Julie Fanelli-Denny’s classroom is an expansive environment of ideas and discovery where students identify problems and devise solutions. Over the course of the school year, students not only explore inventions, but also become inventors themselves.

Working both individually and collaboratively, Julie's class examines past inventions with thorough focus on and attention to the process. One project this year incorporated research, history and story telling by creating an invention timeline. For this project, children in the class picked a favorite object based on an experience they had with it, and broke down its components, looking at the parts and determining common materials. Classmates proceeded to work together on the design and layout of the timeline to display a visual of each child’s chosen invention and its relationship to other inventions throughout time.

Students also design and build their own prototypes for inventions based on a problem which they have identified as needing a solution. Problems can range from the personal (water dripping down one’s face when drinking from a water fountain) to the global (plastic bags that end up in the ocean can harm sea creatures). Students then conceive of and design prototypes in order to produce their own inventions addressing a specific predicament.

Upon completion, the kids might think about who would need and possibly buy their products. Thus the concept of marketing is introduced, and in the past has led the group to develop and film commercials intend to best market their creations (

Julie believes the mixed age setting emphasizes the abilities and strengths of all her Middle Group learners and supports collaboration as well as individualization of the student’s work.  While the younger students might have phenomenally fertile imaginations and boundless ideas, the older kids might excel at the more technical aspects of construction and engineering.  Not being limited by an external curriculum or abbreviated time blocks allows ample opportunity for creative thought and authentic learning. Much like the students’ unique inventions, the class curriculum evolves as well, with the projects and student work varying from year to year as the students participate in its creation. The direction of the class is dynamic, often driven by a particular interest or discussion that may serve as a launch pad to shift focus.  

The class also has also submitted their inventions to international invention challenges, which encourage young minds to think about a real world problem and come up with a solution. For Julie, this process enables her students to see their work in a larger context. By taking ownership of and experiencing true authenticity in their work, students not only gain an understanding of their value and ability to contribute, but also recognize the profound importance of collaboration and perseverance.

 Some past and present inventions include:

  • Just Right Pajamas
  • The Cat Stopper
  • Dr. Bot Water Fountain Mask
  • The “Non-Bored” Board Game
  • The Dining Dog Cone
  • The Zipper Tipper
  • The Foldable Snow Fort Frame
  • The Snowball Glove
  • Expandable Shoes
  •  The LEGO Glove
  • The Sea Weed Bag