BYU hosts K-12 innovation competition

On Friday, April 14, 44 teams of students competed in this year’s K-12 Student Innovator of the Year competition. Students competed for over $6,000 in cash prizes awarded to first, second, and third place for the high school, junior high, and elementary divisions.

The competition was hosted by, a BYU research group in association with the Technology and Engineering Education program, and the Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship at BYU.

First place winners in each division won $1,000, second took home $600, and third place got $400 to keep working on their innovations.

For the competition, students worked several months on an idea using BYU’s innovation model “USERS.” The acronym stands for “understanding, shaping, exploring, refining, and sharing,” to identify problems and then create innovative solutions. Along with creating prototypes, students had to get feedback from other people about their innovation.

Melissa Carlos, the mother of student innovator Mia Carlos, said it was fun to see her child learn how to do something like this.

“It was cool to be able to see them go through and learn the proper steps to do this and not just say ‘we think this would be really cool,’ but to actually identify a problem that other people had and take the proper steps with prototypes and going back and forth to really learn they had a good solution to an actual problem,” Carlos said.

Mia and her fellow creator, Grace Neves, both fifth-graders, said they had a lot of fun designing “Practice Pal,” their app that makes practicing anything more fun and exciting, but it was harder than they expected.

“I learned that apps are actually really difficult to make and very complex,” Neves said. “They have a lot of stages that you have to go through.”

Mia compared herself and Grace to missionaries because they went door to door to collect data and ask for feedback on their app.

Connor Widtfeldt, the winner in the high school division, created a converged internal localization system, which is a GPS type innovation that allows the user to know where things are in a building. He said the main uses would be for medical and retail purposes. For instance, it would allow customers to map out a route to where they wanted to go within a store. For medical purposes, it would tell nurses or doctors where certain pieces of equipment are in the hospital, so they don’t have to look around to find it.

In the junior high division, winner William Jesperson created the “Bat Hat,” which is a hat designed for the visually impaired. With the Bat Hat, Jesperson estimates a visually impaired person would only run into approximately five objects a day instead of the national average of ten objects when using a cane. The hat beeps based on whether the user is close to an object. The closer the object is, the faster the beep.

The elementary division winners, Grace Neves and Mia Carlos, designed an app call “Practice Pal,” which was made to help kids find and practice activities they’re interested in. It also allows users to hold competitions with friends, which makes practicing more exciting for kids. Users record how many minutes they practiced their instrument or skill, which gives them points that they could redeem for rewards. They can get a physical reward such as ice cream, which parents would have to honor, or a virtual reward, which the girls described as getting the opportunity to build and design your own city with the points you get.

Matthew Jones, a junior studying technology engineering education at BYU, was a judge for the competition. He talked about how the competition was a great opportunity for young people to be innovative thinkers, something he and Geoffrey Wright, associate professor, have been working hard to promote to schools.

“I think this is important for kids because innately we are all creators, designers, and problem solvers and that’s not taught very well in school,” Jones said. “We’re always taught there is one right answer or one right way to do things. This is an opportunity for kids to see this kind of divergent way of thinking and that’s new and that’s different and that’s healthy.”

He said another good thing about the competition was that it put kids into groups, which meant they were creating together. He talked with a mother who loved it because it got her children communicating and working together to solve problems.

“I think it gives kids an opportunity to look at the world around them and really find a solution to a problem and say ‘hey, there’s a problem here and I have tools and I know how to fix it.’” 

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