Invention Convention: these kids are sharp!

It was one of those cases of almost being too late to catch a really good deal. Which was a perfect illustration of what the Glenhaven Senior Public School exhibits last Thursday were all about. You have to get ’em while they’re hot – the early bird gets the worm – strike while the iron is hot – and all those other clichés about being just in time.

I caught the students 15 minutes before the exhibit closed down, so we had to talk fast. But Aniththa Umamahesan, the initial spokesperson at the first booth I approached, would have been doing that anyway. She plunged into her pitch like a natural saleswoman: “Have you ever had trouble cleaning your blackboard? Maybe you haven’t, but I have…” Then she and the other two girls in her group, Ayesha Rahman and Paras Shoaib, gave me a demonstration of their invention, the APA Chalkboard Cleaner, that could clean a blackboard without leaving behind any residue.

These grade seven students, and their schoolmates manning other booths along the food and shopping court beneath Brookfield Place (formerly BCE Place) in downtown Toronto, were part of a competition called the “Invention Convention,” put on specifically for grade seven and eight students by a group called The Learning Partnership. This non-profit organization’s aim is to promote critical thinking through programs that will help kids transition into the work world when school is over, hopefully into careers in science and technology, and also to integrate arts into the school curriculum. The organization’s Investigate! Invent! Innovate! program takes students through the inventive process as they identify needs and create solutions to them, and then through the commercialization process as they learn how to bring their product to market.

Even during my incomplete tour, I could see the work these kids had put into their projects. They were required to conceive a product and company name, do some market research (the chalkboard cleaner booth had a lot of graphs), create marketing materials, a sales slogan and sales pitch, and even design their own business card. They presented their materials in an upbeat yet professional manner, and also dressed as professionally as possible.

Next to the chalkboard cleaner was Corporation Mars Inc’s model of a new vehicle with six special features that made it superior to any other vehicle currently on the road. Beside that booth, MJANN Industries presented a revolutionary new type of oven, the El Ovenino, with internal racks that extended outward and lifted up when you pressed a button, so you’d never have to burn yourself again, reaching in. (Believe me – I’d buy that one. And only $750! What a steal.)

While the booths began to be dismantled all around us, Aniththa and her group briefly explained the process, of narrowing down all the groups in the six classes of grade seven students in their school, until the winning groups were chosen to display their booths at the public venues. (Other displays were taking place in other locations at the same time, such as City Hall.) Just as I wondered if groups that weren’t chosen felt envious of those who were, Aniththa confided that some of them were a little relieved too. It’s a scary thing, doing those presentations below a couple of the most hard-core business buildings in the city, for some of the most high-flying passers-by from the financial world. But that’s one of the things I admired about these kids: they clearly knew their stuff, and made their sales pitches with confidence. If they didn’t feel that confident, they’d learned to hide it well.

I was also impressed, even just glancing at a few other booths, to note that most of them considered environmental factors when conceiving their inventions. The El Ovenino packed a double whammy, in fact. Not only was it to be powered by solar panels, but one of its inventors remarked that you could even help the environment by not having to toss so many bandaids into the garbage. Now, there’s a detail person for you.

These kids did such a good job, I was kicking myself that I didn’t go downstairs earlier than I did, to spend more time with them. Just think. I could’ve gotten in on the ground floor…


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