Teenage Inventor Alexis Lewis Thinks That Kids Have the Solutions to the World’s Problems

Watch This Great Video on Alexis

With a patent to her name and more likely on the way, the 15-year-old has made it her mission to inspire young innovators

SMITHSONIAN.COM

 

Benjamin Franklin invented swim flippers when he was 12 years old. Frank Epperson, age 11, conceived of the popsicle, and 16-year-old George Nissen thought up a trampoline.

Just last year, Kiowa Kavovit, then 6, became the youngest to pitch her invention—a liquid bandage called Boo Boo Goo—on ABC’s “Shark Tank.”

In the United States, there is no age requirement for filing a patent.

Alexis Lewis, a 15-year-old inventor in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, wants children across the country to know that an inventor isn’t something you have to be when you grow up; they can be one now. Lewis holds a patent for a wheeled travois—a triangular load-carrying device with a bamboo frame and a bed of netting that she designed to serve Somali refugees, who need to transport their children many miles to camps and hospitals. Her patent-pending emergency mask pod is a football-shaped canister with protective gear that firefighters and first responders can throw through a window of a smoke-filled building to those trapped inside.

The two-time winner of the ePals-Smithsonian Spark!Lab Invent It Challenge, a competition for young inventors age 5 to 18, is a vocal advocate for “Inventing 101” courses to be a part of middle school curriculums.

Why should more people invent?

I think not only is it important to tell people that they can invent but it’s important also to tell them that they should be [inventing] because they have their own unique perspective on the world. Everybody has lived a different life, everybody has seen it [the world] slightly differently and I think everybody has a slightly different take on each problem. And I think if we all work together we can solve a tremendous number of problems.

What motivates you to invent?

My inventions are motivated by one of two things usually. One, it’s a humanitarian issue, basically people who aren’t getting the help they need, people who are dying unnecessarily when they could be saved. Another reason that I often invent is that I’ll get myself absolutely buried in a piece of physics, just learning about it obsessively. Then, I start to realize that there are little things that can be done to make technologies revolving around it a little bit more efficient here, a little bit more effective there.

 

Can you tell us a little bit about the environment you grew up in and how that’s impacted you as an inventor?

My mom would always read to the family about various world issues. When Hurricane Katrina hit [Alexis was 5 years old], we learned all about that—what a hurricane was, how it worked, the effects of Hurricane Katrina itself, what they were doing to help clear out floodwaters, all sorts of fascinating stuff. Being homeschooled, I had a lot of free time in which I was encouraged to basically go and do and build almost anything I wanted. I had access to videos on any subject, so I got to learn about the science of everything, and I read voraciously. I think having those channels of knowledge open to me was completely invaluable.

Do you think you have some advantages as an inventor given the fact that you’ve started young?

I don’t mean to put adults down, but when you’ve grown up and you’ve seen the world for a long time, you think its one way. I’d say that starting young has had an advantage in that I have the ability to look at something and not think, “oh this is a problem that can’t be solved,” but instead think maybe we’ve been looking at it just a little bit wrong. Kids, since they haven’t been told this is something that would never work over and over, have the have the ability to do that.

What is Inventing 101? Where did the idea come from, and why is it important to you?

It’s a class I hope to have administered to middle school students across the country that would basically tell them that they are capable of inventing. It would show them kids who have already invented. If people aren’t told when they’re young that they can invent, it’s going to be much harder to convince them that they can.

I had this idea when I was looking back at the stuff I had done, at my inventions and realizing that these are some simple [designs.] It’s not going to necessarily be the collapsible travois with custom made specially fabricated joints, it’s going to be the simple bamboo one that anybody can make. It’s not necessarily going to be the $700 grenade launcher, it’s going to be a little football-shaped pod that costs all of $4. People are stunned when they hear what I’ve done. But these are things that I know for a fact a lot of people can do. So I thought there’s got to be some way to awaken that self-confidence in people to enable them to do that.

How does your Emergency Mask Pod (EMP) work?

The emergency mask pod is basically a two-part football canister that holds a smoke mask made by Xcaper Industries, a pair of goggles and a little light-emitting device, most likely a LED light strip in the final version. The goggles allow people to concentrate more fully on getting out without having to worry about their eyes burning. The mask gives people the ability to breathe without dealing with the toxic effects of the smoke, and the light strip allows people to more easily locate the pod when it flies into a dark smoky room.

