As the school year winds down, hundreds of middle schoolers are “gearing up” for the second annual Invent the Future Challenge Summit.
Several months of learning about design and engineering, circuits, and sensors, and dozens of hours of teamwork and prototype development, all lead up to one big day — Saturday, May 11 — when students come together and present their prototyped solutions to the challenge question: What will you make to protect life on this planet?
To capture some of the excitement leading up the Challenge Summit, we talked with Sascha Simkanich, a veteran Invent the Future (ITF) coach, and a few of his seventh-grade students at Roberto Clemente Middle School, in Germantown, who are participating in the event.
Now in his third year of leading the ITF program at his school, Simkanich says that the experience often leads to an increased “sense of pride and self-confidence” among participants. He observes that girls, in particular, often start to think “it’s okay to be smart, okay to be good in science, okay to be interested in these kinds of things.”
We talked with two Clemente student teams — one co-ed, the other all-girls — as they worked on their prototypes. The five-person co-ed team initially had trouble deciding upon a final design. One student commented that teamwork can be hard “because everyone has a different idea.” By the end of the two-hour session, however, the group was operating as smoothly as the machine they hoped to design: a floating vessel, with cloth sail and external propeller, that detects and removes trash at the water’s surface.
Meanwhile, the all-girl team quickly settled on a similar trash collection device, albeit one that goes underwater, calling it a “trashmarine.” Two students jumped right in on constructing a submarine body with corrugated cardboard and a hot glue gun, while another worked on wiring a sensor that could detect trash from a distance.
Both teams said they had enjoyed taking part in the Invention Studio skill-building visits leading up to the Challenge. One student, Dayanara, initially worried that the field trips to KID Museum might be boring, but said she liked being creative, using her imagination, and applying science to help the environment: “You learn things in a more fun way here, and it sticks with you. In school, you learn, but it doesn’t always stick.” Another student, Josiah, noted: “It’s fun getting to work with your friends and coming up with ideas you can call your own.”
Good luck to all of the Invent the Future Challenge Teams! The Challenge Summit takes place on May 11 at Gaithersburg High School. This event is free and open to the public from 12:30-3 pm. Complete details may be found here.