Leechburg Area students pitch inventions that required using STEAM skills
Students from Leechburg Middle/Senior High School's newest class, Inventionland, hosted class in a castle this week.
About 25 students, working on seven teams, pitched their inventions to three judges at the annual Inventionland Contest, hosted at Inventionland in Harmar.
Teams walked a long red carpet leading to Inventalot, a fairy tale-styled castle inside Inventionland — clutching their invention prototypes. They were the culmination of a semester's worth of science, technology, engineering, art and math — STEAM — lessons.
Students were required to build an actual product sample, create an infomercial for their invention and pitch their product to the judges. A Q&A session followed each presentation.
Leechburg teachers Dan Stitt and Shayle Prorok collaborated with Allegheny Educational Technology and Inventionland Institute last August in converting a former computer room
at the high school in to an "Inventionland room."
They installed a vinyl printer/cutter, laser engraver, 3-D printer and T-shirt press.
Prorok said Inventionland is an elective course for grades 9-12. This week's contest participation was like a "final exam," she said.
"This class provides our students real world applications such as presentation and communication skills, team building experiences and appropriate and responsible technology use skills," Prorok said.
The school board approved the curriculum and its $5,000 cost last year.
Student inventions presented included BCD (Baking, Cooling, Display); Right Hook; Seeing Double Contact Case; Slips Ups; Toilet Steamer; Travel Strips; and Cooler Shelf.
Joey Price pitched his team's invention, Toilet Steamer, explaining to the judges the merits of having a toilet seat that is self-cleaning. It utilizes steam distributed through a small tube.
"I think it went very well," Joey said. "I was really nervous at first. I started shaking and tapping my foot because I didn't know what they were going to ask me.
"But after I went in there, I think I sold it so well."
Inventionland Institute invites administrators from each participating school to act as judges, and always contributes a guest judge from Inventionland, too.
Nix and Leechburg high school Principal Doug Rodgers judged alongside Inventionland Institute Executive Director Nathan Field.
Contestants were judged from a rubric that scored points in categories such as research, prototypes, video, storytelling, sales pitch and concept packaging.
The winning team was led by Madison Miller and Haley DeCapite, who pitched their Travel Strips invention. They impressed the judges showcasing colorful and fun decorative adhesive strips meant to prevent travel toiletries from opening in transit.
Both girls said during their pitch they got the idea for their invention after traveling on airplanes and experiencing spills and leaks from packed items.
"We plan on expanding our sizes, shapes, designs and patterns," said Madison, who cried at the news of their winning.
"We will target copyrighted companies such as Disney, too," added DeCapite, discussing future plans for Travel Strips.
Both girls will return to Inventionland this spring, competing in a regional invention contest representing 37 schools from Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Nix was instrumental in adding the course to Leechburg's curriculum after she toured Inventionland last year, seeking enrichment curriculum ideas. She praised the collaboration between the district and Inventionland Institute
Leechburg is the only public school in the Alle-Kiski Valley to offer this curriculum.
"This course is staying at Leechburg, especially after seeing the great work that the students presented today," Nix said.
"This course offers the four C's: communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity," Field said. "No matter what you do in life, you will use those skills. And that's what we (Inventionland Institute) see that's important."
Summer Heasley, a senior, helped create Cooler Shelves, a cooler insert utilized in everyday coolers to keep drinks cold and organized.
"We presented in a castle, so that was fun," she said.
Nix said she normally checks in on classes, spending time with students, but her Inventionland judging gig required her to remain objective.
"I was very impressed with their creativity, collaboration and ingenuity," Nix said. "It was really hard for me not to see what they were doing all semester. I knew that I was judging so I stayed away.
"I am really proud of all of the groups," Nix said.
Joyce Hanz is a freelance writer.