Designing the EMP pod was a process of trial and error. I’m a kid. I like things that go boom and shoot, and so my first thought was let’s just launch it up there. I did a whole bunch of research, and I was looking at a couple of different launcher mechanisms. I had the mascot of a local sports team fire a pneumatic cannon, basically a t-shirt cannon, into an open window from a very close distance, and accuracy was pretty abysmal. I went from a pneumatic cannon, which didn’t work at all, to a couple of so-so throwable devices, and ended up finally with a throwable canister with an accuracy of over 75 percent.

People think that the inventors of the world are the crazy mad scientists and white lab coats working long hours developing crazy new technologies. But that’s not the case. It’s not something reserved for Edison, Graham Bell, all the greats. Inventors are basically anybody and everybody who’s ever tried to solve a problem.

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Britain Considers a ‘Latte Levy’ to Cut the Use of Coffee Cups

Photo

In Britain, 2.5 billion disposable cups are discarded each year, according to a report. Starbucks is looking to test a 5-pence paper cup charge in 25 stores across London. CreditAndrew Winning/Reuters

LONDON — The humble paper coffee cup, that mainstay of mornings and modern office life, may be going the way of the pull-tab soda can and, perhaps, plastic bags and bottles. The problem, it seems, is that, in their current form, the cups are surprisingly hard to recycle, and therefore contribute an excessive amount to waste streams.

On Friday, a parliamentary committee in Britain issued a reportrecommending a hefty tax of 25 pence, or 34 cents, for every cup sold. Dubbed the “latte levy,” the fee would amount to around 10 percent on every cup of coffee sold, presumably a painful enough charge to induce most people to carry around their own reusable cups.

Disposable cups are often laminated with plastic or polyethylene to make them waterproof. But traditional paper mills and recycling facilities are not equipped for the complex process of stripping the plastic away. Instead, the containers end up in landfills or are burned in incinerators, a concern for environmentalists who say that toxins can seep into the ground or escape into the air.

In Britain alone, 2.5 billion cups are discarded each year, enough to circle the planet five and a half times, according to the parliamentary report. That number could expand to five billion cups a year in seven years’ time as the explosive growth of cafe culture in the country shows few signs of abating.

The proposal for a coffee tax follows a 5-pence charge for plastic bags at stores, introduced in Britain in 2015, which has led to a plunge in usage of more than 80 percent. Some consumers complained that the latest levy should be imposed on coffee retailers, rather than coffee drinkers. But supporters of the campaign say that a tax may well force a shift in consumer behavior, as it did with plastic bags.

“The polluter should pay for it,” Simon Ellin, chief executive of the Recycling Association, said in an interview. “It shouldn’t be the public that should pay for it, but we’d still be in favor because it will change behavior.”

But Ian Fisher, 49, who was taking his breakfast at Costa, a major coffee chain, found the tax proposal “unacceptable,” adding, “Coffee is expensive enough, and it’s not going to cure the problem of people littering.”

Most coffee chains currently offer small discounts when drinks are served in reusable cups.

Starbucks on Friday said it was looking to test a 5-pence paper cup charge in 25 stores across London starting in February. “We will investigate the impact of a 5 pence charge on a paper cup, coupled with prominent marketing of reusable cups,” the coffee giant said.

Caffe Nero, another prominent coffee retailer, said it was committed to increasing “the sustainable recovery and recycling of paper cups.” Costa, the biggest coffee chain in Britain, said it had collected more than 12 million cups for recycling over the past year, though it was not clear how many of those were recycled.

Members of Parliament behind the report dismissed the efforts made by coffee shops and cup manufacturers. They have “recently made voluntary commitments or provide in-store recycling, some of which were introduced during the course of the inquiry,” the report said.

“However, despite having spent years talking about the problem, industry’s voluntary commitments have been inconsistent and ineffective.”

A 2011 consumer survey cited by the lawmakers found that eight in 10 consumers were laboring under the misconception that disposable cups were being recycled, and that most consumers tried to discard their cups in recycling bins. The report found that fewer than one cup in 400, or 0.25 percent, gets recycled.

There are alternatives to the latte levy. Two facilities in Britain have the capacity to recycle disposable cups, having invested in the multimillion-dollar machinery needed to strip the plastic away from the paper.

“The tricky part is taking the plastic from the fiber,” said Richard Burnett, market development manager at James Cropper, a fine-paper manufacturer that recycles the paper into upscale shopping bags for department stores like Selfridges.

The operation has the capability to recycle half a billion paper cups a year, he said by telephone, but they were not being collected properly and sent to the manufacturer, based some 260 miles north of London, to be recycled. “That’s the missing part of the jigsaw puzzle,” he said.

Since paper cups only make up less than 1 percent of total packaging waste in Britain, most paper mills have not invested in specialized machinery, Mr. Burnett said. Paper recyclers also generally reject packaging that has been “contaminated,” or come into contact with food or drink.

