High School STEM Students Experience "Quirky" Path to Inventive Careers

Karen Fraser-Middleton
Innovation Showcase

While many people dream of turning their good idea into a bestselling product, Colfax High School engineering and design students are off to a quick start because their Fast Forward ski sensor idea is going through the design process with Quirky. The New York based company makes invention accessible by reviewing as many as 4,000 ideas per week from inventors all over the world, and using a community selection and development process to bring the best ideas to market. A limited number of the ideas make it through the first stage so being chosen for evaluation by Quirky was a rare honor for these students.

Colfax inventors and avid skiers, Hailey Elias (age 15), Autumn Turner (age 16), and Alec Cobabe (age 16) watched online as Quirky reviewed their product in front of a live audience including panel member, Bill Nye the Science Guy, at the South by Southwest Conference in Austin, TX, on March 8. The audience voted that the Fast Forward ski sensor prototype should go to the Quirky design team for more exploration. The Colfax students' invention improves skiing style by attaching to a ski boot and vibrating when the skier is not leaning forward enough in the boot for ideal control.

"It has been a great experience working with Quirky, and I was so excited when it went to the next stage of evaluation," said Elias. "When Bill Nye clapped for it, I screamed out loud because I was so excited he approved of it. I remember watching him when I was little and I'm still a fan-girl."

Elias, Turner, and Cobabe have been learning about product development from their engineering teacher, Jonathan Schwartz, at Colfax High School. The students collaborated to develop the idea into a design, produce prototypes on a 3D printer, wire the sensor, test it on ski boots, refine it, and produce a descriptive video for submission to Quirky.

"When I heard the news that Quirky was going to send our product to expert review, I was so excited and proud," said Turner. "The Quirky experience is inspiring and exciting. We are anxiously awaiting the moment when we can say that we are officially Quirky Inventors."

According to Garett Van der Boom, Head of International Distribution, Quirky is passionate about engaging students in product design. "Quirky removes the difficulties of turning an idea into a product for inventors, and we want to do the same thing for schools so it is easier for students to experience the design process," said Van der Boom.

"Quirky wants to nourish students' creativity and get them excited about inventing. Through evaluation, they get feedback from consumers and professionals so they can make improvements. We'd like to lift up a community of students unafraid to fail quickly and keep coming back with new ideas."

With support from the Sierra College STEM Collaborative, Jonathan Schwartz is developing Design Challenge curriculum using the Quirky model. "The students couldn't have designed and tested the ski sensor prototype without the 3D Printer supplied by Sierra College STEM," said Schwartz. "Seeing the Quirky evaluation process gave the students a new perspective. They applied their math, reasoning, writing, and critical thinking skills to define a problem and work toward a solution. They went through multiple iterations of designing and testing the prototype until it was perfected."

Don Elias, Hailey's father, feels this project has made an impact on his daughter. "Hailey views the world differently now," said Mr. Elias. "She sees problems from a solution oriented point of view and thinks 'how can an invention help alleviate the situation?'"

According to Carol Pepper-Kittredge, Director, Center for Applied Competitive Technologies, Sierra College, Quirky brings the real world into the classroom. "High school programs participating in the Sierra STEM Collaborative are ready for this opportunity to design, prototype, and test new product ideas," said Pepper-Kittredge.

"At Colfax and seven other high schools in our region, we've worked with teachers to develop creative and innovative learning environments specific to manufacturing, product development, and engineering career pathways. With Quirky breaking down the barriers, STEM teachers engaging students in the design process and opportunities here at Sierra College for students to further their skills, we are building a future workforce of innovators who will be assets to employers and our nation's economy," said Pepper-Kittredge.

The Sierra STEM Collaborative is funded by California Community College Chancellor's Office to create a pipeline of students interested in technical careers. Students can pursue welding, mechatronics, engineering, energy technology, and drafting & engineering support at Sierra College. For information, go to www.sierraschoolworks.com or contact Carol Pepper-Kittredge, Sierra College, 916.660.7801.

Karen Fraser-Middleton is President of Marketing Action, Inc. and began working with the Sierra College CACT in 2003. Her role has included strategic planning, project management, and communication.

Opinions expressed in Innovation Showcase are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.