California Invention Convention at Maxim

California Invention Convention at Maxim

On a sunny Saturday morning in April, Julio Gonzalez and Arthur Murray talked about their remedy for rug burns. You know, that friction-caused abrasion you can get on your skin after an afternoon spent reading or playing video games on a carpeted floor. Whether you're in the fourth grade, like Julio and Arthur, or not even close, you might benefit from their Rug Burn Protector. In fact, the two were quite pleased that their cotton-covered pads for elbows and knees could help people all over the world.

Julio and Arthur were among 130 K-8 students who showcased their problem-solving skills at this year’s California Invention Convention. In its second year, the event was held at Maxim's San Jose headquarters, on the company’s 35th birthday. The young inventors set up and staffed booths displaying projects that represented the culmination of a 10-week STEM-focused invention education curriculum.

As a volunteer judge at this year's event, I was impressed with the creativity and thoughtfulness these students displayed. My judging circle of three evaluated six different inventions developed by fourth graders from around the state. Aside from the Rug Burn Protector, we learned about:
  • The Multi-Function Back Spreader, which Desi Salinas-Holz created after his mother mentioned how difficult it can be to lotion one’s back. His creation consists of three attached poles affixed with two mirrors and a small roller, which can be used to apply lotion. He envisions adding attachments like a back scratcher and a brush and also making the roller waterproof.
  • The Book The Let, Miriam Abonce’s bracelet that doubles as a bookmark. Miriam loves to read, but often loses her bookmarks. She also loves wearing bracelets. Why not combine the two, she thought.
  • SlipperLights, which Ahmi Martin developed to help light the way for anyone who needs to get up in the middle of the night but doesn’t want to disturb others by turning on room lights. His invention has small LED flashlights affixed to the sides of comfy slippers.
  • The P-Shirt, a shirt made of fabric that generates electricity from body heat in order to charge devices. Jayden Siao invented the shirt after noticing people scrambling around for outlets to plug in and charge their phones.
  • The Rebound Buddy, which Maximus Aceves created because when he’s shooting hoops, it’s really annoying to spend so much time running after the ball after it leaves the net. His design features a weight around the bottom perimeter of the net, to direct the ball, and an angled platform that encourages the ball to bounce back to the player.

Kid inventors share a light moment at the California Invention Convention at Maxim’s San Jose headquarters. Photo courtesy of Cam Bohorquez.

Not every invention was in working order, but that wasn’t the point. The idea of the whole program is to encourage students to learn how to solve problems creatively. Their task was to identify a problem in their own lives, come up with a concept to solve the problem, and then build a prototype of their invention.

“We want every kid to fail and that is because that is the only way they’ll learn how to succeed,” Brenda Payne, director of the California Invention Convention, told the judges during our morning training session.

So, the inventions could be brand new devices, improvements on an existing device, or a new way to do something. As judges, we looked for clearly understood and defined problems; age-appropriate research; solutions that addressed the problem; an understanding of the design/build/test loop of the engineering cycle; how practical and original the invention is; and how clearly the student communicated the problem and their solution.

A group of kid inventors discuss their creations with a judging circle at the California Invention Convention. Photo courtesy of Cam Bohorquez.

At the state convention, 25 grade-level Merit Awards were presented to 34 students. Also, 15 inventions are moving on to the National Invention Convention and Entrepreneurship Expo (NICEE), taking place May 31-June 2 at The Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. See the list of winners from the California Invention Convention website. Included in this 15 are a Best-in-Show Award winner presented by Maxim, and a Most Marketable Award presented by the Central Coast Patent Agency (both of these winners also received provisional patents and will be moving on to NICEE). Morganne Malloy, an eighth grader from Ladera Middle School in Capistrano, took home the Best-in-Show Award for The Assistant Coach, which enhances communication between coaches and athletes. Coaches would be equipped with a headset and an app that would enable them to talk directly to specific athletes, who would wear earbuds. Nathan Flores, a fifth grader at the Watsonville Charter School of the Arts in Watsonville, received the Most Marketable Award for his Feel N Fret Guitar, which has braille and textures to allow blind people to learn how to play the instrument.

Sponsored by the STEMIE Coalition, the national event will bring together more than 400 K-12 inventors and entrepreneurs from around the country. To help fund the Michigan trip for finalists and their chaperones, Payne has started a GoFundMe campaign to raise $35,000.