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Child inventors gather to display problem-solving skills, creativity

Sun., Feb. 12, 2012

Carlie and Camellia Merrill spent too much time taking care of their chickens, as far as they were concerned.

So when tasked with creating an invention for a contest in the Coeur d’Alene School District, the sisters, 7 and 8, respectively, decided to come up with a more efficient way of giving their thirteen or so chickens fresh water – a way that would benefit both them and their feathered friends.

The two created the “Fully Automatic Chicken Waterer,” which connects to a hose to keep the water fresh and full. They won first place at their school district’s Invention Convention competition, both in the working model category and overall best in show.

That was in November. Now, the girls are entering it in the North Idaho regional Invent Idaho competition this weekend. More than 100 inventors – first- through eighth-graders from Coeur d’Alene, Priest River, Post Falls and Lakeland – are competing for spots in the statewide Invent Idaho finals in March at the University of Idaho.

“It’s a celebration of creative thinking,” organizer Beth Brubaker said of the event, which also showcases robotics. “They get hooked on inventing.”

Two best-in-show winners from the regional competition will earn a dinner with aviator and innovator Forrest Bird, who is known for creating the first mass-produced respirator for use in hospitals, and his wife, Pamela Bird, author of “Inventing for Dummies.” The two opened the Bird Aviation Museum & Invention Center in Sagle, Idaho.

The young inventors are judged by age group in five categories: working models, nonworking models, adaptations, games and Jules Verne, which is for “futuristic, far-out” inventions, Brubaker said.

The kids also learn how to research patents online to make sure their ideas haven’t already been invented by someone else. And while they have fun creating the inventions, it isn’t easy, Brubaker said.

“It’s higher-level thinking,” she said. “It’s problem solving. It’s creativity. It’s real-world stuff. It’s hard.”

But a somewhat shy Carlie Merrill had no trouble explaining the process of building her chicken waterer and how it works.

“They peck on these and then the water comes out,” she said, demonstrating how it works.

On the display board detailing their invention, the girls wrote that the benefits are: “we can do other things and not have to worry about changing the water. It takes less time.”

“We wanted to be free from having to go out everyday to clean out the chicken water buckets,” they wrote. “The chickens would get dirt into the bucket and the water would get muddy. In the summer they drink a lot of water.”

Invent Idaho is a statewide student invention program that Brubaker and Diane Garmire started in 1989. Brubaker, who is a teacher in the Lakeland School District, said she hopes to expand to Washington and eventually every other state.

“These kids and their creative problem-solving skills are the future of our country,” Brubaker said. “We’re really teaching them to look at their world and solve problems.”

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