Three Calistoga fifth-graders have been named winners in the second annual Invent It Challenge, a worldwide contest for students that is sponsored in part by the Smithsonian Institution.

Laila Elkeshen, 11, Angeli Aquino, 10, and Mitzi Caldera, 11, took top honors in their age group for their idea of creating an automatically adjustable desk table.

“Students come in different sizes and we thought it is difficult for the teachers, because if the desk is too small, it’s hard for [students] to write or do the activity that they are doing,” Angeli said.

Laila explained that the table was based on the models used in the classroom of teacher Matthew Gudenius, who leads their advanced math and science class. The height of those desks can be adjusted, but only laboriously by hand, using a specialized wrench.

“We just made a model of this table, it’s the same thing,” she said, patting her desk and showing where the sliding control unit would be mounted, offering high, medium and low settings. “But on the side there are going to be motors. … When the kindergarten class is coming in, you can just change it to low.”

The threesome beat out competitors from around the globe, primarily in the United States but also from Turkey, India and other parts of the world.

Such a table would be “very useful for me,” Gudenius said, “because I do have all the students in this school, from kindergarten to sixth grade, and they are definitely all different sizes and I can’t adjust the tables in here.”

But they were not the only winners in the classroom. Both of Gudenius’ advanced math and science classes, one for fifth grade and one for sixth grade, were named “Featured Classrooms” by the Smithsonian for this month and profiled on the website of ePals, a worldwide pen pal site for students.

The students in the classes used small laptop computers to create three-dimensional models of their inventions, which they submitted to the competition judges.

Although other students in the fifth-grade class didn’t win the competition individually, they came up with some interesting ideas and seemed to enjoy the process.

Jacob Sakai, for example, designed a glove that has rubber pads for gripping in slippery situations.

“Whenever I am riding my dirt bike in the mud, it always gets too slippery to turn the throttle or do anything,” he explained.

Sarah Mutz designed a machine that would remind students to speak English in class, relieving teachers of the repetitive duty.

Jesus Perez-Garcia designed a machine to sort papers into multiple piles based on colored tags.

Gabriel Diaz was the only one to build a physical model of his idea when he created an “UmBroom” by attaching an umbrella to a common household broom, allowing a user to sweep up outside without getting wet.

He came up with the idea “because it had been raining often and there was a lot of trash outside.”

Gudenius said the project not only was fun, but also gave the students a concrete connection with what they are learning.

“I think they realized that the reasons we’re learning things in school, including the math skills and concepts, is to actually apply them to solving problems,” he said. “I think that’s really a direction we’re going to see the schools going, more project-based learning.”

The students said they learned that inventing was hard, but not impossible.

“We learned there are many ways to help others and there are many ways to create something that would be good for the environment or the world or people,” Mitzi Caldera said.

The winning Calistoga entry, along with others from around the world, is available at, by following the “Learning Centers” link and clicking on “Smithsonian on ePals.”

(2) comments


Great to hear about this! Is the Superindentent going to give all of them $100 for doing well too? Seriously though, congrats to all of the kids who used their imaginations to solve problems, and to the teacher that encouraged them to do so!


Congratulations to the students,teacher, school and district !!!

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