Judging the Invent It! Challenge

UPDATE: Check out the winners here.

In September, Spark!Lab partnered with ePals, an education media company and safe social learning network, for the second annual Invent It! Challenge. The contest challenged students to think about real-world problems and invent something that could help solve it. We received nearly 300 entries!

Members of the Lemelson Center team served as judges. As we prepare to announce the winners, they reflect on the contest.

Tanya Garner:

I was definitely surprised by the total number of entries for this year’s contest, of the 30 videos I viewed it was a real treat for me to see so many girls taking on challenges ranging from  fashion mishaps to  handling smelly garbage (as if there was any other kind).

A ten year-old New Jersey inventor created the “Catcher Robbery Report,” a unique system that enabled a camera hidden in a secret compartment of someone’s backpack to remotely send a photograph and data about the thief to the victim/police, which I thought was an interesting problem to address.  Also, I thought the eleven year-old inventor from Turkey cleverly addressed the familiar problem of “stumbling out of bed in the middle of the night into total darkness on your way to bathroom or kitchen for a drink of water,” by creating a pair of “slippers sunshine”—portable motion sensor lights placed in the front of the shoes to help guide the wearer to their destination.

Tricia Edwards:

My favorite part about judging the Invent It contest was seeing the range of problems and challenges the students set out to solve—everything from how to keep your nose warm in the winter to a binder that’s stylish and easier to carry to a snow and ice scraper that you can use from inside your car. (I have to admit that as a person who really dislikes winter and cold weather,  that one was a personal favorite!) Each of the inventors obviously took the “Think It” part of the invention process seriously. I was also amazed at how many of the entries had a strong “Sell It” component. It was clear that the students understood that invention isn’t just about having a great idea; it’s about knowing how to get that idea to market. I was particularly struck by the number of entries that used celebrity endorsements in their marketing. Martha Stewart and the Food Network’s Guy Fieri both made appearances in the entries I judged! All of the student inventors showed so much creativity, ingenuity and inventive thinking, and I am already looking forward to seeing what they come up with next year!

Laurel Fritzsch:

One of my favorite things about judging the ePals contest was getting to see all of the creative solutions kids had for the variety of problems they tried to solve. One little boy was trying to solve his problem of getting too hot when he was sleeping and another was trying to wake up sleepy drivers. The boy who tried to solve his problem of being hot may not have come up with a world changing invention but his solution of replacing some of the pajama cloth with mesh was creative and he went through all the steps an inventor would—including making a prototype, testing it out, and developing ways to improve it. The boy who developed a way of waking sleepy drivers also genuinely went through the steps of an inventor and both boys had a real passion for solving the problem they identified. The best part of judging the contest was seeing pictures or videos of the kids with their inventions. Their pride really came through.

Michelle DelCarlo:

I was surprised that some kids decided to address very serious issues, such as childhood obesity. The invention was a wristwatch-style device that would count calories and alert its user when they hadn’t exercised or ate too much. I was impressed with the level of seriousness most kids took in physically creating their prototypes. Some included images of themselves using sewing machines, stapling, or using interesting materials. I didn’t think they would take it so seriously, so that’s awesome.

Invent It! Challenge: Kindergarteners Solving World Hunger and Arguing Siblings

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by teacher Pat Genovese, whose kindergarten class participated in the Invent It! Challenge where Spark!Lab and ePals challenged students to solve real-world problems through invention. The winners will be announced February 4 and you can vote on your favorites.

In my Kindergarten class, our first semester theme focuses on the big idea that anyone can invent, even kids. In anticipation of the ePals/Smithsonian Invent It! Challenge, students saw a PowerPoint presentation about kids’ inventions that help people, videos of children inventors explaining their ideas, and Inventoons, cartoons about diverse innovations. We read a book about inventor Margaret Knight, learned about the inventions of Leonardo DaVinci, participated in a SKYPE session with a NASA scientist, and explored the inventors honored in the National Gallery For America’s Young Inventors. Students were then ready to work in collaborative groups to brainstorm problems they saw either at home or school, with an emphasis on serving others. It was amazing to witness students’ perception of the world around them and their unique approach to resolving problems.

The biggest ‘aha’ moment occurred in the group who wanted to feed people in their community and then realized that they could solve the global problem of hunger. They invented the Amazing Super Growing Plant Food. This was an incredible insight by five and six year-olds, inspired by the Invent It! process.

