For Students, School Assignment Is the Mother of Invention

Times Staff Writer

A hint to parents: Your kids can do it better.

Proof of that generalization was abundant Tuesday as Escondido’s Rose Elementary School held its Invention Convention. Some of the third-, fourth- and fifth-graders blithely solved the problems that their parents have been puzzling over all their lives.

Take the problem of the upraised toilet seat, a major friction point between male and female since the advent of indoor plumbing. Third-grader Joey Rosales solved that one neatly with a gadget that flips the seat back to sitting position with each flush of the toilet.

Joey didn’t win, perhaps because of the subject matter of his invention, but his seatmate did. Ryan Laskowitz, 8, created a backpack umbrella, which telescopes into his book bag on sunny days and pops out and protects kid and kid bag during rainy ones.


Most of the inventors tailored their inventions to lighten some pesky chore. There were a variety of rake, broom, dustpan combinations designed to make leaf-raking a breeze, including a Handy-Dandy Leaf Rake with a flexible handle that bent backward to flick the raked leaves into an attached bag.

Pulley Device Saves Steps to Mail

Fourth-grader Scott Baird figured out an answer to an onerous chore. He fashioned a pulley for the mailbox. With his creation, all he would have to do is reel in the box and pull out the letters instead of trudging down the long drive to retrieve the mail.

Ten-year-old Karl Grabow didn’t rank at the top of the list, but he certainly must have won a hug from his mother. He fashioned an Easy Coffee invention by stapling the correct portion of coffee into a filter bag so all his mom has to do early in the a.m. is pop it in the coffee machine and turn it on.

There was a back washer, a jelly-catcher, hand protectors for roasting marshmallows (or hot dogs), a car-finder (for crowded parking lots), paper holders, “a very small organizer for just about anything” and a penny-bank alarm that Jeff Meyers said was meant to deter certain people from “borrowing” from his savings.

Jeff, 11, took second place in the fifth-grade judging, edged out by Melanie Marvin, who fashioned a “handicapped toothbrush” with an oversized grip to make it easier to hold. Luke Conner, 8, also invented a toothbrush. His was shaped like a fishhook with the bristles inside “to make it easy to brush the back of your teeth.” He didn’t reach the finals, but he has very clean teeth.

Stefany Marler showed her creativity by combining a watchband with a battery-powered fan (which looked suspiciously like a model airplane propeller) to invent a “Porta-Cool.” Sara Ashton produced a non-tip pet dish which already has a buyer. Her third-grade teacher, Beverly Riffle, bid on the invention to thwart the messy eating habits of the classroom guinea pig, Max (who actually is a Maxine).

‘It’s Saved Me Money Already’

“It’s saved me money already,” Riffle said, explaining that Max/Maxine routinely flipped her feed onto the cage or classroom floor until Sara glued a magnet to the bottom of the food dish.

Dustin Collamer, 11, created a No-Wait Waitress--a simple light that diners can turn on when they want the ketchup, another drink or the check. Matt Bristlin butchered a pair of his everyday trousers to produce the “All-Temperature Pants.” Wear them full-length on brisk mornings, then separate the Velcro strips “with a quick flick of your hand” and voila , shorts.

Jeff Fain’s invention was tested by his baby sister, 6-month-old Rachel, and found to be user friendly. Jeff, a third-grader, created a “highchair baby bottle holder” out of a suction cup, a flexible stem and a padded clamp that holds the bottle in any position Rachel desires but prevents her from tossing it onto the floor.

Michael Goodbody took top honors in the third-grade competition with a “spring desk.” Half of the flat surface pops up to become a storage cubbyhole. The other half converts into a slanted writing surface “so you can keep your back straight while writing.” He hopes the school district will adopt his design because “it’s much more comfortable.”

Device Solves a Baking Dilemma

John D. Wagner ranked tops in the fourth-grade competition with his solution for dividing up portions of cake mix. His mom had the problem of wanting to use 1 1/2 boxes of cake mix, so John fashioned a plastic container separated into two portions so she can just snip off the part she needs. Now he has to interest Pillsbury or Betty Crocker in his packaging idea.

Carmella Incontro, 9, took second in the fourth-grade judging with her Christmas tree waterer. It is a long pipe with a funnel attached. It was just too messy to crawl under the tree to add water, “and I got pine needles in my hair,” she explained.

Judges for Tuesday’s Invention Convention were merchants from a nearby shopping center. The task was not easy. Recess was over and the tension was fierce before the results were announced. One judge walked away shaking his head and mumbling that “the whole damn class should have won.”

The top winners in each grade will go on to regional competition and, possibly, from there to national honors in the Invent America Contest.