Middle school students at the Fell Charter School recently had the opportunity to apply creativity and critical thinking skills to global issues as they participated in the school’s Invention Convention, an updated take on the traditional science fair.

Rather than holding the typical science fair, this year the school decided to take things a step farther by adding a component of social responsibility to the guidelines for student projects by asking students to identify, research, and propose a solution to an existing and widespread social, environmental, or other concrete problem.

“Our goal is to help our students be global thinkers as well as global citizens.  We want them to take what they learn here in class and start now to apply it now to their real life.  The InventionConvention is about starting to plan to change the world in a positive direction!” said school principal MaryJo Walsh.

After identifying and researching a problem, each student had to develop a solution by creating a model of a device, procedure, or system for alleviating the problem. Students were also expected to consider the economic impact of their invention, both in regard to cost of production, cost of use and distribution, and economic benefit to the potential users of the invention.

If this seems like a lot for kids in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade to handle, well…it is! But the students at the Fell Charter School stepped up to the plate and handled the task admirably, thanks to the forward-thinking teachers and administrators at the school who believe that learning is not simply thinking, but also applying what students learn through doing.

“We were not looking for perfect execution of their ‘model’ or ‘plan’.  What we were looking for was out-of-the-box, big idea thinking.  We were looking to see how our students see themselves fitting into and contributing to society.  Our goal is to graduate well-educated citizens.  We believe, as Thomas Jefferson did, that effective, responsible, morally-sound, well-educated citizens benefit society,” explained Ms. Walsh.

Student projects addressed a diverse range of issues, including shortages of clean drinking water, how to manage recyclables, cleaning up land scarred by mining, helping children in the foster care system, food preservation methods, and clean energy systems.

Once projects were completed, students had the opportunity to verbally present their ideas to a panel of judges who used a rubric provided by the school to assess each project on specific criteria. Judges were instructed to ask questions, and, showing a real commitment to the quest for knowledge, students who didn’t know an answer had the opportunity to find the information and return to provide an answer to the questioning judge.

In the 6th grade class, Thomas Nally placed first. Thomas also won the People’s Choice Award for his invention that would help create personal care bundles for children in the foster care system. Jayson Woelkers placed second and Aryonna Castaneda placed third in that grade level.

Top awards in 7th grade went to Bruce Kohut in first place, Erika Hollis in second place, and Connor Casey in third place. Alice Davis was awarded first place in the 8th grade class and first place overall, with Aniya Arsenis garnering second place and James Manoy placing third.

“Book knowledge is great, but application and real-world use of knowledge is what makes a for a world-class education,” remarked Ms. Walsh in regard to why the school chose to make their science fair a bit different this year. The Invention Convention, with its forward-looking and global perspective, was a refreshing and inspiring opportunity for students to participate in the science fair experience in a way that was designed to be relevant, socially responsible, and a true learning experience.