Third-grader Connor Danz pitched his latest invention with clarity and confidence beyond his years.
“This is the Super Popcorn Bucket Napkin Dispenser,” he said. “You know how you go to a movie theater, you get your popcorn, the movie starts and you realize you forgot your napkin? Annoying.”
He demonstrated the key feature of his creation, a mini napkin dispenser built into the bottom of a theater-style popcorn bucket.
“Now you’ll never forget your napkin,” he said.
Sunday afternoon was the Museum of Innovation and Science’s annual Invention Convention. Danz, a Doane Stuart student, stood by his display in a crowded miSci gallery room, telling passers-by about his napkin solution system, but his was only one of 100 prototypes on display.
Over the past few months, convention judges sorted through 1,300 invention disclosure forms submitted by area first- through eighth-grade students. They picked out the 100 best ideas and asked for prototypes.
At Sunday’s event, the 25 best of those were chosen, their creators rewarded with trophies.
Danz’s special popcorn bucket landed nicely on the top 25. Ricki Shapiro explained why. She’s been on the judging committee since 1998, using 10 parameters to spot great ideas. She and her fellow judges look for creativity, complexity and follow-through among other things, but she said what makes a good invention is pretty simple.
“We ask them to identify a problem and invent something to fix it,” she said. “We look at how well they solved the problem.”
The assortment of displays lining the miSci walls Sunday afternoon solved scores of childhood problems.
There was a pair of ballet shoes with added gel inserts, a device designed to allow games from different platforms to be played on one tablet and, of course Danz’s creation, designed to get him out of hot water with his parents.
“He has one job when we go to the theater,” said Greg Danz. “His mother gets the popcorn and he’s supposed to get the napkins. He always forgets.”
There were also plenty of selfless inventions. One student fastened a drink holder to a cane for handicapped convenience. Another designed a solar-powered lawn mower to save the environment.
Garret Wolf was inspired by his mother’s back pain. The seventh-grade Shenendehowa student built a streamlined dog food dispenser, operated by lever from a standing position so his mother wouldn’t have to bend down.
“We have three big dogs,” he said. “She was always having to bend down to fill their bowls.”
He demonstrated on a small plywood model built in short order in his parents’ garage and finished in leftover paint. The thing worked like a charm.
“I’ll have to go large scale,” he said.
Even if none of the inventions ever go into mass production, Shenendehowa science teacher Laura Picardi said the convention does worlds of good in her classes. She gives her students school credit for brainstorming inventions, arguing that creation is better that rote memorization.
This year, 10 of her students, including Wolf, were asked to display their inventions.
“The problems our kids will face as adults don’t even exist yet,” she said. “Learning isn’t passing tests, it’s solving problems. That’s what this is all about.”
For a few students, invention has become a lifestyle. At the convention three years ago, an even younger Danz was told to keep a journal of his ideas. To this day, he scribbles down even the crazy notions.
Last year, he brought convention judges the Germ Assassin, a doorknob hand sanitizer device that landed him on the “Steve Harvey Show.”
“These days, he has four or five TVs and VCRs all ripped up in my garage,” Greg Danz said.