The following article shares highlights and insights from one of our Expert Series events, which are exclusive for Young Scholars and their parents.
Inventions are everywhere we look. Inventions are not just the newest gadget or scientific advancement. They can be simple or complex. Though inventions start with an idea, the act of invention is more than just a lightbulb moment. It is a process used by people from all backgrounds, races, beliefs, physical abilities, identities, and genders. There are steps to the process of invention, though these steps do not always follow a straight path. At each step in the process key actions and behaviors contribute to the work of inventing. These actions and behaviors are similar among inventors, whether they are creating the next world changing idea or solving a seemingly small problem in their everyday lives.
You, without even thinking about it, likely use inventive strategies and behaviors regularly. In the place where I work we study invention and innovation. We create programming that explores historical and current invention. We also create opportunities for people to engage in the process of invention. We see invention happening every day. We all have the capability to practice inventive problem solving. Most of us do this on a regular basis. This is why our Spark!Lab team can often be heard saying, “everyone is inventive.”
Tips for Young Inventors
- As you go through your daily life, take time to reflect on the inventions you use and see. Think about what the process of creating those inventions might look like.
- Find problems that need to be solved. These can be big problems or little problems.
- Think about ways that problem could be solved.
- Explore how others have solved the problem in the past. Also explore resources that my be helpful in creating a solution to the problem.
- Sketch your idea for solving the problem you are working on.
- Create a prototype or model of how you could solve the problem.
- Try your idea. Have others look at or try your idea to give you feedback. Take note of what hey say and how your idea works as you also try it.
- Tweak your idea. Use the feedback and notes you collected while trying your idea to make it better. Make the needed changes to improve on your idea. You may also need to explore your idea more. Be ready to repeat this step multiple times until you make your idea the best that it can be.
- Share your tweaked idea with others. Find ways to share the features and benefits of your idea. Show others your final solution to how you have or would solve the problem you through about in step 3.
- Finally do this as often as you can in as many areas of your life as you can. The more you practice inventive thinking and problem solving the better you get at it. The skills you develop as you invent (problem identification, research, creating, failing, resilience, collaboration) can be helpful in all areas of your life.
Things Young Inventors Can Do to Explore the Topic Further
- Read about inventions in books from your local library.
- Look for a MakerSpace or FabLab in your area. https://makerspacedir.com/ These spaces can give you access to tools that can help create the inventions your are thinking about.
- Learn now to use 3D drawing software. A great starting point is Tinkercad. It is a free program and a great way to express your invention ideas. It is also a tool that can be used to create your ideas using makerspace equipment.
- Start a local invention club.
- Look for young inventor competitions.
- Take factory tours or watch programming on how things are made.
- Get comfortable using tools, software, or circuitry.
- Find others you are comfortable using tools, software, or circuity.
- Attend an invention camp.
Digital Resources Regarding Invention
- Instructables Spark!Lab invention activities – https://www.instructables.com/member/SparkLab_SI/instructables/
- Tinkercad Lesson plans, which include some of our digital invention activities – https://www.tinkercad.com/lessonplans
- Video describing the invention process – https://youtu.be/CB1fISYllq8
- Lemelson Center “Do Try This at Home” page – DO Try This at Home! | Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation (si.edu)
- Smithsonian Learning Lab, Process of Invention – https://learninglab.si.edu/collections/sparklab-invention-steps-with-shopping-carts/aE2X2BM0nRGTyDLJ
- MIT Scratch, from Spark!Lab, interactives around invention – https://scratch.mit.edu/users/SparkLab_SI/
- US Patent and Trademark Office Kids website – https://www.uspto.gov/kids/
Authored by: Tim Pula
Bio: Tim Pula is the Interpretive Exhibits Inventor for Spark!Lab at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. In his current role, he specializes in creating activities that encourage museum visitors to explore and engage in the history and process of invention. Prior to his work in Spark!Lab Tim focused on STEM based activities at Discovery Place in Charlotte North Carolina and Performed Chemistry Demonstrations at The Gulf Coast Exploreum in Mobile, Alabama.
He is self-taught in the area of activity design and passionate about the use of advanced manufacturing equipment. Tim uses this passion to rapidly turn ideas into functional and engaging activities for large volume audiences. As part of his process Tim regularly invents parts, structures and processes that reduce barriers for visitors’ as they explore their own inventive identities.
Tim has presented at National Science Teacher Association (NSTA), American Alliance of Museums (AAM), Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC), Construct 3D, ED21 Games Expo, Spark!Lab Network Conference, InventED, Smithsonian Education Summit and Smithsonian Affiliates conferences.
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.