CRANBERRY TWP — Eyes are wide, hearts are pounding and palms are sweaty. Public speaking is nerve-racking, whether it's your first time or your hundredth.
For many of the fifth-grade students at Thursday's CIRC (Creativity, Innovation and Research Center) Tank presentation at Haine Middle School, 1516 Haine School Road, it's one of their first times, and the anxieties show.
The first group of students stand in front of a panel of four judges, most of whom they've never seen before, and their eyes dart around the room. It's familiar to them, and that seems to add a bit of solace to an otherwise stressful situation. The first student approaches the microphone and opens his mouth.
“We made the Ultimate Couch,” he said.
Imagine a sofa. Now put it on wheels so you can move it from room to room during parties. Now add a built-in remote so you never have to shove your hand into the couch cushions and come up with only crumbs under your fingernails again. Now add a microwave so you're never too far from your favorite hot meals.
This is the vision fifth-graders Nico Santapau, Alasdair Smith, Eric Karpinsky and Jack Sherman.
These four were in one of six groups that pitched their inventions at a “Shark Tank”-like event.
With 153 inventions involved in this year's CIRC Tank presentations, which run from Feb. 26 to March 18, students at Haine are learning everything from creating a PowerPoint presentation to using a 3D printer, one of the many high-tech appliances located in the school's CIRC room.
The idea for an Ultimate Couch came when the students, who named their group's company “Lazy As Us Inc.,” analyzed the biggest inconveniences in their lives when they're sitting on their couches and discussed possible solutions.
Although there were roadblocks on the way to making their prototype a reality, especially when working as a team, Jack said they “powered through” to meet their goals.
“We learned a lot about working together,” Eric said.
Ronelle Rowe, CIRC technology facilitator, said the students spend between two and three weeks working on their projects, which include a TV commercial, sketches, prototypes, the presentation and answering questions the judges have at the end of it all.
Projects varied from specialized sofas to mechanisms to pull Pringles out of a can without dirtying your hand to a fashionable hat that changes colors using geothermal paint and more.
Although CIRC is an ungraded special class, students rotate to spend 70 minutes creating and innovating every five days — and while they won't be graded on their CIRC Tank projects, the effort they put into many of their designs and commercials is made clear when they are put in front of judges.
Rowe said one student said she was going to “have a heart attack” before speaking in front of the crowded room, but even the shyest of the group get excited and feel a sense of accomplishment when they finish their projects.
CIRC Librarian Eric Fogle agreed that the students' least-favorite part of the CIRC Tank exhibition is speaking in front of so many people.
“It's the first time for a lot of them,” Fogle said.
Fogle said the amount of teacher help the students receive varies depending on how much the students want.
Some students, he said, prefer to do everything themselves and don't ask for help using the computer programs or coming up with ideas and may only ask for supervision when using the laser cutter or other more advanced tools.
“It's not hard,” he said. “They can do it, and they know how to do it.”
The laser-cutter was a key part of the final prototype for a self-pouring pitcher from Alec Moran, Andrew Kriek, Nathalia Villanueva-Smith and Elizabeth Brown.
The students said this type of cut makes the final product's edges more pronounced and smoother than using a more traditional cardboard saw, giving their prototype a more professional look.
While this team worked hard on making their product desirable, they did admit that this wasn't the first idea they wanted to pursue and that they'd run into roadblocks while trying to come up with something that hadn't been invented already.
“Everything was already taken,” Alec said.
Still, this group said they were proud of what they had to offer in the end.
The relief from all groups was palpable as they ran away from the front of the room and retreated to watch other presentations rather than give their own.
Students' smiles grew when they realized they had successfully designed, built and marketed a products of which no one else had thought of before.
Although this was only the second year for Haine's CIRC Tank, Fogle said the program's success is an ongoing highlight of the specialized learning center. He added many improvements have been made since last year, and it seems like the project will continue expanding in coming years.
Parents are invited to watch their students' CIRC Tank presentations in the coming weeks to see how these kids' ideas transformed from problems they saw to tangible inventions to solve those issues.