Ninth graders create a sensory game to teach shapes to children

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Waukesha — Two Waukesha ninth-graders had a feeling that creating a board game might be a great experience, and they were right.

Jasmin Erickson and Julia Herod, both alums from Saratoga STEM Academy, invented a game called Feel to Find, which they took to Navy Pier for Chicago’s Toy and Game Fair on Nov. 19 to compete against other young inventors. Carrying the slogan "Can you feel it?" the game features multidimensional pieces and vibrant colors to engage a young learner.

They pitched their game to judges and top executives from companies like Hasbro, Target, Pressman and Spin Master. They walked away with first prize.

“It was great to see Jasmin and Julia on stage accepting their trophy and prizes," Saratoga STEM Academy teacher Dan Prothero said in a written statement. "These students have worked very hard on this project. Their families, friends and teachers are all very excited for them!”

Erickson and Herod will travel to the New York International Toy Fair in February. As part of their prize, they will receive a behind-the-scenes tour of that event, plus two nights hotel accommodation in New York City, an opportunity to present an award at the TOTY awards, and an interview on "Got Invention Radio" with Brian Fried.

As part of their award, they also received a copy of Oregon Trail by Pressman Toy, and an Air Hogs Helix Race Drone by Spin Master.

Design experience

Herod and Erickson didn't go to win but went for the experience.

"We never expected to win. We were hoping for feedback," Herod said.

The young inventors started the process in seventh grade in a class called STEM Inc. It was Erickson's first year at the school, and the two became partners and best friends. The assignment was to create a game for a toy game fair.

"We asked ourselves what is something we haven't seen before and then thought of the game," Erickson said.

The girls designed and constructed the game cards, objects and pouches for players. Herod explained how the game has gone through more than one prototype, such as making the box bigger to accommodate various hand sizes.

Erickson's mother, Alisha Spencer, said both girls worked hard on the project for two years. She said the prototype started off as one version and was upgraded to the current game.

With each critique, the game evolved, culminating in a prize-winning entry. The students also designed different ways to play the game as well as add-on packs to keep the learner's attention.

Playing the game

The game, for ages 5 and older, has cards with objects for the player to find. The person puts one hand into a box and has to feel around for the object on the card.

The goal of the game is to find the shape or object within a short amount of time. A layer of challenge is the game pieces have different textures.

"As you go through the game you keep reaching in to find the object," Erickson said.

Both of the girls said the game tries to teach children about shapes. Erickson remarked during the Chicago toy fair that some of the players didn't know the difference between a sphere and a cylinder.

"Through the game, we taught them on the spot," Herod said.

Hands-on learning 

According to a press release from the school, Waukesha STEM Academy teaches students about cutting-edge design and production technologies through the STEM University Program, including 3D modeling and 3D printing.

The release said the duo used technologies, such as a 3D Printer, to create the shapes using a modeling software program, converted the files, and then sent them to the 3D printer for fabrication.

The principal of Waukesha STEM Academy Saratoga Campus James Murray is thrilled for Erickson and Herod.

"This gives them the experience of applying what they are learning in class," Murray said.

In Murray's opinion, this project was not just for a earning a grade in class, but instead helps move students' skills and lives forward.

Spencer has two other children at the STEM academy and praises the hands-on learning at the school.

"I love that they are not just sitting at a desk listening to a lecture. The school has done some excellent projects," she said.

Pride-worthy effort

Herod's mother, Mary Jo Carlson, expressed how proud she is of the innovative students.

"They did a great job of working things out together. This style of learning taught them how to speak to groups," Carlson said.

During the fair in Chicago, many people commented on the fantastic job Erickson and Herod did and how they carried themselves.

Both moms agreed their daughters will have to figure out what they want to do in life as they grow up.

"They have that entrepreneur spirit. They might go into games but who knows," Carlson said.

Erickson and Herod's advice to future inventors is to keep trying and not to give up. Both said if you don't win an award at first that doesn't mean the game is over. They suggest taking the feedback and adding onto a product.

"Never give up," Herod said.

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