Inventors Club

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A group Brewer Academy students competed at Invention Convention Michigan on April 30 at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. The team of student-inventors developed their idea as part of the Inventors Club which teamed students and their teachers from Detroit Public Schools Community District with patent attorneys from Howard & Howard. The student-inventors, teachers and mentors participating included (left to right) Bill Blancke, IP attorney at Howard & Howard; Deborah Carr, Brewer Academy teacher; Steve Monteleone, Brewer Academy teacher; Arkell Cowens, Brewer student; Jamarrion Treadwell, Brewer student; and Dan Chojnowski, IP attorney at Howard & Howard.

Firm teams with teachers and students on invention convention curriculum

A group of 5th - 8th grade students from Detroit Public Schools Community District have been engaged in an innovative afterschool program designed to foster interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM). The students from Brewer Academy, a K-8 school in Northeast Detroit, have been participating in the Inventors Club after school program, an educational partnership teaming the District and a group of patent attorneys from the Howard & Howard law firm in Royal Oak.

The Inventors Club, now in its second year at Brewer Academy, involves the participation of 40 students, seven patent attorneys, and multiple classroom teachers. The Inventors Club began in mid-September and will continue to meet weekly until its conclusion in mid-May.  

According to Dan Chojnowski, chair of Howard & Howard’s Intellectual Property Practice and classroom leader of the Inventors Club, the Brewer students were organized into small groups and guided by their teachers and the attorneys through the specialized Invention Convention Curriculum. Developed by The Henry Ford Museum, this entrepreneurial learning program tasks students with identifying a problem, creating a solution, evaluating it and then presenting it to a panel of judges.

Through their participation with Inventors Club, the Brewer students were introduced to a world of learning where they identify problems, solve them and gain confidence in themselves by developing an original invention in a hands-on, real-world, project-based educational program.

—Brewer Academy Student-Inventors Compete, Advance at Regional and State-Level Invention Competitions

“All of us at Brewer were so proud to send twelve different inventions to the Regional Hub competition at Wayne State University and then thrilled to see three of our 8th graders advance to the Invention Convention Michigan held at the Henry Ford Museum. The level of involvement and commitment from the Howard & Howard volunteers was instrumental in allowing us to take this project to a successful completion,” said Deborah Carr, a science teacher at Brewer Academy and co-leader of the Inventors Club initiative.

Theresa Ramirez-Zipser, STEM Engagement Coordinator at WSU, said, “We had a record level of inventions at the Wayne County Regional Hub competition and it’s due in part to the partnership between the patent attorneys from Howard & Howard and the Detroit Public Schools. It would make such an impact if this outstanding educational model were replicated so we could further increase involvement of students from under-represented communities across Wayne County and the rest of the state.”  

“As a graduate of Detroit Public Schools, I’m pleased and excited on a personal level for the three industrious Brewer Academy student-inventors who advanced through the regional competition and were able to experience the state-level Invention Convention Michigan and pitch their invention on a big stage,” said Ramirez-Zipser.

Michael Solt, a partner at Howard & Howard, mentored and guided the group of students who invented the solar-powered case for a smart device and advanced to the state level Invention Convention.  Solt explained that the idea started out as a simple one – combining solar panels and a case for a smart device.

—Inventors Club Fosters Teamwork, Brainstorming and Problem-Solving   

“The wonderful thing about this competition is that it forces the students to critically examine the invention throughout the prototype building phase. In this case, the students were challenged by previously unapparent problems with the case and solar panels and had to rethink and completely reconfigure the cell phone case. The kids came up with a novel solution for the problem, which wasn’t even a consideration at the beginning of the project,” said Solt.

Paul Engel, another Howard & Howard patent attorney and Inventors Club volunteer-coach, said one of the groups he worked with created a winter coat which incorporated thermochromic fabrics which change colors according to the temperature. He said the  students’ working on the coat had been stumped by a problem in balancing the amount of heat required to change the fabric’s color without overheating the coat’s wearer.  

“I was astonished when the group came back the next time we met and suggested that we investigate heating elements used in automobile seats as a possible solution. It amazed me that the group had been brainstorming on their own time and the kids were so engaged that they were contemplating improvements and modifications to their invention outside of school on their own,” said Engel.  

“We’re all proud of the work we accomplished in the Inventors Club,” said Chojnowski. “It was a privilege to experience the culture of the Brewer Academy, and I’m hopeful we inspired some students to consider a career in STEM that may not have otherwise absent this experience. It was one of those life experiences where you immediately appreciated that you are involved with something special.”

As part of its sponsorship and promotion of the Inventors Club, the Henry Ford Museum also hosted 60 students from Brewer Academy, including the Inventors Club participants, the student council, and 8th grade honor students.

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