On the other end of the spectrum, some companies are starting to develop cups that can be recycled more easily. Frugalpac’s “Frugal Cup” contains a plastic liner that is glued only lightly so that it separates quickly and easily when the cup is re-pulped, lawmakers said.

Hannah Baines, 16, who was studying one morning at a Costa shop and drinking coffee out of a cup, welcomed the bid for a latte tax. But in the long run, she said, “it’s probably just better to make the cups recyclable.”

Corvallis students build, launch balloons

Corvallis Middle School seventh grade students spent three days of designing, cutting and gluing to create a hot-air balloon from tissue paper.

 

On Thursday morning, they tested the air-worthiness of their creations with a launch at the school’s football field and track.

 

Educator Stacy Jessop said the annual event is a 20-year tradition.

“We used to do an entire unit on aviation,” Jessop said. “Now there are so many other things to teach we just have a few days for this. We talk about structure, panels, design and the history of flight. We view the hot-air balloon show that happens each year in Albuquerque, New Mexico.”

 

Each balloon has a sign that says “If found return to Corvallis Middle School.”

“We have had a few fly away and we want to track how high and how far they go,” Jessop said. “We have had them go as far as Woodside, a mile or two.”

 

The 137 students were launching, chasing and repairing their balloons in groups of two and three. With the heat at 65 degrees and no breeze, most of the balloons did not fly farther than the field. The few that went further stuck in trees of homes in East Corvallis.

Teacher Dave Bradshaw said students were creative.

 

“Students make their own design,” Bradshaw said. “They glue the panels together and use a template to cut it out then they glue the pieces together. The balloons are very delicate. If there is any little hole the kids will find out when they put the hot air in there.”

Corvallis Middle School science teacher Chris Maul-Smith said he looks forward to the balloon project.

 

“It is a great way to celebrate the end of the year for students and for the teachers as well,” he said. “It is a way to bring everyone together and have fun constructing a balloon.”

Maul-Smith said the balloons rise up to 200 feet and travel usually 200 to 300 yards, depending on the weather. The colder the day the higher the balloons fly.

“We fill each balloon with hot air from a stove pipe that is attached to a heater donated from Mom’s Rentals in Hamilton,” he said. “They do this every year and make this possible. We hold the opening of each balloon over the stovepipe until it is super-filled and super-warm and then let it go. If there is enough temperature difference, they fly really well. Today is a much better temperature than yesterday.”

 

Maul-Smith and Dave Chimo filled the balloons and released them into the air.

The balloon team of Amanda Boelman and Madelyn Shepherd said it was a fun project.

“We learned about hot-air balloons and it was great,” Boelman said.

 

Stephanie Weber and Alexa Sunderland said creating and launching their balloon was cool.

“I was hoping it would go higher,” Weber said. “We’ve got the streamers on ours to make it extra fancy.”

 

Sunderland said, “It went farther than I thought but it would have been cool to go further and out of the field.”  Ramsey Snider and Carter Humphrey repaired their balloon’s several holes after their first launch.  This is Jennifer Powell’s first year to teach seventh grade. She was delighted to be included in this project that she has heard about for years.

  “Both my own children participated in this fun science project,” she said. “It is just the perfect day and the perfect ending to a great year of school.”

SCIENCE EDUCATION IS WOEFULLY UNCREATIVE. THAT HAS TO CHANGE

Wired

AUTHOR: RHETT ALLAIN, March 30, 2016

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Why Finland’s Unorthodox Education System Is The Best In The World

Business Insider

Adam Taylor

Nov. 27, 2012,

A new global league table, produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit for Pearson, has found Finland to be the best education system in the world.

The rankings combined international test results and data such as graduation rates between 2006 and 2010, the BBC reports.

For Finland, this is no fluke. Since it implemented huge education reforms 40 years ago, the country’s school system has consistently come in at the top for the international rankings for education systems.

But how do they do it?

It’s simple — by going against the evaluation-driven, centralized model that much of the Western world uses.
Finnish children don’t start school until they are 7.

They rarely take exams or do homework until they are well into their teens.
The children are not measured at all for the first six years of their education.

There is only one mandatory standardized test in Finland, taken when children are 16.
All children, clever or not, are taught in the same classrooms.

Finland spends around 30 percent less per student than the United States.
30 percent of children receive extra help during their first nine years of school.

66 percent of students go to college.  The highest rate in Europe.
The difference between weakest and strongest students is the smallest in the World.

Science classes are capped at 16 students so that they may perform practical experiments in every class.
93 percent of Finns graduate from high school.  17.5 percent higher than the US.

