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Going into Nichols Middle School on Wednesday evening was like entering a beehive: There was a pulsing energy, a buzz and a thrill of excitement.
It was a place where ideas were being born: Welcome to Invention Convention 2022.
“Students are showcasing their solutions to parts of Climate Action Resilience Plan,” Carla Stone, the organizer and a sixth-grade science teacher at Nichols, wrote in an email to the RoundTable. “The sixth-graders have focused on water pollution/flooding, excessive heat/air pollution, waste management (clothing waste, e-waste, plastic waste, food waste, etc.) and invasive species.”
Stone said they also added a new category this year, a “climate activist art gallery” that features 16 works from young artists.
The starting time was listed as 5:30 p.m. on June 1, but by that time the crowd was at its peak, estimated at 300 people. The gym was packed with parents, teachers, siblings and nearly 230 sixth-grade students representing 12 classes at Nichols Middle School.
The crowd maneuvered around 50 or so long tables that held the ideas, inventions and posters explaining the projects. Some projects included a mock-up of the invention.
To say the students were excited to explain their projects is like saying water is wet.
Some of the students’ explanations were difficult to hear because of the noise and because people were wearing masks. But the projects were creative, thoughtful and clearly laid out by the students. (No parents pulled all-nighters to finish these posters.) And each one included a QR code for more information.
Some of the students present included Amelie Reynolds and Eva Narducy, who promoted a chic women’s maxi sewn from discarded materials.
Student Alexandra Ganeva explained the mechanics of a boat – complete with a handbuilt model – designed to roam the oceans and gather discarded trash for future recycling.
“Since more than 70% of the Earth’s surface is water, I was inspired to create something that keeps our oceans and rivers and seas clean,” Alexandra said. “Animals and humans benefit from having clean water to drink, especially for animals that live in water.”
As for what she’d need to test her idea, she didn’t hesitate to enlist experts.
“I would need to actually have a boat. I would probably need materials that builders use to make real boats that work on water and use an electric motor, so it also doesn’t pollute more,” Alexandra said. “I would also need help from mechanical engineers to build and test my prototype. And marine biologists and veterinarians can probably give ideas for special equipment and first aid supplies for the saved animals that would be on my boat.”
Other projects included that of Ella Witherspoon, who expounded on the economic and environmental benefits of corralling destructive Asian carp and harvesting them for pescatarian protein.
Riley Rajczyk and Jana Ogu also extolled the benefits of collecting and filtering rainwater for public consumption.
Augustus Roberts Iorio built a computer game about water pollution, and Kale Harold Putt, Benjamin C. Guitierza and Connor Winston McGrath came up with a device to help solve the problem of wasted energy.
“Our project is focusing on waste of energy, also known as e-waste. And we’re focusing mainly on green energy, which is clean energy, reusable energy, ways to get energy that isn’t wasting anything,” Kale said as he pointed to one of the charts on the project poster. “Many inventions have been made already, like solar and wind and water. The U.S. has been wasting a lot of our energy over the years. As you can see, this is a chart that shows energy that we’ve been wasting and predicts how it will increase in the future. You can see it’s increasing a lot. But we have an idea where we can fix this problem, to create and get reusable energy.”
The trio created a Green Energy device, which relies on a motor using positive and energy wiring to harness reusable energy. The project’s QR code links to the website of the Illinois Environmental Council.
“I took it to the YMCA and the Evanston Public Library to get a volt measure and it does come out with more energy,” said Kale, who aspires to become an architect.
Sixth-grade science teacher Stone serves as the joyful ringleader to the controlled chaos, joined by fellow teacher Oskan Rengyeo, special educator Maddy Lynch and paraprofessional Rocio Murillo. Stone wrote that in six weeks, students partnered with EvanSTEM, Northwestern University’s National Society of Black Engineers chapter and other providers such as EPL (Loft and Robert Crown locations).
The 10 NSBE members, she explained, popped “into our classrooms and collaborated with kids. They were thought partners, they helped kids figure out wiring, different gadgets. They spoke to them as if they were 25 years old, so respectfully. It’s just so beautiful.”
Stone said her inspiration to pursue a career in science education was her 12th-grade biology teacher, as well as her mentor at Haven School, Willa Williams, who retired from teaching about 10 years ago.
“A few people said, ‘Why are you doing this? You know, this year is already really crazy and hectic. Why would you put yourself through this?’ But when you see the end results, you see why it’s worth it,” Stone said. “There is so much energy. So much much excitement and the kids feel special. They feel proud. Their parents feel special and proud. It’s just a great event for the entire family and for our school.”
On Saturday morning, the day after the school year concluded, Alexandra said she’d learned something about herself as a result of participating in the Invention Convention.
“It showed me that when I actually think about something, really try and put the time into it, I can make something that will have a positive impact towards serious topics, and actually get an idea of what can be solved,” she said.