When Maxim Vice President and CTO Dave Dwelley was about 6, he learned an important lesson about electricity. Addressing his budding interest in how things work, his parents had given him a tool kit and an old kitchen mixer to take apart, so he went to work. "My father looked over and he was very alarmed. He came racing over and yanked a plug out of the wall," Dwelley recalled. The dishwasher promptly stopped. "I learned two things from that: parents can be kind of silly sometimes, and electricity can be dangerous," he noted.
Dwelley's early interest in engineering became his career, and it also shaped his keen understanding of how kids learn. Later on, he would tap into this insight when mentoring his own children in their scientific pursuits. He also plans to impart his wisdom at the April 14 California Invention Convention, which Maxim is hosting at its San Jose headquarters. On that Saturday, 125-150 K-8 students are expected to showcase their solutions to problems they've identified in their own lives or communities.
"As Maxim celebrates its 35th year, hosting young inventors on the anniversary of the day that Maxim first opened for business is a meaningful way to honor creative and critical thinking skills," said Dwelley. "Little bits of guidance can go a long way with a clever person, as these students demonstrate."
The California Invention Convention program empowers students to be the problem-solvers. The program is based on a 10-week, open-source science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) curriculum, aligned to Next-Generation Science Standard/Common Core. Classroom lessons involve activities tied to coursework in any subject, including science, history, math, art, and music. Mentoring by teachers and parents guides the young inventors on their journey of identifying a problem to solve, coming up with an invention idea, and building a prototype of their solution.
"The program transforms the way students think," said Brenda Payne, director of the California Invention Convention. "We have no idea what problems are going to be around in the future, and we need to prepare kids to be able to resolve whatever problems they encounter."
Critical thinking, experimentation, working with data—these are just a few of the educational advantages students can glean from the program. As Dwelley pointed out, we all need to have tools, whether the tool is something tangible like a screwdriver or as abstract as a thought process. "A tool allows you to have new insight into the environment around you, a new way to have influence over that environment," he said, recalling that his parents encouraged his own inventiveness by continually providing tools.
The student inventors at the convention will be competing for awards, and 15 inventors will move on to the National Invention Convention and Entrepreneurship Expo (NICEE) May 31-June 2 at The Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. The national event, sponsored by the STEMIE Coalition, will bring together K-12 inventors and entrepreneurs.
During last year's California Invention Convention, the state’s first, students showcased an array of intriguing ideas, from a river-trash trap (Figure 2) to a technique to clean mud from shoes to an automatic watering system for indoor plants. More than half of the participants were girls. The state organization's goal is to attract one million student participants by 2021.
Payne, a retired elementary school teacher and principal, helped bring the program into the state. Teaching students from across the learning spectrum, she found an invention education program that she felt was perfect for learners of any ability level. "What made it unique is, we were asking kids to come up with problems in their own lives, families, and communities, and invent a solution to the problem. The program gave kids this power, so they got totally behind it," she said.
As a principal, Payne went on to write similar curriculum and share it with other schools. She eventually connected with Invention Convention leaders in other states as well as an executive director of the STEMIE Coalition. Last year, California had its first Invention Convention with 57 students, 6 of whom went on to the national event. This year, teachers from San Diego up to Shasta County are participating in the program, answering the call for more STEM education. Nationwide, 36 states have participants, and the educators involved regularly share tips and techniques.
"We want to create a future that is better for people, and invention is exactly what that is about," said Payne.
The California Invention Convention relies on the support of volunteers, including event staff, judges, mentors, and marketers. To help out, visit the organization's Volunteers webpage for more information.