On the other end of the spectrum was the group that wanted to solve the problem of arguing siblings. They discussed numerous options, but had difficulty deciding on a tangible invention idea. One student recalled the inventions of Mattie Knight and was excited to share her idea of using a kite. The students decided to invent a cooperation kite that features kind words and pictures of Bible stories to remind children to share and be compassionate. They were excited to inform me that the benefit of their invention is that siblings have to cooperate to fly a kite.

I was continually impressed that my Kindergarteners were able to work in collaborative learning groups on an interdisciplinary project requiring critical thinking skills. My students were able to celebrate their creativity and realize that even though they are small, they can still help make our world a better place.

Calistoga Elementary School 5th & 6th graders decide to… Invent It!

Editor’s Note: In September, Spark!Lab partnered with ePals, an education media company and safe social learning network, for the second annual Invent It! contest. The contest challenged students to think about real-world problems and invent something that could help solve it. We received nearly 300 entries and winners will be announced February 4. But you can help boost this STEM activity by weighing in with your choices of the best student  inventions.

The following is a guest post by teacher Matt Gudenius his class’s participation in the Invent It! contest. Matt’s post first appeared on the ePals Global Community.

Throughout the last few years at Calistoga Elementary School (Calistoga, CA), advanced students have been using ePals resources in various ways, such as writing to email penpals in Italy as part of an Italian-themed GATE program.

Many of these students also take part in the school’s 5th/6th STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) Academy, a project-based learning curriculum designed to extend and apply advanced math skills through engineering and design projects in the areas of robotics and architecture. The idea behind our Academy is that standards-based skills should not just be learned, but should be applied—along with technology tools and techniques—to solve real-world problems. We are always looking for problems to solve and ways to solve them!

So when we received news of ePals/Smithsonian’s 2nd annual invention contest, we were all ears! Being very apropos to our problem-solving projects students were already engaging in, we decided to set aside our LEGO MindStorms robotics and Google SketchUp CAD models for a little while to take part in the opportunity to learn about the process of invention in a broader, more general scope.

We took our time to explore the processes and PowerPoint template provided on ePals, and proceeded to carefully work our way through the steps. The very start was the hardest part! Thinking of problems to solve—when the sky’s the limit and there are no constricting parameters—can be very difficult! Students made claims like “There aren’t any problems to solve!”… to which I replied “There are always problems to solve. Even if they have been solved in certain ways, there are always ways things can be improved.”

With that, students began brainstorming. One challenge is that many students tried to think of an invention before first thinking of what problems needed to be addressed, or the multiple different alternative methods that could be used to solve them. This is a backwards approach to the premise: “Necessity is the mother of invention“, so they were instructed to take a step back and try again; to specify a problem first, then brainstorm possible solutions, and finally to pick one (or a hybrid combination of solutions) that best fits the need.

Once this process was complete, the spark had ignited and we were off to the races—there was no stopping the creativity, diligence, and problem-solving going on inside student brains! Some students came up with grandiose solutions involving electronic components or computer technology (we are, after all, working with robotics!) Others took heed of my advice that “The simplest solution which gets a job done is often the best solution.” These students may not have had the complexity or the “wow factor” of the more technical ideas, but the beauty is that they had the know-how and materials to actually create and test prototypes of their inventions. This is truly invaluable, and it underscores the importance of not biting off more than you can chew!

Although we used the Invent It! PowerPoint template as a guide, we decided it would be best to add a few more details that seemed to be missing. For example, directly after Think It and Explore It comes Sketch It… which we did, but we decided that pictures alone were insufficient to explain how the invention worked. So we have added a “Describe It” slide to go along with Sketch It, in which both words and pictures are combined to explain the construction and function of the invention. This also helps mimic the actual format of real-life patents. And to see examples of just how simple or complex patent drawings can be—and how they use letters and numbers as labels to help illustrate the written text—we took a look at a brief history/evolution of patent drawings.

Additionally, we—especially for those of us who were not artistically-inclined and had ideas too complex to build as prototypes—decided that it would be great to use computer-aided design (CAD) tools to create virtual models of our inventions to give accurate visual representations of them. So students set to work using Google SketchUp to create 3D computer models to scale.

At the end of the day, we’ve learned a lot from this process and feel proud of our completed inventions. We hope to participate again next year!

Igniting a Spark in the high desert of Nevada—sounds dangerous, right?

