For Spark!Lab’s second year, we decided to focus on different scales of invention—from global to local—and kicked off the year by introducing activities centered on the planet. We asked our visitors to invent solutions to environmental challenges like cleaning plastic out of the ocean, building “green” buildings, and using solar power to generate electricity. In December we transitioned to looking at invention challenges in the community and offered opportunities to create adaptive vehicles, invent prosthetic hands, and fashion clothing out of recycled materials.
As we wrap up our second year, we’ve introduced our newest suite of activities, which are all about inventing for the home. Not surprisingly, this is a theme that kids (and their grownups) relate to easily. Many of the activities also have strong connections to other exhibitions in the museum that inspire our visitors and help them connect the past to the present so they can imagine the future. Although the activities have been “live” for just a few weeks, we have already seen a broad range of creative and inventive solutions. Here are some of the activities that are part of our Home theme:
Invent a Home Cleaning Device
Keeping a home clean is no easy task. In 1908 H. W. Hoover pitched his “electric suction sweeper,” an early vacuum cleaner, to make cleaning easier. But as more inventions were created to help clean different parts of the home, there was increased pressure to have cleaner living spaces. (This idea of “more work for mother” is explored more deeply in Spark!Lab’s neighboring exhibition Object Project where visitors can see an early Hoover vacuum and learn about how it and other everyday inventions have impacted our lives.) In this activity—which uses low-tech materials like Tinker Toys®, buckets, sponges, and mop heads—visitors are tasked to invent a new cleaning device, and to think about which room in their home they would use their invention. So far I’ve seen a high-powered windmill that blows dirt and dust into a bucket to quickly clean up a large barn, and a robotic mop to clean up pollen on patio furniture to prevent the inventor’s allergies from flaring.
Electrify a Room in Your Home
When the practical electric light was invented in 1879, people did not have electricity in their homes. The invention of the light led to the creation of power plants and power lines that could send electricity to homes and businesses. Now our homes are wired for electricity when they are built. All of our electrical appliances and gadgets are plugged into our home’s wiring system to make them work. In Spark!Lab, kids and their families are tasked with creating a circuit to power electrical devices, including a mini 3D-printed washing machine that actually spins when the circuit is completed! This activity (see the image at the top of this page) encourages meaningful collaboration as visitors work together to create circuits—without step-by-step instructions—and figure out how to power multiple devices.
Invent a Home for a Pet
Pets are part of our families. Even though they live in human homes, they often have their own smaller living spaces to meet their specific needs. A fish, a bird, and a dog all need different things to make them feel comfortable and to keep them safe and healthy. We ask visitors to identify a pet and then invent a home for it.
This activity uses larger-scale supplies including lengths of PVC pipe, flexible tubing, and plastic netting. The bigger materials are easier to manipulate with a partner, which encourages our young inventors to collaborate as they design homes for pets. We also took an “inventing green” approach to this activity and repurposed cast-off materials. In the photo below you can see remnants of signs from past Spark!Lab themes that we cut into smaller sections and drilled holes into, allowing visitors to connect pieces together using twist ties, string, and other materials.
Invent an Innovative Home Gadget
The American Consumer Era began around the 1940s. Innovations in manufacturing made it easier to create more and new products, and advertising made it easy to learn about new items for the home. Today TV shows like Invention Hunters and Shark Tank help inventors develop, tweak, and market their products. But can our visitors invent new home gadgets? We’ve displayed a variety of household appliances like hand mixers, an early toaster, and even a gas-powered iron to inspire visitors and get them thinking about how they might innovate these gadgets of the past—or create something entirely new.
We’re just beginning our exploration of inventing for the home and look forward to a busy spring and summer full of creative and innovative ideas. In August we’ll launch another new set of activities, this time focused on the theme “Eat” where we’ll explore inventions related to producing, preparing, and consuming food. Have an activity idea for us? Comment below or email us at email@example.com.