BLUE RIDGE-OAKLAND: Inventive Thinking Project teaches students creativity, analytical thinking

Monday, November 7, 2011 | 12:55 p.m. CST; updated 9:06 p.m. CST, Tuesday, November 8, 2011

*An earlier version of this story had an incorrect location for the Center for Gifted Education. It is at 1010 Rangeline St.

COLUMBIA — Curran Kirkpatrick stood in front of his eighth- and ninth-grade classmates with a crumpled sheet of paper in hand, confidently explaining three solutions to the problem of stubbing one's toe. The winning solution: a toe cap that uses magnetic polarity to lift one's leg.

"Wouldn’t it make you trip?" Cole Flottman asked Kirkpatrick.

"Which toe would you put it on?" C.J. Phillips said.

"What will you do with a non-metal object?" Matt Leuchtmann, who teaches the class, said.

Solutions such as Kirkpatrick’s toe cap are a product of the Inventive Thinking Project, a unit taught in Leuchtmann’s extending educational experience class at Oakland Junior High School that promotes both creative thinking and problem solving. Each student develops an original idea for an invention then follows it to a finished product.

The inventions aim at solving different problems, such as Kirkpatrick's issue of toe stubbing or the more pressing issue of energy conservation.

Eighth-grader Alex Sieckmann plans to make a motion-sensing device and alarm system to remind people to conserve energy through conditioned response. If a person leaves the room without turning off the lights, an alarm will sound and continue to go off until he or she shuts off the lights.

Other student inventions include an interactive refrigerator that can scan bar codes, which will tell users what they need to purchase for a certain recipe and what ingredients they already have. Another idea involves the application of stimulation therapy to braces.

"The kids continue to amaze me. I am confident our future is in good hands when I see some of the things they come up with," Leuchtmann said.

The Inventive Thinking Project is taught at both West and Oakland junior high schools. There are 185 students identified as gifted in the two schools and 52 students who participate in the elective. There are 15 students at Oakland involved in the Inventive Thinking Project.

This is the first year Oakland has done the project, which is a part of an elective course available to students who demonstrate superior cognitive ability through a district evaluation process or successfully petition on the basis of achieve and ability, according to Jake Giessman, co-director of the Center for Gifted Education.

The Inventive Thinking Project provides students with the experience necessary to face challenges and conquer them in a creative, futuristic and highly efficient manner, Leuchtmann said.

"In a time when creativity and problem-solving skills are declining in our society, it is critical that we expose students to thinking skills and problem-solving processes that empower them with the means to guide us through this century and beyond," Leuchtmann said.

Throughout the unit, students learn creative-thinking tools that enable them to see everyday problems in new and different ways. Students also apply the Future Problem Solving process, which teaches students to identify the underlying problem of a challenge, develop solutions, create criteria for evaluating those solutions and find the most effective course of action, Leuchtmann said.

"Facts are free with the advent of the Internet, so what we want to take instead are the skills necessary to navigate that information and use it in a proactive way that allows them to apply their full potential to help impact the world," Leuchtmann said.

Flottman said he decided to take the elective class "because it’s more of a thinking class."

"I mean, we learn things in other classes, like I’m learning facts in history, but this is more useful because it teaches me to create and modify," Flottman said.

Kirkpatrick said the class teaches skills he can use in the real world.

“We do stuff in other classes that don’t really apply, like in algebra we solve equations with X and Y but that doesn’t really apply to real life,” Kirkpatrick said.

In the upcoming weeks, students will develop a marketing plan and learn how to conduct a patent search to ensure their idea is original.

The unit will culminate at an Invention Convention, in which students will present their inventions to professional judges and receive feedback on their prototypes. *The event will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 17 at Columbia Public School’s Center for Gifted Education, located at 1010 Rangeline St..

Students will share their ideas for near-future innovations with judges from the Reynolds Journalism Institute, the University Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the College of Engineering, Giessman said. Three inventors will receive recognition for their inventions.

Leuchtmann said he plans to make the Inventive Thinking Project a bi-annual event so that the unit is not repetitive for the mix of eighth- and ninth-grade students enrolled in the class.

“I don’t want to expose them to the same thing every year,” Leuchtmann said.

Leuchtmann came from Gasconade County R-2 School District, where he spent six years revamping the gifted program in Owensville. 

“R-2 told me they could never replace him, and I can already see why,” Giessman said. “He pushes the students to hone their thinking skills and exert maximum effort.”

“I don’t want my students to think of everything they’re learning as a competition, but that these are real skills that can help improve the world, from water quality to who you’re going to ask to prom,” Leuchtmann said.

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