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post written by Sarah Gobbs-Hill, an Education Program Coordinator at the Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum in Reno, Nevada. A member of our Spark!Lab National Network, The Discovery has been home to the first Spark!Lab off the National Mall for just over a year.

Here in Reno, Nevada we like to do things a little different. So when a group of people decided to bring a discovery museum to the downtown area just south of the casinos, critics were a bit skeptical. “Who’s going to bring their family down there?” they said. But after seven years of fundraising, planning and construction, the Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum (The Discovery) was born. The Discovery boasts 26,000 square feet of gallery space including a two-story climbing structure, a glass wall for the ephemeral painting made by fingers, an 85 foot-long river, and a lab for sparking the innovation held within the minds of those living in, and visiting, Northern Nevada.

The Spark!Lab Smithsonian at The Discovery has had an estimated 115,000 visitors in the first year, which is a lot for a city of just under a quarter million residents. In the museum’s first year, 10,000 students visited Spark!Lab as part of a school fieldtrip; for those interested teachers we created a specific fieldtrip class focused on collaboration and the principles of invention. Children and parents have shrieked with delight at the most shocking of our exhibits in Spark!Lab—Ben Franklin is a popular person in our space. We have added circuitry dough to our collection of activities, which allows us to create electric sculptures. We have invited our visitors to invent or redesign shoes, housing, transportation, and toys. A few of the best inventions by visitors so far have been a fan extravaganza (15 fans running off of snap circuits!); bionic biology (a robotic horse game that can be used to teach about anatomy); and a  toy-suck-a-rooni (a vacuum cleaner that sucks up toys without damaging them to leave a clean room). We never cease to be amazed by the creativity of the members of our community.

As with all new organizations we are learning the best way to support and work with our community. With the Spark!Lab at The Discovery, we aim to support the creative minds living here who are pushing the boundaries and creating a different vision for our community. We have big plans for The Discovery’s Spark!Lab moving forward and we believe, by working with our community and providing experiences that make people say, ”what will they think of next?,” we can not only spark their interest in innovation, but ignite the fire that will lead to “Reno-vation” and contribute to continued changes in the cultural landscape here in Northern Nevada.

Sourcing Materials in Kyiv

In the months leading up to our trip to Ukraine, my colleague Steve Madewell and I stockpiled the materials and equipment we would need to operate Spark!Lab for a month. Using an Excel spreadsheet as our guide, we placed orders with school, office, and craft supply companies; we collected tools and materials from the hardware store; and made more than one visit to Target. In May, we shipped 13 crates of materials to the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, but we knew there would be a few things we’d want to get “on the ground” in Ukraine—either because they were difficult to ship or simply to provide some local flavor to Spark!Lab.

When we arrived in Kyiv in late August, our shopping list looked like this:
On our second full day there, Serhiy, a member of the U.S. Embassy staff (and a purported DIY-er), collected us from our hotel in a State Department van and off we went.  The main focus of our trip was finding supplies to build our Spark!Lab Percussion Sculpture. We needed lumber, buckets of different sizes, rope and string, nails and screws, and a cordless drill that could be charged in Ukraine’s 220-volt outlets. Our first stop on this adventure was Epicenter, a giant Home Depot-Walmart hybrid that’s two stories high and nearly 100 aisles long. Described as a “hypermarket,” Epicenter can be a little overwhelming. Thankfully, Serhiy was there to guide us, interpret for us, and help us navigate the checkout process.

To complete the drum sculpture, we really wanted to add some locally sourced (and surprising) elements. The sculpture we had in Spark!Lab in DC included old reel-to-reel film canisters from the Archives Center, a colleague’s retired briefcase, and a large tin can that once held peaches (donated by the cafeteria workers at NMAH). We wanted to add similar elements to the sculpture at Art Arsenale—items that would reflect the culture and that could be repurposed to make sound. Where better to find some local flavor than a Ukrainian flea market?

Here, we found (and successfully haggled for) an old fishing buoy, the side mirror from a Russian car, metal disks from an old meat grinder, and a small cast iron “door” from a stove. All of these items made interesting (and surprising) noises and found their way onto the percussion sculpture in Spark!Lab, much to the delight of our visitors!      

Once Spark!Lab opened, it became clear pretty quickly that we would need to replenish certain supplies on a regular basis. Construction paper, craft sticks, tape, straws, rubber bands, marbles, yarn, and plastic cups were all hot commodities. I made one other trip to Epicenter, but because it was far from the museum and my hotel (and I needed a State Department escort to get there), I had to find other places to buy supplies. My go-to spots became places that were within walking distance: the local pharmacy, Billa (the grocery store), and a stationary supply store in one of Kyiv’s many underground malls.

