The 2016 Spark!Lab Invent It Challenge is finally off and running. This year, kids ages 5 to 21 need to identify a real-world health problem and come up with a solution to the problem. Each entry must follow the seven step invention process spelled out by our partner, the Smithsonian’s Spark!Lab . For the next 7 weeks or so, we are going to be highlighting each step in the Spark!Lab’s seven-step process with the goal of helping parents help their children make the most of this learning opportunity and achieve optimum results.
Your child has finally narrowed down his or her options. A great idea, one with the potential to effect change in the field of medicine, is starting to grow. And now your child wants to know: what’s next?
The next step in the Invent It Challenge is to do some research. An old saying proclaims, “there is nothing new under the sun,” and that goes for new inventions. Chances are someone else has identified the same problem and came up with a solution of their own. This “Explore It” phase of development is meant to help your young inventor capitalize on the work that has already been done.
Finding out that someone else has tackled the same problem shouldn’t be discouraging for your child. It’s actually a great opportunity. It’s a chance to see other solutions, to evaluate things that can be changed, to improve on what came before. Your child might also find links to schematics and drawings, get advice or suggestions from experts in the field, or even discover some facet of the problem that they hadn’t considered before.
Your child should keep a record of their research. They will need to show this work as part of their entry for the Invent It Challenge. (No shortcuts here. Each entry must demonstrate all seven of Spark!Lab’s Key Steps of the Invention Process.) Your child’s research should identify specific features and benefits of their invention over what has been done previously and should show how their specific approach makes improvements to what is already available.
Start Your Research
If your child is working as part of a group, the group can choose to assign this step to one member who may be enthusiastic about this step. That team member can then present his or her findings to the group so they can all be aware of what else has been done. Or each team member can work on their own research, bringing their results back to the group so they can compare and contrast the information they discovered. Either way, it is important for each member of the group to be well versed in what has already been done, so they can work to improve upon, not duplicate, someone else’s work.
With a good idea in hand, it can be tempting to a young inventor to skip the research step and just get to work. For many people, the doing is the fun part. Research can seem like a waste of time. If you are getting push-back on this step in your house or from your team, keep in mind that doing research is a key part of the learning process. It will help you succeed in both the short and the long run as you work on this project and many others to come.
Want to learn about the first step? Invent It Challenge Week 1: Think It!