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Cardigan’s Charles C. Gates Invention & Innovation Competition

The Gates program at Cardigan began seven years ago, thanks to the inspiration of past parent, Diane Wallach P’06, whose late father, Charlie Gates, was himself an inventor and innovator. With the support of the Gates Frontier Fund, the Charles C. Gates Invention & Innovation Competition program was able to get off the ground in educational settings—initially in Denver, Colorado, at the Graland School, and later (in 2007-2008) at Cardigan. Our sixth and seventh graders currently benefit from the program’s being a built-in facet of their academic curriculum and regular schedule. Eighth and ninth graders have the option of participating in the program in their free time, during daytime study halls, and/or as a Thursday club selection.

Participants in the program identify an everyday problem (or business opportunity) and brainstorm, design, tinker, fail, try again, and so on, until they have a prototype that has become a practical solution. As Mrs. Wallach suggested in her opening comments before this year’s final presentations, her father was a big believer in tinkering, taking risks, and not being afraid to fail. “He was a big proponent of entrepreneurship, teamwork, fun(!), and failure. After all, most of our eventual successes have been informed by the learning that happens when we do fail,” she said. In this particular competition—no matter the outcome—participants gain immensely from having been encouraged to think creatively and from having taken risks and tapped into their entrepreneurial spirit. A deep appreciation for the value of hard work and perseverance no doubt takes hold as well.

Much of the brainstorming and design work for Gates takes place in the School’s new Engineering, Possibilities, Innovation, and Creativity (E.P.I.C.) Center, and most of the construction of prototypes occurred in the Gates Lab within the Charles C. Gates I.D.E.A. (Innovation in Design, Engineering, and the Arts) Shop.

Does your school do something similar?

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