I managed to find most things I needed, but some items eluded me. While it was frustrating at first, I soon realized that I needed to start thinking more like an inventor. Most inventors don’t have every single supply available to them in their workshop or lab. Instead, they think creatively about how to use materials and are often inspired by what’s around them. As I spent more and more time in Ukraine, I began to be less driven by a specific list of supplies and more inspired by what was easily accessible to me. When we ran out of the gravel we were using to make maracas, for example, I went out and collected chestnuts that had fallen from the trees surrounding the museum. When I couldn’t find craft sticks and rubber bands to make kazoo-like instruments called Sound Sandwiches, I challenged visitors to create different musical instruments from materials we had in large quantity. And when we began to run low on marbles for the Soundscapes activity, one of my Ukrainian colleagues had the idea to use large, round beads instead.

All of these were great alternatives to the original materials and, importantly, allowed our visitors to successfully create, invent, test, and tweak their ideas. The simple challenge of having to find alternative materials for Spark!Lab also made me realize that inventive thinking isn’t just something to encourage in our visitors; it’s something to encourage in myself, as well. If I truly want to “live the mission,” as we often say in the Lemelson Center, I need to think like an inventor. I need to be flexible, creative, and collaborative in my work, and willing to try new ways of doing things. Whether it’s trying out new supplies in Kyiv or developing a whole new Spark!Lab here in DC, there are great benefits and rewards that can come from inventive thinking—for me and for our visitors.

What do you want to make today?

I held a soldering iron for the first time in my life a few weeks ago. It was exciting and frustrating at the same time. Trying to melt a bead of solder to connect two parts proved more difficult than I expected it to be. But after several attempts, I finally managed to complete my little project (you can see it in action in the video). Those weren’t the most beautiful joins, but they worked. And the sense of accomplishment I felt as I proudly wore my little blinking robot pin the rest of the day far exceeded the actual amount of work I had done. That simple act of making something, of using a new tool, even if I weren’t particularly good at it, is something I will remember for a long time.

So why was I soldering in the first place? I was at a “Mini Maker Faire” at the conclusion of a workshop at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh’s Makeshop. A group of us from museums around the country were there to learn about Makeshop and the maker movement, and to think about ways to incorporate that philosophy into our own work. And why was a historian involved in this?

I had a few reasons for wanting to attend. First, I’m a historian of technology and it’s important to me to understand how the stuff I study and write about works. And I like tools, so getting to try out some new ones is just plain fun. But I’m also the historian on the planning team for the new Spark!Lab that will open after the renovation of the Museum’s West Exhibition Wing, so it’s my job to think about ways to infuse hands-on activities with history. And while I don’t yet have a lot of answers about how we will do that, I did get some ideas from the workshop and my personal experience with that soldering iron.

Throughout the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, art and technology meet in whimsical ways, as this sculpture of "King Steel and Queen Iron" by Devon Smith (2001) illustrates. Photo by Joyce Bedi.

One of the workshop participants pointed out that kids are good at making the connection between the “do” and the “happen.” She suggested that, rather than just give kids tools, we could first ask what they want the tool to do, and then ask what they might invent that would do that. It seems to me that making a connection to history as the next question—how do you think people used to do this?—might work. We have actually been trying something like this in our Spark!Lab prototyping sessions. Kids and their families can pick up and examine an ice skate from about 100 years ago, look at sketches and patents for other types of ice skates invented over time, and then use the materials we provide to either invent the ice skate of the future or create something new that could move them across the ice. Spark!Lab emphasizes that invention is a process; incorporating stories from the past reveals that it is a continuum as well.

Another Makeshop project---"squishy" circuits made of boots (feet?) of clay carry electricity from the batteries to the LED lamps. Photo by Joyce Bedi.

Perhaps the one thing that surprised me most about Makeshop, though, was how much it reinforces the research we are doing for our Places of Invention exhibition. In places as different as Hollywood in the 1930s and the Bronx in the ’70s, we have identified some common threads that tend to run through creative places. Rather than a recipe, we see these characteristics as ingredients of a strategy that helps people do their best work. Many of these elements are reflected in the 21st Century Skills framework as well.

