Creative ideas brought to life in school district’s Invention Convention

From a hands-free rolling backpack to a motor-powered fan attachment for a smartphone during those hot summer days, students took a step further in the La Cañada Unified School District’s expanding science curriculum on Tuesday at the inaugural Invention Convention.

Held in the cafeteria at La Cañada High, students in fifth through eighth grade were challenged to think creatively and invent something that aims to solve an everyday problem. Parents and faculty milled in and out of the cafeteria for four hours viewing about 50 entries on display.

It was fun inventing something new,” said Sarina Parks. Parks and her project partner, Stephanie Cheung, both fifth-grade students at La Cañada Elementary, invented the “Avo-Scoop.” As people are prone to injure themselves while trying to get the pit out of an avocado, the girls had an idea to attach a corkscrew to an ice cream scoop and create a holder for the avocado. The holder is in place in case the screw punctures through the avocado. The girls took home a certificate from the judges who graded the inventions.

James Cartnal, the district’s executive director of student and personnel services, said the hope is the Invention Convention becomes an annual event. Cartnal said his job, under Assistant Supt. Anais Wenn, is to support the implementation of the district’s Next Generation Science Standards by collaborating with its community science liaison, Amy Nespor.

Judges viewed the students’ inventions and awarded points based on creativity, presentation and workability, visual appeal and aligning to the convention rules. According to Nespor, three certificates per grade were given out to the best inventions. There were more than a dozen judges who came from the community, including those with backgrounds at Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Los Angeles Unified School District.

“We had to make sure it solved a problem, and [the students] had to show receipts” she said, for those inventions that went beyond proof of concept.

Nespor added that her job is to make sure the district is implementing more “hands on” science and engineering enrichment opportunities.

According to Cartnal, the Invention Convention, like the LCHS Science Fair, is open to any fifth- through eighth-grade student interested in dreaming about an idea to make the world a better place and bring that dream to life. In addition to other science enrichment nights throughout the year, high school students who are part of the district’s new Science National Honors Society volunteered their time to help set up, support and clean up.

Other science and engineering-related events scheduled include STEAM Night and the School Maker Fair, which comes up in April.

Seventh-grade students Bianca Cugno and Ria Mandal were all smiles while demonstrating their I-Fan, which showed a 9-volt Duracell battery and a switch button connected to a motor connected to a small blue plastic fan clipped to a protective case for a smartphone. The girls took a water bottle to prop up the motor. When it gets really hot in Southern California, the girls said, the fan is powerful, and it is “a wind source for great pictures.” The toughest item to find and purchase was the motor, they said.

It is a prototype they hope can catch the interest of investors, and the Invention Convention judges awarded the two with certificates.

“It’s the only thing Apple hasn’t invented,” Cugno said.

Matt Sanderson is a contributing writer to Times Community News.