Invent It Week 5: Try It!

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. This week we will focus on Step 5: Try It!


Did you ever see the movie “The Dolphin Tale”? It’s a lovely story about how the Clearwater Marine Aquarium saves a young dolphin whose tail was damaged beyond repair. Luckily, a prosthetics doctor is able to create a new tail for the dolphin that they hope will allow her to swim naturally. A key scene takes place when the doctor brings the new tail to the aquarium and they strap it on for the first test. There is big drama as we all wonder if it will help the dolphin swim. I hope I’m not ruining the story if I tell you that this first prototype does not actually work. Everyone was hopeful it would, but until they were actually able to try it, there was no way to know for sure.


Now, I want you to remember back to Week One of the Invent It Challenge where your child thought about ideas for his/her invention. Possibly they even talked to someone they thought their invention might help or to one of the health care workers who would be charged with using the invention on a daily basis. Well, this week it is time for your child to go back to those helpful folks and have them try out the prototype they created last week in a real-world environment. Will the invention work or, like the prototype dolphin’s tail, will it need some serious tweaking?


Here are a few considerations your child should keep in mind for this first prototype test:


Are there design flaws?: Does your prototype actually work? Does it work the way you thought it would?


Is it easy to use?: Did the person testing out your prototype enjoy using it? Could they figure out how to make it work?  Do you need to include instructions to help your user make the most of the invention?


Is it safe?: This probably goes without saying but any device created has to safe for both the user and anyone standing nearby. If there are sparks, unforeseen heat, or sharp edges, take the project back to the drawing board.


Did you forget anything?: Are there any extra features you need to add to your prototype that would really help it achieve its goal. For example, would lengthening the electrical cord allow the user to be more comfortable? Would changing the size of the final product make the weight more portable?


Did you solve the problem?: Assuming your prototype actually works, does it actually solve the problem you were trying to solve? Did it create other problems in the meantime? It’s no good, for example, to create a wheelchair that can climb stairs if that same wheelchair restricts the user’s mobility in other ways.


Make sure your inventor takes good notes while his or her test subject is trying out the invention so they know what needs to be fixed or adjusted. And if they get discouraged by setbacks, turn on “The Dolphin’s Tale” for some heartwarming inspiration.


Dolphin Tale


Missed learning about the previous Invent It! 2016 steps?