Cedar Springs — From a corner of the Cedar View Elementary cafeteria, Colten Wladischkin’s voice rang out confidently.
“Litter and trash is all over the world, and I would like to stop it,” the fourth-grader declared to two of his classmates, who were listening intently. “And this is a big deal. It involves the whole wide world.”
Colten’s arm swung wide as he gestured to an elaborate display behind him. “Every single human must have this, the Trash Belt, to stop litter. The Trash Belt is made by me, Colten Wladischkin. You need a button, batteries, wire, screws, solar panels, mechanical claws, a belt and bags to create this machine. It’s only $15.50. And now, watch out trash, I’m picking up!”
And watch out, “Shark Tank” judges, because there’s a whole crop of fourth-grade inventors ready for you at Cedar View. After brainstorming a problem that they wanted to solve, each student came up with their own invention to solve that problem and either built a prototype or put together a display about their creation.
Then, in a situation mirroring the reality TV series, each student had to present their invention to “network executives” and make a pitch as to why their product was worth the investment. (Those “network executives” sometimes moonlight in other important district roles, including fourth-grade teachers Kelly Baas and Gabby Kasnowicz, Instructional Technology Specialist Annie Kim and Jen Haberling, assistant superintendent of academic services .)
“The whole thing here is that invention breeds inventions,” said Baas. “They had to come up with a problem — a big, large-scope problem that a lot of people might have, and then they had to come up with ways to solve that problem with everyday materials. It was one thing after another, trying and having some failures, and understanding that we can make mistakes and it’s OK. But then we put in the hard work of problem-solving to make the inventions better.”
Colten said he was inspired to invent his Trash Belt because he doesn’t like seeing animals get stuck in trash or noticing litter along the side of the road. His machine is powered by solar panels because he wanted to give the device a price point that was affordable to all.
“My first price was $75.50, but I figured, how would people want to save the world if they don’t have a lot of money?” he said. “So I decided to lower the price to $15.50. I think this invention would change lives forever.”
Across the room, classmate Izzy Eaton eagerly pitched her invention, the Unspillable Cup, to network executive-slash-Cedar View Principal Carol Franz. With a tagline of, “No need to fear, the Unspillable Cup is here,” Izzy explained that her invention would ensure a clean dinner table, especially for those with young children.
“First you smack the cup down hard on a flat surface, then you have your kid try to move it, and they will not be able to spill their drink,” Izzy said, demonstrating with a model made from a paper towel roll, tape, construction paper, pipe cleaner and two straws, with a suction cup on the bottom.
“Some parents are struggling because their younger children keep spilling their drinks everywhere. But no worries! The Unspillable Cup will make sure no messes are made! And the price for this magnificent invention is only $7.89!”
The inventors’ expo in the Cedar View cafeteria was the culmination of a multi-subject unit called Eureka! Student Inventor, teacher Gabby Kasnowicz explained. Combining elements of science, social studies and language arts, students first worked in groups, then in pairs and then solo, learning how to collaborate and perform research to solve problems. They learned about simple machines, how to write persuasively, public speaking skills and how to make a presentation effective for an audience.
Fellow teacher Baas said she was impressed by the variety of inventions students came up with — everything from a two-piece detachable bathing suit to pet supplies — and proud of the work they put in. “When you think about skills they need for the future, like public speaking, well, I was so impressed with the pitches I heard,” Baas said. “This helps them start building that confidence; when you put in that great work, you have the confidence to back it up. And some of these ideas they had – I was like, yeah, I could use that!”