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Students put ingenuity to work -- on chores

Suncoast Elementary fourth-graders present gadgets such as a dog exerciser and the ''Brop,'' a mop-broom combination, at the Invention Convention.

© St. Petersburg Times
published November 7, 2002

SPRING HILL -- Ever wonder if there really is a way to make household chores a little less like drudgery? Ever thought there might be an easier way to exercise the dog, apply sunscreen or feed the fish?

That was precisely what was posed to fourth-graders at Suncoast Elementary a few weeks back.

Their replies came last week by way of an assortment of nifty gadgets and gizmos entered in the school's first Invention Convention.

About 65 students took part in the expo, which promoted ingenuity, research and the ability to think a little beyond convention.

"The idea was simply to get kids to appreciate critical thinking and to show them how an idea, no matter how simple, may benefit everyone," said Suncoast Elementary science teacher Joanne Hartge, who sponsored the event.

Though similar in some respects to traditional science fairs, Hartge's assignment to the students was to come up with an original invention that, at least theoretically, could help perform a task or solve a need around their house. The submissions unveiled during the school's PTA meeting last week were as varied as their creators.

Apparently, topping many fourth-graders' lists was finding a more amusing way to perform dreaded household duties. An array of floor and tile scrubbers included such items as sponge shoes, fluffy sock polishers and about a half dozen different motorized ways of disposing garbage.

Perhaps the most elemental of cleaning gadgets belonged to Barbara Savoudakis, who mounted a mop on the opposite end of a broom. Calling it the "Brop," her display touted it as a huge kitchen time-saver.

Building the actual invention, however, was only part of the project, said Hartge. The ideas had to be original as well.

Students were required to look through stores and search Internet patent and invention sites to assure no one had already used their idea.

Also, they had to make detailed drawings and devise their own commercial message touting their invention.

"I think the greatest thing was that a lot of the kids' families got involved in it as well," said Hartge. "I had fathers calling me and thanking me for giving their kid an assignment that was actually enjoyable to help with."

Austyn Cooper got some valuable help from her grandfather for her project.

Worried that her dog Thunder was getting pudgy, she devised a method of working off the fat without having to lift a leash.

Using an old dog harness, the 10-year-old and her grandfather attached a wire coat hanger with a doggie bone suspended at the end. After fitting it all together, the canine raced in a frenzied circle for several minutes in an attempt to snare the bone until he plopped down from sheer exhaustion.

"It was funny to watch, but it worked," said Austyn. In fact, she's thinking about offering the design to some of her neighbors.

Some projects proved to be nearly as practical as they were novel.

Brian McAraw came up with a way to help spread sunscreen on one's own back by mounting a small squeeze bottle on a long handled sponge roller. Brandon Webster created the "Lazy Ump," a pair of athletic shoes with brushes on the tips. His theory was that they would prevent baseball officials from getting sore backs by not having to bend over to brush off home plate.

"The hardest thing was to come up with something you could actually use," said Tommy Nichols, 9. Indeed, his project was one his pregnant mother was desperately hoping someone would invent. He sewed together several large cloth rings and stuffed them with fiber filler, producing what he calls the "Maternity Pillow."

"My mom's really happy with it, because it allows her to sleep better," he said. "I guess that's the best thing about inventing stuff is that it can help people."

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