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Inventors Fair Combines Education, Competition and Fun

Hundreds of fourth- and fifth-graders competed in the annual event on Saturday.

The next generation of potential Bill Gates and Steve Jobs demonstrated their ingenuity this weekend at the District 196 Inventors Fair.

The annual event took place from 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 14 at and . Registration was open to all fourth and fifth graders in Independent School District 196. This year the event included 355 entries and approximately 500 student inventors.

“It’s really important, I think, for the fourth and fifth grade students to be able to have a venue like this,” said Michael O’Keefe, an inventors fair judge and fifth grade teacher at Parkview Elementary School.

The inventors fair, which is an extension of the metro-wide Young Inventors Program, has been a District 196 tradition for over 20 years. Each year, the district’s elementary gifted and talented teachers organize the event and encourage students to submit their inventions for judging. 

“Inventive thinking is really what our world is about,” said Pam McDonald, who works in gifted and talented programming for District 196 and is one of the event’s primary organizers. “It’s really empowering for a child.”

Many students begin working on their inventions as early as September. On the day of the fair, the inventors are judged in several categories, including problem statement, description, scale drawing, materials, research, design and building, test process, demonstration and overall inventiveness. Students ranking in the top 10 percent of entrants are awarded a blue ribbon and encouraged to enter their invention in the metro-wide competition.

Dozens of community members also donated their time to judge the competition. This year, teachers, parents of past and present inventors, local engineers and former fair entrants who are now members of the National Honor Society were among the 180 judges scoring the event.

“It’s fun to see who wins,” said Amber Johnson, a fifth grader at Rosemount Elementary School, who invented the “Kitty Commode,” a device that prevents cats from kicking litter out of the litter box.

For some students, the festivities of the fair were more exciting than the competition itself.

“I really liked seeing all the other inventions and seeing how people came up with their things that would help today’s generation,” said Vanessa Southgate, a fourth grader at Highland Elementary School.

There were a wide variety of inventions on display. Some were practical, such as a snowplow that could be attached to a bicycle. Many students created devices that were intended to make life easier for their pets. One entrant created a mat designed to remove debris from a dog’s paws when it came in the house after playing outdoors. Other inventions were recreational, such as the snowball machine one student designed.

“I had a lot of ideas,” said Wyatt Bucki, a fourth grader at Pinewood Community School, who finally settled on the “Slant-o-Shelf”—a diagonal book shelf designed to keep books from falling over—as his invention.

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