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Reinventing the inventors' fair

Inventions created by this year's Shannon Park Elementary School fourth graders include a take-anywhere pillow attached to a stocking cap.

The inventions on display in the Shannon Park Elementary School library offer an interesting glimpse into what's important in the life of a typical fourth grader. There's a flexible, durable cage for growing tomatoes, a contraption for quickly washing eyeglasses and a rubber-coated screen that fits neatly into a milk glass for kids who want to dunk their cookies without having to worry about the bits that break off turning to sludge as they soak at the bottom of the glass.

In the past, those students and more would be preparing to show off their inventions at a districtwide inventors' fair in January, but the popular event is on hold for now, possibly to be revamped or even replaced next year.

The district eliminated this year's fourth- and fifth grade inventors fair after the cancellation of a state-level fair that served as a next step for many local students. But the decision left a lot of students and parents disappointed.

"The kids really enjoy taking an idea and taking it all the way through to completion and actually building the invention and solving a problem," said Karol Hanson, who works with students in the gifted-and-talented program at Shannon Park. "There's not many opportunities they get to do that."

Students participating in the inventors' fair had to come up with an idea, do research to see if something similar already existed, then create a prototype of their product.

SPES fifth grader Danielle Kniefel teamed up with a friend last year to create the Stay Safe Backpack, a book bag with places to insert flashing lights for walking at night. She said she's sad this year's fourth graders will not get the chance to participate.

"I thought it was really fun," she said.

Hanson decided to teach the invention curriculum to this year's GT fourth graders even without the districtwide fair. She said some other schools have done the same. But now the district is turning its attention to whether it makes sense to bring the inventors' fair back next year, or perhaps to replace it with something new. There have already been some discussions at the district level about what might come next, but the people in charge of the districts GT program also want to hear from the students.

That's where Kniefel and classmate Jonathan Wise come in. They will be Shannon Park's representatives to an inventors' fair summit meeting set to take place Dec. 18 at the district office. They, along with representatives from all of the other elementary schools in the district, will have lunch with district GT coordinator Pam McDonald and talk about the inventors' fair.

Hanson said the plan is to have the new activity - whether it's the return of the inventors fair or something new - in place for the 2013-14 school year.

Wise, who advanced to the state inventors' fair last year with the Recycling Rocket, a contraption that fired cans and bottles toward the recycling bin so he didn't have to get up from the couch, said he had fun at last year's fair because he got to spend the day with his friends. He'd like to see other students have that opportunity.

"I think they should bring it back unless they could some other idea, which would be very hard because the inventors' fair is really fun," he said.