For example, flexibility is important to fostering critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity. Not only do minds need to be open to new connections and opportunities, but spaces need to be adaptable to new directions in work. Makeshop is a great example of this. Although the space is divided into three distinct areas—one for electrical projects, a woodshop, and a sewing area—everything in those spaces can be reconfigured quickly and easily. Tables and cabinets are modular and on wheels. Pegboards are metal so they can be used in the standard fashion and also with magnetic items. In short, the space is designed to suit the work, whatever it may be.

Makeshop's movable, reconfigurable tables, pegboards, and cabinets create the ultimate flexible environment. Photo by Joyce Bedi.

That flexibility also makes the space conducive to collaboration, another characteristic of places of invention. Whether it’s one-on-one work with a Makeshop facilitator (like the student volunteer who, with enormous patience, helped me wield my soldering iron) or for family groups to work together on a project, the opportunity to work with someone else and learn from each other makes for a very fulfilling experience.

But don’t take my word for it. Find a buddy, some tools, and come up with a project. Create your own place of invention. As they say at Makeshop, “What do you want to make today?”

Reflections Going Forward

After returning from an incredible, fun-filled trip to set-up and help kick off the first international Spark!Lab in Kyiv, Ukraine, I returned to Washington, D.C., just in time to pack up and move the last boxes of Spark!Lab supplies and equipment. We had to clear out before demolition crews arrived to tear down the original  exhibition to make way for the new one. Part of me was ready to celebrate. The other part…the sentimental part…wondered if I would be able to survive without Spark!Lab until the opening of Spark!Lab 2.0 in 2015. I decided to take one last contemplative stroll through the old exhibition. As I surveyed the space formerly known as Spark!Lab, devoid of its brightly colored purple, green, and orange-hued optimism, it occurred to me that the thing I will miss most is the steady flow of inspiration, creative uses of materials, hilarious kid logic, and out-of-the-box ideas the staff and I received from visitors on a daily basis. While I thought some quiet time without Spark!Lab might make it easier to think, I’m actually finding it harder to be creative without the 110-decibel swarm of enthusiastic young inventors busy sketching, creating, trying, and tweaking their inventions around me. At some point, Spark!Lab transitioned from innovative museum exhibition into a real community of invention.

As we move forward developing and prototyping Spark!Lab 2.0, I realize that one of the most important concepts to carry over from the original Spark!Lab can’t be found in a box in storage. It is the simultaneous exchange of inspiration between and among Spark!Lab visitors and staff, the freedom to fail gloriously before reaching success, and the sense of community unique to the Spark!Lab experience. While this magical Spark!Lab experience is not something that can easily be replicated by a formula or recipe, we’ll make sure to bring it to Spark!Lab 2.0. Prepare to inspire, and prepare to be inspired.

An Entrepreneurial Spirit

I grew up on a busy street in a suburb of Chicago. On hot days, you could smell the pavement melting – sulfurous, tarry, goopy. Being that power lines intersected on our corner, the hum and rattle of construction equipment was ever-present in my summers. The perfect opportunity for a child to bask in air conditioning or run through the sprinklers, right?

Not for me. When other kids were swiping Fla-Vor-Ice from the freezer and vegging out in front of cartoons, I was opening a lemonade stand with my sister. We saw a business opportunity – close to 100 degree heat + thirsty construction workers – and sold our lemonade for 25¢. We eventually made enough (I think it was about $10, a big amount for a kid) to buy a Velcro ball toss toy.

From left to right: My sister, my mom, and me. My mom made our pumpkin costumes for Halloween. Gotta love her hair.

That entrepreneurial spirit has fueled a lot of what I have done in life. The thrill I get of creating something from nothing, of doing a lot with a little: this is what makes me perfect for my work at the Lemelson Center. Most recently, I invented a pop-up museum model by thinking through what resources I had at hand and what I wanted to do: a bus pass, scratch paper, and free space at a local library + create conversation and build community. Now other museums, nationally and internationally, are picking up my technique and creating their own pop-up museums.

Here I am taking a break from facilitating my “Something or Someone You Love” pop-up at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.

Personally, I aspire to make a substantial contribution to the global community through invention and innovation. As the new Spark!Lab National Network Coordinator, I am excited about having the opportunity to support young people in their own inventive exploration. Check back to see the Spark!Lab National Network grow; hopefully we’ll be coming to your neck of the woods soon.

