Failure may not be an option, but failure offers opportunities. In fact, failure is often one of the most valuable tools a STEM student or professional can draw on to eventually succeed. STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — does not demand genius or perfection.
“Failing forward is what we want,” says Alaysha Whitworth, STEM coordinator at Ammon’s White Pine Charter School. “It’s a challenge to teach kids that.”
With support from Idaho National Laboratory, Whitworth took 45 of her students to the Idaho Invention Convention Regional Competition, held Feb. 8 at the College of Eastern Idaho’s Yellowstone Training Center. From there, she a took a handful to the state competition in Moscow March 6-7 at the University of Idaho’s Integrated Research and Innovation Center.
Twenty-four entrants from the Idaho competition had entries accepted for the national competition, originally scheduled for April 25 at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was canceled and held virtually on July 2.
Making the cut
Jasmine Lima, 13, was one southeastern Idaho student who made the national cut. Her “Security Stirrup,” a device that allows a rider who’s been bucked from a horse to disconnect and avoid being dragged, was one of 24 from Idaho to win a place in the national competition.
Her invention was judged in the Working Models category. Other categories included Adaptations, Gadgets & Games, Jules Verne, and Non-working Models. There were special awards, including Excellence in Game Design, a High School Grand Champion and Best of Show.
A horseback rider herself, Lima said she felt validated in Moscow by the person in the booth next to her, who told her his father had once been dragged by a horse. “I learned a lot about myself in the process,” she said. “The mentality they encourage is that you can have great ideas, that you can be an inventor the same as any adult.”
Did you know?
Thomas Edison and his associates did not invent the incandescent lightbulb. What they invented was a lightbulb that could burn longer and more dependably. “The electric light has caused me the greatest amount of study and has required the most elaborate experiments,” he wrote. “I was never myself discouraged or inclined to be hopeless of success. I cannot say the same for all my associates.”
INL’s STEM mission
INL views support of STEM as a key part of its mission and is perpetually looking for organizations it can partner with. In addition to encouraging creativity and innovation, the Invent Idaho program addresses state science standards and emphasizes the hands-on application of STEM principles in students’ inventions.
“It’s important to encourage innovation and creative problem-solving in students beginning at an early age,” said Jennifer Jackson, INL’s K-12 Education Enrichment Program manager. “We believe that some of the best STEM learning happens outside of the classroom and we are excited to see and to foster the wealth of STEM talent that is being developed here in our own backyard.”
This was INL’s first year supporting the Invention Convention, supplying not only financial support but judges for the regional competition. The lab’s promotion and support resulted in participation from four southeastern Idaho schools: White Pine, Taylorview Junior High School in Idaho Falls, and Holy Spirit Catholic and Grace Lutheran in Pocatello. With about 60 students, that represented roughly triple the participation of previous years — a good start, said Brenda Greenhalgh, INL’s K-12 STEM Program Implementation lead, who took on duties as Idaho Invention Convention’s southeastern regional coordinator.
“I was really astounded by the inventions that they came up with,” Greenhalgh said. “It gets the kids interested in STEM fields, and you can do really anything with it. It’s also good to get kids working together as a team.”
As the program grows in future years, INL plans to lead targeted outreach to encourage other eastern Idaho schools to participate. “This is a promising start,” Jackson said. “We hope to see schools from all over east Idaho involved in the future, especially rural schools. This program represents a unique opportunity for those students.”
Did you know?
In addition to inventing the lightning rod, bifocals, and the stove named after him, Benjamin Franklin – at the age of 11 – came up with an idea for swim fins. They were for the hands: two oval pieces of wood, about 6-by-10 inches, with a hole for the thumb. “I remember I swam faster by means of these pallets, but they fatigued my wrists,” he wrote in 1773. He was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1968.
Idaho STEM schools
Whitworth said she learned about Invention Convention during the 2018-19 school year on a tour of Idaho STEM schools. At North Idaho STEM Charter Academy, she met Beth Brubaker, the school’s STEM project coordinator and Invent Idaho Invention Convention state director.
“It’s really a lengthy project. It requires a lot of grit,” Whitworth said. “There’s a lot of frustration, but what’s most important is seeing kids improve, not just once but many times.”
She started it as a schoolwide project, with 138 students involved, making it clear that the top 45 entrants would go to the regional competition and that scholarships were available for kids who qualified for state.
The variety of ideas she saw was a big surprise to her. They ranged from a feeder for stray cats to glasses for horses. Another surprise was the support students showed for each other. “(They’re) very concerned about each other and helping each other out,” Whitworth said.
Spreading the benefits
It’s not just students but teachers who benefit from Invention Convention, Brubaker said. The program offers hands-on training for university credit, and a course will be offered this fall based on Sam Cord Stier’s book Engineering Education for the Next Generation: A Nature-Inspired Approach.
In a wider sense, keeping students engaged with science is good for the classroom, the community, the country and the world, she said. “Kids are naturals, but there are studies that show in fourth and seventh grade their creativity drops. We show teachers how they can inspire students to become creative problem solvers. Our purpose is to teach the inventing design process. As problem finders, they get to identify, dig in and understand.”
Overall, White Pine had 12 students qualify for state, with four state award winners. Whitworth has saved a lot of presentations and ideas from this year and hopes to expand the program to the elementary level.
Jasmine Lima said she went from a broad understanding of the problem she wanted to solve to a detailed solution that worked. The challenge was to come up with a detachable stirrup that would bear a rider’s weight when he or she was getting on or off a horse. “We did a lot of testing on what kind of pin to use. We went through seven different designs. We also had to check out what was available.”
The support from INL and Whitworth made a big difference, she said. “We wouldn’t have been able to do Invention Convention without her. She was incredibly involved.”
Overall, Idaho young inventors did very well at the National Invention Convention online awards ceremony, winning seven awards, including Best of Show “Zero Hunger, Zero Waste” sponsored by Kroger, as well as the Accessibility Award, Jules Verne Award for Future Thinking, Best Journal, and a Patent Award. Follow this link for a full list of winners.
For Lima, it was a disappointment not being able to go to Dearborn and see the Henry Ford Museum. Once the pandemic is dealt with, she still wants to go there with her family.
She already has ideas for other inventions. “Before I did Invention Convention, I probably would have said, ‘That’s not what I’m interested in,’ but it’s such a big boost in confidence,” she said.
For more information
For information about the online class through the University of Idaho, go to https://marketplace.uidaho.edu/C20272_ustores/web/store_main.jsp?STOREID=9