43 percent of Finnish high-school students go to vocational schools.
43 percent of Finnish high-school students go to vocational schools.
Elementary school students get 75 minutes of recess a day in Finnish versus an average of 27 minutes in the US.

Teachers only spend 4 hours a day in the classroom, and take 2 hours a week for “professional development.”
Finland has the same amount of teachers as New York City, but far fewer students.  600,000 students compared to 1.1 million in NYC.

The school system is 100% state funded.
All teachers in Finland must have a masters degree, which is fully subsidized.

The national curriculum is only broad guidelines.
Teachers are selected from the top 10% of graduates.

In 2010, 6,600 applicants vied for 660 primary school training slots
The average starting salary for a Finnish teacher was $29,000 in 2008.  Compared with $36,000 in the United States.

However, high school teachers with 15 years of experience make 102 percent of what other college graduates make.  In the US, this figure is 62%.
There is no merit pay for teachers

Teachers are given the same status as doctors and lawyers
In an international standardized measurement in 2001, Finnish children came in at the top, or very close to the top, for science, reading and mathematics.  It’s consistently come in at the top or very near every time since.

And despite the differences between Finland and the US, it easily beats countries with a similar demographic.  Neighbor Norway, of a similar size and featuring a similar homogeneous culture, follows the same strategies as the USA and achieves similar rankings in international studies.

An Earth Day Event for Building Community

An Integrated Middle School STEM Program

Denver Post

By Josie Klemaier
YourHub Reporter

POSTED:   01/29/2015 

Emily Stec, 12, designs a replica of a school workshop during her iSTEM engineering class at Bell Middle School on Jan. 21, in Golden. The school

Emily Stec, 12, designs a replica of a school workshop during her iSTEM engineering class at Bell Middle School on Jan. 21, in Golden. The school implemented an iSTEM program three years ago and has seen a strong response from parents and students alike. This year, seventh-grade students enrolled in the program will submit designs to overhaul the outdoor property at the school.(Anya Semenoff, YourHub)

GOLDEN — The recess area at Bell Middle School is being redesigned — by the students themselves.

“We want you to think big,” Bell Middle School principal Bridget Jones told the students in Jesse Swift’s pre-engineering class when she announced the plan last week.

Students in Bell’s integrative science, technology, engineering and math program, called iSTEM, will design a dream schoolyard on what adds up to more than 90,000 square feet, according to Swift.

But with these lofty ambitions, Jones also warned students of the realities of safety, budget constraints and time.

“This is real life, guys,” she said.

Jones said it is an example of the real-world experience at the heart of Bell’s iSTEM program, which is similar to an honors program but with STEM focuses. The program, which began three years ago, was the first for a middle school in the Jefferson County Public School District. It is also what Jones partly credits for a rise in school choice applications received for the next school year — more than double last year’s number.

Bell’s iSTEM program is unique because it was wholly developed by Bell teachers and staff, instead of pulling from a prepackaged curriculum.

“We opted to go with our own program and we really had the right teachers at the right time to take this on,” Jones said.

As more Jeffco schools pursue STEM for their students, Matt Flores, executive director of curriculum and instruction for Jefferson County Public Schools, said they are looking at Bell as an example.

“Bell as a middle school is a leader in STEM,” said

Bell’s program started with sixth-graders, now eighth-graders, who worked this year with professionals at Texas A&M and NASA to see how worms compost in space. The program is heavy on teamwork, communication and critical thinking, Jones said, and the school works closely with outside entities such as Colorado School of Mines and the city of Golden to keep kids connected with the community.

Katarina Chaffee, a seventh-grader in Swift’s class, came to Bell this year for the iSTEM program and said she has really liked it so far.

“It’s very interactive and it’s very social, you get a lot of opportunities you think you would never get to do,” she said.

For the schoolyard’s redesign, $70,000 in funding will come from cash-in-lieu financing from Golden that Bell’s PTA identified following a similar project at Mitchell Elementary. PTA members went to Bell’s students to see what they needed, which led to the idea for the STEM project.

“A lot of the kids complained there’s nothing to do, there’s no shade,” said Cheryl Ludford, a former Mitchell Parent-Teacher Association member and now on Bell’s PTA.

By the end of the semester, the students will submit their design plans to a parent-teacher committee, which will fine-tune and select one for the district to put to bid this summer, in time for construction in the fall.

That’s the goal, at least.

“Will we get the playground designed before the end of the year? We don’t know,” Jones said. “But that’s part of the real-world experience.”

Josie Klemaier: 303-954-2465, jklemaier@denverpost.com or twitter.com/JosieKlemaier