognized Inventor Award and Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering Award.

8th grade Academy winners:
Alek JorgeSmart Helm (fireman’s helmet with sensors and transmitter to alert incident commander if fireman is hurt or down) – Recognized Inventor Award, Connecticut Fire Marshals Fire Safety Award, and Angel Investors Forum/Connecticut Venture Group Young Entrepreneur Award (this award connects Alek with potential investors in his invention).
Olivia MullingsTemp Safe (alarm system if baby or pet is left in hot car) – Frank J. Link Family Award for Innovation in Technology Award, Boehringer Ingelheim Cares Foundation Life Sciences Award, United Technologies Corporation Moving the World Forward Award, and the McCormick, Paulding, and Huber Patent Award (this award was given last and highlighted as the top award which provides about $10,000 in legal services for a patent search and application).

Here are photos of the Academy students as they prepared to be judged:


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Here are photos from the awards ceremony and celebration afterwards:

Here are the statistics for this competition to put it all in perspective:

  • 17,000 students across Connecticut competed in local CIC competitions this year — we had 56 competitors at our local event in March (50 students from the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering, and 6 from the STEM clubs in JWMS and MKMS) – so we made up about 0.3% of all Connecticut competitors.
  • The top 15% of inventors from the local competitions competed in one of five regional competitions this year — we had 9 competitors go the Central Regional CIC in early April (four 8th graders and four 7th graders from the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering, and one student from JWMS STEM club). Volunteers from GKN Aerospace and PCX Aerostructures judged the inventors and picked the winners who advanced to regionals from our local CIC.
  • The top 40% of inventors from the regional events, 660 students total from 87 Connecticut school districts, went to the state CIC — we had 7 competitors (all four 8th graders, and three of the four 7th graders from the regional event) – so we advanced at more than double the average rate (100% of 8th graders advanced, and 75% of 7th graders advanced) and we made up about 1% of the competitors at the state event.
  • There were about 300 total awards given at the state CIC, so about one award for every two students – so it would have been reasonable for us to get about three awards, yet we got eleven awards, far above the average, including the top Angel Investor Award and the Patent Award.

I give all these statistics to show that today’s CIC results validated the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering as a strong STEM program where students are learning the concepts and skills sought by universities and industry. I recommend this program highly to any elementary or middle school STEM teacher for your students.

All four students will also be competing in the National Invention Convention and Entrepreneurship Expo on June 1-3, 2017 in Alexandria, Virginia. 

Academy CyberPatriot Teams Place 1st and 2nd in State Middle School Division

Today we found out that the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering students on the two CyberPatriot teams we fielded placed first and second overall in the Middle School Division State Round. In other words, out of the Connecticut middle school teams competing in CyberPatriot, we were the best and second best overall. Our teams were named as those in a military exercise are named: Blue Team, which ended up being #1, and Red Team, which came in #2. Newington Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. William C. Collins, came and presented the award certificates to both teams. Here are photos:

Superintendent Collins presents awards to Academy of Aerospace and Engineering CyberPatriot teams (Blue Team on left and Red Team on right)
Blue Team Captain (left) and Red Team Captain (right) accept awards from Superintendent Collins

What is CyberPatriot?

“CyberPatriot is the National Youth Cyber Education Program. There are three main programs within CyberPatriot: the National Youth Cyber Defense Competition, AFA CyberCamps and the Elementary School Cyber Education Initiative. CyberPatriot was conceived by the Air Force Association (AFA) to inspire students toward careers in cybersecurity or other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines critical to our nation’s future.” (Source: http://uscyberpatriot.org)

For the Middle School Division of CyberPatriot, the teams competed in three rounds–Round One in November, Round Two in December, and the State Round in January. The top teams out of these three rounds advanced to the semifinals in February. We did not make this cut, but we still did very well overall. Considering this is our second season competing, we have grown considerably in knowledge and skill in cyber security, so we plan to do even better next year. As the leader of a STEM academy, I have found CyberPatriot to be an outstanding experience. The students not only learned about cyber security in-depth, but they also learned how to compete in an online setting with thousands of other competitors.

Here are the award certificates:


Mentoring is Key to a Good STEM Program

At the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering, the 8th graders just finished the second part of a three-part STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) competition called the Connecticut Aerospace Engineering Challenge. The competition has the students take on the role of an engineering team working for an airline company that is re-engining its fleet with new Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan engines. The first part of the competition required the students to research the airline’s aircraft and these new engines, then pick the appropriate models of new engines for the aircraft. The second part of the competition has the students respond to a CEO inquiry whether the old jet engines could be recycled as wind turbines or hydroelectric turbines. The students could do a lab experiment, a simulation, and/or a thought experiment to conduct this feasibility study. Now for the average 8th grader, this would be a tall task! My students are an exceptional group, but they needed help to get some perspective on how to approach this problem. That’s where mentors are invaluable. We have forged a partnership with two aerospace firms in our town, GKN Aerospace and PCX Aerostructures. Both companies have provided mentors to help the students in this competition. The students are in four teams, and two mentors from GKN and two from PCX come in about once per month to guide the students and give them feedback. Today the teams all presented their final plans to the mentors, and they got outstanding feedback. Additionally, GKN Aerospace’s team, led by Mr. Bruce Fiedorowicz, Director of Sales, gave our academy a large model of a GeeBee air racer, plus two classic air racing posters. Here are photos:

Bruce Fiedorowicz, GKN Aerospace, Mentors Team One
Chris Aldrich, PCX Aerostructures, Mentors Team Two
Gerry Zimmerman, PCX Aerostructures, Mentors Team Three
Tiedah Evans, GKN Aerospace, Mentors Team Four


GKN Aerospace Donates Model and Posters to Academy

Learning Cyber Security through CyberPatriot STEM Challenge

Yesterday, twelve students organized in two teams from the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering competed in CyberPatriot, the nation’s largest cyber security contest for high school and middle school students. The contest, sponsored mainly by the Air Force Association and Northrop Grumman, is a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) challenge that requires students to study cyber security principles and apply them in a real-world environment. From the contest website, here is a more detailed explanation:

CyberPatriot is the National Youth Cyber Education Program. At the center of CyberPatriot is the National Youth Cyber Defense Competition. The competition puts teams of high school and middle school students in the position of newly hired IT professionals tasked with managing the network of a small company. In the rounds of competition, teams are given a set of virtual images that represent operating systems and are tasked with finding cybersecurity vulnerabilities within the images and hardening the system while maintaining critical services in a six hour period. Teams compete for the top placement within their state and region, and the top teams in the nation earn all-expenses paid trips to Baltimore, MD for the National Finals Competition where they can earn national recognition and scholarship money.

The competition yesterday was Round One, requiring students to compete during a six-hour window over this weekend. We chose to compete from 12:00 noon to 6:00 PM. Since it was a holiday, we could not use our school, so the local Newington Chamber of Commerce generously gave us their office and conference room instead. The students were in two teams, each of which had a competition laptop. Each team had three eighth graders, one of whom had competed last year and serves as team captain this year, and three seventh graders. They logged into the CyberPatriot site at 12:00 and became IT administrators for the next six hours. Whenever they did something that fixed a cyber vulnerability, “Mario” music from the video game would play, giving them immediate positive feedback. A siren sounded if a mistake was made. In the end, we did well with both teams earning almost 70 out of 100 possible points–we won’t learn our final official scores until this coming week. Nevertheless, it was a great learning experience for everyone. Here are a series of photos showing the teams–in the last photo, note the jubilation as one team earns points during the last 15 minutes of competition.


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:


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.