Michigan and national contests celebrate student inventors at The Henry Ford

The 2019 Michigan Invention Convention is scheduled for Saturday, April 27, at the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. Later in May, The Henry Ford will host the National Invention Convention.

The events feature the innovations and inventions of students in grades K through 12. It’s a contest that not only showcases students’ problem-solving skills but also their problem-identification skills. Students are allowed to invent whatever they want, devising real-world solutions to problems in their everyday lives.

That’s why Howell calls it a-head-and-a-heart event. Howell, Chief Learning Officer and Director of Learning and Engagement at The Henry Ford, is both an engineer, the head, and an educator, the heart.

"There are a lot of logical reasons that we do this, but watching the conversations and questions come out of the kids, it’s a powerful moment," Howell says.

This is the second year that the museum will be hosting the events. It’s the beginning of what promises to be a long-standing tradition. The Henry Ford is now the official home of the National Invention Convention, an event that will return to the museum, year after year.

For a museum with the phrase American Innovation in its title, it’s a partnership that only makes sense. The next generation of inventors will be showcasing their ideas amidst those of the country’s most storied and celebrated inventors.

"It’s really exciting that the national competition is going to be here from now and hereon into the future. For The Henry Ford, we can continue to recognize and cultivate those inspirational moments. Henry Ford started this organization as the Edison Institute to inspire learning and hosting this competition is the current manifestation of that. We’re carrying the responsibility passed on to us," Howell says.

"For Dearborn, one of the centers of innovation in the world, it helps to recognize that this is still true. These stories help us unleash and elevate, and to remind the world that we continue to be that."

Nearly 200 students from fourteen schools across Michigan will gather at the statewide competition to showcase their inventions, which can include actual physical prototypes as well as drawings, renderings, and programs.

Students will show their design journals and tell their invention stories, from the birth of the idea to its execution. They will have a display board, akin to what can be found at a school's science fair. Students will then give a three-minute product pitch.

The competition tests innovation skills but also communication and entrepreneurial skills, too.

Winners of each level will then be entered into the national contest, which draws competitors from across the country.

"We often underestimate what kids are able to do and these events will blow your mind," Howell says.

"You’ll be inspired by what inspires them."

What inspires students spans all disciplines, she says. The 115 inventions scheduled for the floor of the 2019 Michigan Invention Convention are the result of students’ daily lives.

They’re not just solving puzzles put in front of them. They’re finding the puzzles to solve.

Just like the people found in the halls of the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.

"Problem identification has a very real life and personal connections. We get to see the problems through their eyes, get what matters to them. They’re passionate because they engaged in it," Howell says.

"At The Henry Ford, we recognize the resourcefulness, ingenuity, and innovation of America and Americans. That is our founding principle."

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MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.