MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — They spent the last few months brainstorming, collaborating and implementing their ideas, so the 630-plus young Midstate inventors were ready to burst when they crammed into MTSU’s Student Union Thursday, Feb. 23, for the 25th annual Invention Convention.
“They are thoroughly enjoying this day. They look forward to it every year,” said Diane Vantrease, the “learning leader” at Coles Ferry Elementary School in Lebanon, Tennessee, as several excited students scurried past, relieved that their inventions had passed the judges’ inspections and ready to check out other students’ ideas around the room.
“By Christmas break, they have to at least have the name of their invention and the general idea, and when we come back to school the first of January, we jump headfirst in and are working every class period until this past week.”
Asked to invent games and items to "make life easier," the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders responded with more than 340 unique gadgets, contraptions and devices for this year’s event. Elementary education professor Tracey Huddleston established MTSU’s Invention Convention in 1993 in tribute to her mother, True Radcliff, a longtime fifth-grade teacher who conducted "Invention Convention"-type events at her school.
The Invention Convention participants are public- and private-school students in Coffee, Davidson, DeKalb, Franklin, Grundy, Rutherford, Sumner, Warren, Wilson and Williamson counties. More than 110 received ribbons or trophies for their 2017 creations, and several of those winners are headed next to the national Invention Convention set for June in Washington, D.C.
By comparison, Huddleston recalled, the inaugural Invention Convention in 1993 at MTSU welcomed 56 young inventors and their 42 inventions to the James Union Building, enjoying plenty of presentation space in a cordoned-off half of the cavernous Tennessee Room.
You can see a list of the 2017 MTSU Invention Convention winners at http://ow.ly/5opF309kVjz. This year’s convention program, which includes the names of all the young inventors, is at http://ow.ly/BQ55309l2kP. State Farm Insurance is the longtime local sponsor of MTSU’s annual Invention Convention.
Each Invention Convention also features a guest speaker who focuses on encouraging the youngsters to embrace their creativity and their imaginations to solve problems. Guests over the years have included astronauts, artists, athletes, musicians, scientists, historians and more; the 2017 guests were a trio of musicians — Victoria and Stephen Carey and Ian Christian — who explained the importance of collaboration when bringing inventions alive. The three cited examples of songs that need the expertise of many people to reach an audience.
“The avenues of a song are very different, but they all come together in one way or another, whether you’re writing it and recording it and producing it or performing it on tour or hearing it on the radio,” Stephen Carey explained after the trio danced and sang with the youngsters to the strains of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Up,” George Strait’s “Check Yes or No” and their own wedding song, “Forever All Mine.”
“It’s very exciting how these inventions, these songs that you create with other people, become all these different things. It’s an exciting process from the beginning to wherever they end up, just like your inventions.”
Each convention also showcases an everyday object and explains its history as an invention, such as a tape measure, golf ball, USB charger, Frisbee, dice and pair of sunglasses; this year conventioneers learned about headphones, invented in 1910 to help naval radio operators hear better, and received a tiny pair of customized “Invention Convention 2017” earbuds to take home.
Like inventor Nathaniel Baldwin working at his kitchen table on that first pair of headphones, Huddleston urged each of the conventioneers to continue inventing.
“Remember: You’ve created something today that wasn’t here before. Regardless of who walks away with a special award, all of you are walking away with an invention, and I want you to keep inventing,” she said as the students, teachers and parents celebrated.
“Come back here next year, and the next year. I want you to believe in yourself. That’s part of the collaboration — if we didn’t have other people to believe in us, where would we be? Keep inventing, keep thinking, keep problem-solving. There are tons of problems that need to be solved.”