This past Friday, we kicked off our Invention Club–a 16-week program designed to introduce kids to invention and engineering. The program is part of the Lemelson Foundation with the mission to create innovative solutions to everyday problems. The club projects and activities are designed to engage scientific curiosity and wonder with the participants.

After some socializing, snacking, and “out-of-the-box” thinking warm-ups (which the kids were great at–probably because they were never in the box to begin with), we got started with our first invention challenge. The younger kids opted to take on a slightly different design challenge–building the tallest possible structure using only marshmallows and dried spaghetti noodles. What fun! For the older kids, the challenge was to design a trophy tower to hold a championship tennis ball. To do this, the kids had 20 flexible straws, three 12-inch lengths of masking tape, a ruler, and a scissors. Each design team started at the drawing board to sketch their design plan. Once everyone was ready, we headed out to the workshop to do some building.

It was cool to see how each team took different approaches at first–bending, taping, cutting. Some asked if they could use the scissors and ruler as part of the tower. Why not? In the box, these were tools. Out of the box, they became integral parts of the structure itself. Midway through, teams began to consult one another and their designs began to converge–looking very similar to one another–that is, until some departures occurred and teams struck out on their own again in new creative directions.

In the end, it was great fun and every team built a successful structure. (Sure, some might benefit from some redesign tweaks, but we’ll get to that.) We showcased each of the designs and took photos while the kids explained their design decisions and process. To wrap-up the activity, Chris explained the reiterative design process. This is something we’ll become very familiar as we pursue design challenges in future Invention Club meetings. Everyone had a blast. We’ll be back again next month to see what challenge awaits.