- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Wake Coulter is spending one week of his precious summer vacation on an invention that could vastly improve his childhood — an android that will take out the trash.

“Every night I take out the trash and my mom throws yucky stuff in there. Now my ‘droid will do it,” the 7-year-old Wake said of his robot with piano keys for teeth and marbles for eyes.

Equipped with screwdrivers, crowbars and pliers, Wake and 116 other area children are dismantling household items to create their own inventions this week as part of Stratford Landing Elementary School’s Camp Invention.

James E. Rogan, the Bush administration’s undersecretary of commerce for intellectual property, stopped by the Alexandria school Monday to meet the inventors, grades second through sixth, and watch their creativity in action.

“This is a prime age to get these kids engaged,” he said. “This is the age when the wheels start turning.”

Mr. Rogan even gave a few tips to some children making lightweight cars that could be pushed by the blast of a hairdryer.

William McCarthy, 7, used a foam cup as the car chassis and an index card as a sail.

Though the program offers plenty of creative opportunities, it also tests the students’ raw brain power. In the “I Can Invent” class, students rip apart electric appliances, then use the parts to build a new invention.

“I tell you, it brought out the kid in me,” Mr. Rogan said. “I wanted to chuck my coat, grab a sledgehammer and a driver and attack a blender.”

The teacher, Jane Cerza, said the class focuses on inventions that solve problems — unlike a student’s conceptual android that does homework. She also said the class’ most important lesson is showing how things are put together and how to create on one’s own.

David Grimes, assistant director of the program, said the core mission of the camp, which ends tomorrow, is to give the students hands-on experience with science that they may not get in a regular classroom. The program also gives students the tools to create solutions.

Mr. Grimes said the children learn about patents and to respect intellectual property. For example, each student fills out a mock patent application when his or her invention is complete.

Mr. Rogan said everybody needs to know more about intellectual property because many do not realize its legal importance.

“Any kid is old enough to gain a rudimentary appreciation and understanding of intellectual property,” he said.

Camp Invention, which is co-sponsored by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the National Inventors Hall of Fame, is a nationwide program that gives students a richer understanding and interest in science, said Deanna Duncan, the hall of fame’s executive director of business development.

Miss Duncan also said most children lose interest in science after middle school, but those who have been exposed to enrichment courses such as those in Camp Invention often maintain an active curiosity.

“Science is not some strange, difficult thing,” she said. “It’s really something [students] can use. They know how to take the facts to the next step, to a higher level of thinking.”

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