Dispatch from Kyiv

On August 25, I left Washington, DC, for Kyiv, Ukraine. Through a grant from the U.S. State Department, the Lemelson Center has collaborated with Art Arsenale, one of Kyiv’s leading contemporary art museums, to bring Spark!Lab to Ukraine for the month of September. After an initial planning visit in October 2011, I had spent most of this year planning for Spark!Lab’s arrival in Kyiv. As I boarded my plane bound for Ukraine, I could hardly believe that our newest Spark!Lab outpost would be opening in a matter of weeks.

I traveled to Ukraine with Steve Madewell, Spark!Lab’s Resident Eccentric. Steve and I spent our first week on the ground setting up the Spark!Lab space, which is housed in a huge, old building that was originally built as an arsenal. When we arrived in Kyiv, the 4,000 square-foot space had concrete floors, bare walls, no furniture, and a single flood light illuminating the interior, which was full of the various crates and boxes we had shipped to Kyiv in advance of our arrival. On that first day, it was hard to imagine that the space would become a vibrant hub of invention and creativity. But over the next week, the arsenal was transformed: carpet was installed, giant banners with the Spark!Lab logo and graphics were hung, lighting was added, and tables and stools were delivered. As we began unpacking our boxes and installing the activities we’d brought with us to Kyiv, Spark!Lab came to life.

A volunteer facilitates a gyroscope activity.

But what we needed were volunteers to facilitate the activities, engage visitors in the invention process, and help children to recognize their own inventive creativity. (We also needed visitors, of course, but we didn’t have many doubts that Spark!Lab would be a popular destination for kids, parents, students, and teachers from Kyiv and beyond!) Since June, Art Arsenale had been recruiting students from local universities to serve as volunteer facilitators. The majority of those who signed up were students at Kyiv Polytechnic Institute, one of Ukraine’s top universities and a chief collaborator with Art Arsenale on the Spark!Lab project.

All of our supplies, shipped over from the US

Though I was bolstered by the news that nearly 100 students would be attending our Spark!Lab training sessions, I greeted the first day of training with a bit of trepidation. Volunteerism is not a part of Ukrainian culture in the same way it is in the United States. Further, the idea of hands-on learning in a museum setting is just gaining popularity in Ukraine. Would the Spark!Lab philosophy and educational approach translate to a different culture? Would the students be interested in Spark!Lab?  Would they stay excited and committed for the entire month that Spark!Lab would be open?

The volunteers, in training, with the vehicle they invented. Complete with a Ukrainian flag!

The volunteers I met over the next four days of training quickly allayed my concerns. They were engaged, focused, enthusiastic, inquisitive—and, best of all, innovative. They were attentive at each step of the training and genuinely seemed to embrace the Spark!Lab philosophy: “Everyone is inventive.” As Steve and I trained them on each of the ten activities, the students showed creativity not only in the inventions they created (we had them participate in each activity as if they were visitors), but also in the strategies they developed for engaging visitors who would come to Spark!Lab. They embraced the inquiry learning approach to which we introduced them, developed questions to engage children in the different activities, and even discussed ways to work with over-anxious parents and teachers!

As we make our way through the last week of Spark!Lab here in Kyiv, the volunteers continue to impress me. They have shown up for each shift as expected, many of them working multiple shifts per week. But more than that, they have done an impressive job facilitating the activities and never seem to tire of encouraging inventive creativity in the more than 30,000 young people who have visited Spark!Lab since it opened on September 6. At times, the crowds of visitors have been daunting even for the most seasoned Spark!Lab facilitator, but each time I check in with the students to see how they’re doing, they smile and tell me they’re having fun. Many of them have told me they wish Spark!Lab had existed when they were children, and though they will be glad to have extra time in their schedules when we close, they will miss the energy and dynamism of the space.

Facilitiating the Soundscapes activity.

As Spark!Lab was filled with a near-capacity crowd last Saturday, one volunteer rushed up to me. I thought she needed supplies for her activity or, worse, that there had been an accident or emergency. Instead, she told me, “I never get tired of seeing the faces of the children when they realize they can invent. Their smiles make my heart sing!” And that makes my heart sing, as I realize that the spirit of Spark!Lab is not confined to our museum in Washington, DC, or even to our own country. Thanks in large part to the commitment and energy of our dedicated volunteers in Kyiv, Spark!Lab has crossed institutional, language, and cultural barriers, and continued the Lemelson Center’s important work to inspire inventive creativity in young people.