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ODA Students Explore Their Passions Through Day of Innovation in Lakewood Ranch

Liz Ramos - Sarasota Observer
Middle school students get a chance to create their own products at iInnovate Day.
When Alex Berndt and Ryan Beck arrived at The Out-of-Door Academy on Dec. 17, they had no idea what they were getting themselves into.

All they knew was they were going to be asked to invent something. 

Berndt, a seventh grader, and Beck, an eighth grader, partnered for the middle school’s iInnovate Day, in which they were given a task to create something in the category they chose with little to no guidance from their teachers.

“In the course of a year, we don’t allow kids a lot of time to follow their passions,” said Julie Bianchi, the head of middle school. “This is one way of having a mini passion project and having them be autonomous in the direction of their work.”

Bianchi said the day sparked students’ motivation and curiosity to see what they’re interested in.  

Each group had to brainstorm at least 20 ideas in their category before choosing one and diving into it. 

“The first four or five are easy,” Bianchi said. “The next five to seven, they’re still OK. But the last five are really hard. Sometimes those are the best ideas because we don’t always drill deep enough to get to those. So even within a room with the same kind of topic, everybody’s exploring a whole different path and ending up at a different place at the end.”

Then the groups created a product they could later present to ODA leadership in a similar way to the show “Shark Tank,” where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to a panel of potential partners, hoping for financial backing.

Berndt and Beck knew they wanted to do something with clothing but weren’t sure exactly what they could do. They wandered the campus waiting for inspiration to strike when they looked at the trees in the back of the campus. 

They decided to make jewelry like necklaces and bracelets out of twigs, branches and other outdoor items. 
Berndt and Beck wanted to be able to replace the rubber bracelets on their wrists with something more environmentally friendly. 

“Our goal is to expand on more natural stuff instead of this stuff that is coming from factories,” Beck said. “If we start selling these, some of our profits will go toward planting more trees, which will make the environment cleaner.”

Beck learned some ideas take multiple tries before they come up with the final product. For example, they had to find the best way to stick the twigs and other natural items together. First they tried tape but decided that wasn’t as environmentally friendly as a tiny dab of glue.

“If you keep going on it, eventually it will keep getting better and better,” Beck said.
Seventh graders Tom Bergerat and Wilkes Borden worked with eighth graders Bella Rojas and Mackey Kamiek to create a TV show, “Tom’s Magical Hat.”

They created a website to look like a streaming service to show a description of each of the show’s 10 episodes. The pilot showed how Tom found a hat and how his adventure began. Another episode had Tom get stuck in the hat with his best friend Moe, and they had to deal with a goblin. 

Bergerat loved being able to work in a group and collaborate to figure out ideas for each episode. 

In the same classroom, sixth grader Starlla Jackson and eighth grader Jason Luedeke created a jingle for a Charmin commercial. 

“We had to write down options, and we were just naming objects that came to our mind,” Jackson said. “We just thought that toilet paper would be a fun one to do.”

Jackson said coming up with the lyrics to the jingle was more challenging than she thought because she wanted them to be catchy and rhyme. 

Once they were done filming the jingle, Luedeke created a website for the commercial and edited the video. 

Michael Smith, an eighth grader, and Darius Harandi, a sixth grader, used a 3D printer to create a prototype for their mixer that has a timer on it. Their idea was that while people are cooking, the mixer would stir itself when the timer went off. 

Smith and Harandi, who love to cook, thought the idea would be a product people could use on a daily basis. 

“I felt there’s a lot of cooking things that could be upgraded nowadays,” Smith said. 

Working with students in different grades gave students the opportunity to learn how to collaborate and compromise. 

Other ideas Smith and Harandi had were an espresso vending machine and a coffee cup with coffee lining for instant coffee.

All the groups looked forward to sharing their final products with ODA leadership and trustees. 

“It was great to see the kids presenting new ideas and using the landscape of entrepreneurship to collaboratively develop an idea,” said Teena Humphrey, a member of the ODA Board of Trustees. “It was inspiring. It makes you wonder what you could do as an adult if you followed that outline.”

As students completed tasks, they earned “Bianchi Bucks” for their work. With enough Bianchi Bucks, they were able to purchase items from a miniature store Bianchi set up.

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