Innovative School’s Invention Fair Gives Science Fair a New Spin

Kid creators (left to right) Finn Morris, Charles Sokolsky, and Matthew DeMartinis (Photo by Charles Albanese)

The three entrepreneurs stood near the Shallclean!, a hybrid cleaning device and toy or remote control car with a kind of mop or broom end attached. The idea is to make cleaning fun, by using a toy to transform a tiresome task into a game.

“If your mom wants you to clean your room, you can use these cars,” Charles Sokolsky said, standing near fellow inventors Finn Morris and Matthew DeMartinis.

The three entrepreneurs, among three winners, stood near slogans such as, “Have a race to clean your place” and “Have to clean your room? Do it with a vroom.” 

Unlike most inventors, these were second and third graders that were among student-inventors at the School House, in East Northport, at its recent invention fair. 

While science fairs typically seek to solve the world’s problems, this fair lets kids solve problems in “their” world.

Mimosa Jones Tunney, the private K-6 school’s founder and creator of the American Emergent Curriculum who taught there, said they have 36 staffers, 140 students and a 100-student waiting list.

(From left to right) Judge Janice Meaney, Violet Steiding, Judge Ted Panebianco, Jack Soddington, and Judge Ryan Thompson (Photo by Charles Albanese)

She added that they wanted to do “science fair 2.0,” to solve problems in students’ lives.

“This was the 2023 version of that, to see if the kids can bring together everything they learned in science, critical thinking and problem solving,” she said. “Many of these children watch Shark Tank. They love the idea that they can change the world by coming up with a new solution.”

The School House aims to be a different approach to education, promoting action and acquiring knowledge.

“You have multiple grades mixed into each classroom,” Charles Albanese, the school’s director of communications, said. “They’re getting values and more of the project-based learning, hands-on experience.”

The curriculum is built on Montessori, Reggio Emelia, the Socratic method, and project-based learning. This invention (or innovation) fair, a shark tank for children offering $250 prizes, fits into that.

“They’re not just taking the assignment of creating something to make the world better,” Albanese said. “Put a marketing plan behind it, pitch to funders, work as a team, research and development.”

The students, who run a farm stand on Thursday mornings near the school (selling vegetables they grow, cakes and breads they bake, and more), use the fair to create and communicate.

“This is a great opportunity for the kids to use their own creativity and think about real-world problems,” said Kelly Little, whose daughter Lexi, a second grader, with her friend devised jewelry that doubles as containers. “And come up with solutions.”

Teachers see education here as absorbing and applying information, a kind of knowledge in action. 

“You want them to get the message that you don’t have to be one of the grown-ups to have the answer,” Lori McLean, lead educator, who teaches 3- to 6-year-olds, said of asking older students to help younger ones. “We want them to have that feeling of autonomy and confidence and independence.”

She and her students created Play-Doh soap, malleable as clay, by mixing coconut oil, mica powder, corn starch and Castile soap. 

Students stood near projects, educating passersby, including parents and students, temporarily becoming teachers.

Bennett Cuttita and Frankie Catalano, 9-year-old fourth graders, explained the Drain Vein (one of the winners) used to siphon water from air-conditioning units to water plants. “Who wants to waste water?” Bennett asked.

Kid creators (left to right) Bennett Cuttita and Frankie Catalano (Photo by Charles Albanese)

Meanwhile, John, 11, and Julian, 9, promoted Panda Stix, bamboo straws that John called “an easy alternative to paper and plastic straws.”

“You know how paper straws are very uncomfortable?” John said of this sustainable solution. “Plastic straws are easy to drink and bad for the environment.”

Julian said they went with bamboo after considering other options. “We were going to do oak or pine,” he said. “Then we were like, ‘Bamboo straws.’ That’s the perfect idea.”

Nearby, Elizabeth and Lauren touted their healthy 2 Cool juice in ice packs, while Bellavanni and Brooke described their Brella, keeping hoodies fastened to a headband in the rain. Calicia showcased a sail that swimmers can wear to harness the wind. “We got the idea from the sailfish,” she said. 

The Water Pulley, a pulley that positions watering cans above flowers made by Violet Steiding and Jack Soddington, was the third winner.

The school, a nonprofit that plans to seek grants, is releasing its curriculum and providing access to others to start similar schools or do home schooling. 

“They learn all subjects in an elevated way. If you’re learning geometry, the typical student in fourth grade learns basic geometry, area, perimeter,” Jones Tunney said. “We’re teaching our first and second graders the Pythagorean theorem.”

She said the goal isn’t just to educate, but help create people who, beyond followers, have the confidence and knowledge to lead.
“How do you determine mastery?” she asked. “You can test or you can have an older student teach a younger child under the supervision of an educator.”

The entrepreneurs seemed to be enjoying their education. “They’re able to allow the learners to have the freedom to explore their education in a way that keeps them excited and engaged,” Little said. “And it also brings out the best in them.”