Problems into Solutions: Brainiac Museum

Stop for a minute and think about some of the little annoyances that can creep into an otherwise perfectly good day—long lines at the grocery store, diving into a bowl of delicious chicken noodle soup and then burning your mouth, realizing that your socks don’t match…the list goes on and on. But perhaps it doesn’t have to. In the days leading up to winter break, fourth graders presented their inventions at the annual Brainiac Museum, with each child identifying and offering a solution to everyday pet peeves. The students presented inventions to make food look and taste better, clever ideas to get children to floss, smart-phone apps for feeding the dog, portable toothbrushes that stay minty and clean, and lipstick that really does last all day.
According to the fourth-grade teachers, Pam Howard, Julienne Jurken and Janet MacDonald, some of the inventions represented improvements to existing products while others were completely new. They emphasized, however, that all of the offerings began with the children identifying a problem from everyday life and then working toward a solution. MacDonald offered, "It's wonderful to see the children applying their imaginations to find solutions and hopefully create products that will help others."
Among the presenters, Mary Young’s invention disperses nutrients into cotton candy, making children want to take their vitamins. Kaitlyn Pavagadhi had always hated getting into her dad’s clean car with muddy cleats. She solved the problem by creating cleat covers, stylish overshoes that can be slipped on after a game or practice to keep the mud where it belongs. David Pressley noticed that his mother didn’t like getting her hands sticky when she separated egg whites from the yolk. The solution: a mechanical device that separates the white from the yolk before the egg is even cracked! Speaking of messy hands, Daniel Propper-Stuehr’s Glop-O-Matic vacuums out Halloween pumpkins so that jack-o-lanterns can be carved without anyone having to submerge his or her hands into gooey, stringy, pumpkin innards.  
Talking with the students in the Brainiac Museum, it was clear that the lessons they learned go beyond simple inventiveness. The children discovered something valuable about the art of presentation and the importance of being able to articulate their ideas. That was not simply a by-product of the project, it was a curricular focus all along. In fact, the Brainiac presentation counts toward a third of each student’s public-speaking grade. If you see a fourth-grader in the Lower School hallway this winter, ask about his or her invention. You will be glad you did.
Gill St. Bernard’s is a private, coeducational day school for students age three through grade 12, located in suburban New Jersey. Each of the three school divisions provides a vigorous, meaningful and age-appropriate curriculum, and all students benefit from the environmental learning opportunities that exist on our 208-acre campus.