Friday, April 09, 2010

Grace's Invention Convention

I mentioned that one of the cool things to happen to us in the last few weeks since I posted was Grace's experience with the elementary school's Invention Convention competition.

Think of the Invention Convention as a junior Science Fair. The rules were to state a problem and devise a solution to fix that problem. In the end you have to come up with a model prototype of your solution. It is a method of getting kids to think about how to go through some of the steps of the Scientific Method. Along with the model, each participating student has to keep a log of their thought process and invention steps.

Grace decided that her problem was how to fix yourself some food if both of your parents were sick. To that end she considered describing a food-making robot to fix her some food . . . but soon realized that a robot was too complicated and mostly unnecessary. Eventually she decided that devising a simpler machine that could automatically make macaroni and cheese was more possible and easier to model.

She called it The Mac. I help prod her with though-provoking questions and guided her in realizing when she was going down a difficult path. I did NOT do her work for her, but helped out when she asked and gave her advice on some model-building questions. (I also used the hot glue gun when making the model so she wouldn't burn herself.

Here she is on the day of the presentation dinner. We had built the model for The Mac over the previous weekend, taking a shoe box that was spray-painted gold. We glued a plastic spoon on the ride to act as the lever that would open the back access panel of the model to push out the completed bowl of macaroni and cheese. (Remember that this was non-functional and only representing what could happen.)

Here is a look down into the insides of the model. The plastic bowl at the bottom is filled with blue tissue paper which represents the water the macaroni would boil in. Once cooked, the plastic swirly spoons on the sides of the bowl (mechanical levers) would lilt the cooking water & noodles into the device on top of the photo. This mesh netting would catch the completed noodles while another straw underneath siphons away the cooking liquid.

The the noodles would be tilted back into the first bowl to be combined with the melted cheese and mixed. (We couldn't get into a lot of these mechanical details on the model, but there were described in a step-by-step sequence by Grace in her Invention Log.)

She had to describe all of this to the judges and answer questions about her model and her process during the school day. That night there was a catered dinner for all of the participants' families. The school principal announced the winners in each grade level (K-2, 3-4, 5) as well as the overall winner that would continue on with their invention to the district competition.

Grace won for her age group and we were very, very proud of her. I really like how she took on this challenge and did so much of the work and thoughts on her own. 

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