By Eric Braun
No sooner have you gotten your winter holiday decorations put away when another holiday is right on top of us. This time it’s Kid Inventors’ Day. (Don’t you hate when they play Kid Inventors’ Day Musak at the mall before the New Year even comes?)
A celebration of my favorite 21st-century skills—creativity and innovation—Kid Inventors’ Day is January 17, the birthday of the great inventor Benjamin Franklin, who at age 11 invented the first flippers for swimming. And there is great reason to celebrate. After all, many great things have been invented by kids, such as braille, earmuffs, snowmobiles, trampolines, television, water skiing, hip hop, popsicles, and a microwave bacon drying rack.
Important contributions to society, all.
All those inventions are ancient history, though—at least they might seem so to a kid today. Here are a few super-cool recent creations invented by kids that might be inspiring to the young minds in your classroom. Hone those 21st-century skills by discussing these stories with your kids. Then see what inventions they can come up with.
- The “Tic-Tac-Tag” game was invented by 18-year-old Nicholas Fornario, who won Sports Authority’s “Move It Challenge.” Players wear a vest with a tic-tac-toe board on the back, and each square in the board has a light that turns on when touched. Light up three squares in a row on your opponent’s vest, and you win.
- Six young inventors from New Hampshire invented the SMARTwheel to help reduce traffic accidents due to distracted driving. “SMART” stands for Safe Motorist Alert for Restricting Texting, Tweeting, Typing, Touchscreens, Takeout, and Touch-up. The SMARTwheel alerts drivers when they don’t have two hands on the wheel (texting and other distractions usually involve one or more hands coming off the steering wheel).
- Two Pennsylvania siblings, Janet (18) and Ben (16) Song, invented a urine test for the early detection of cancer. Because early detection increases a patient’s prognosis, the invention could revolutionize cancer treatment.
- Param Jaggi says he started doing “formal lab work” when he was 12 years old. If you think that’s intimidating, consider this: When he was 14, he invented a “micro-scaled bioreactor to fit into the exhaust of motor vehicles.” This is an algae-filled cylinder that attaches to a vehicle’s exhaust pipe and decreases CO2 emissions by up to 92 percent. He’s still working on a version that works outside of lab conditions.
- Doesn’t this sound cool? The Titan Arm! You wear this robotic arm like an exoskeleton, and it helps you carry an additional 40 pounds. Though it sounds like part of Iron Man’s costume, the University of Pennsylvania students who created it say it’s meant mainly for those who need physical rehabilitation. The Titan Arm has won the prestigious James Dyson Award.
- Fabian Fernandez-Han invented the Oink-a-Saurus app, a financial management tool for kids, when he was 12 years old. For iPhone and iPad, the app teaches kids about finance, money management, investing, and the stock market.
- Sarah Buckel invented magnetic locker wallpaper when she was in eighth grade. She now has a patent for the product, which is sold at WalMart, Target, Staples, and OfficeMax. Oh, and she’s had more than $1 million in sales.
- When 17-year-old Ryan Patterson saw a group of deaf people having trouble ordering in a fast-food restaurant, he went home and developed the Sign Language Translator. This glove translates sign language into text on a digital screen. Now a deaf person can simply sign an order for a cheeseburger and show the screen to the cashier.
A Web search will turn up plenty more examples. For more inspiration, check out the Kids Inventors’ Day website and this list of books about inventors and inventing. The United States Patent and Trademark Office has a monthly newsletter called The Inventors Eye that older students may enjoy reading.
Finally, for the lighter side of inventing, take a look at the Totally Absurd Inventions website, where you can learn about real patents filed for wacky products like the gerbil shirt (a vest that doubles as a gerbil home), the sunburn cowboy (a fringed anti-sunburn dickey), and the gas factory (a “cow-mounted mini-factory to capture methane and convert it into a biomass that can be used as feed and in adhesives and cosmetics”).
How will you mark Kid Inventors’ Day?
Eric Braun invents stories, which you can learn about at www.heyericbraun.com.
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