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January 2006

Invention at Play
A Smithsonian site focused on the link between kids' play and science.
Grade Level: 3-5, 6-8


This site was developed by the Lemelson Center at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in partnership with the Science Museum of Minnesota and explores the role toys and play have had in invention. Included are games that teach such skills as problem solving, visual thinking, exploratory learning, and more.
The three main areas of the site (Invention Playhouse, Inventor's Stories, and Does Play Matter?) can be accessed from the main page in a number of ways. Users can use the left side menu that list the activities inside the Invention Playhouse or use the links embedded in the main text and at the top right side of the page. The latest version of Flash Player is needed for the enhanced version of the site.

Invention at Play looks at invention in an innovative way and encourages visitors to make connections between their own lives and abilities and those of inventors. It examines the role of play in the invention process by featuring five inventors: Newman Darby, Stephanie Kwolek, James McLurkin, Alexander G. Bell, Akhil Madhani, and the IDEO Design Team; clustered with abbreviated stories about a wide variety of other innovators who have used similar creative techniques. The Invention Playhouse features four highly interactive activities that feature make believe/visual thinking; puzzle play/problem solving; exploration/tinkering; and social play/collaboration. The "does play matter" section explores some favorite toys of American children and features video discussions on play. Additionally, there is an online sketchbook on the main page for visitors to sketch their ideas by creatively doodling. The educators' manual, found in the resource section, includes background information, a comparison of children's inventive play and inventor's playful approaches, inventor's stories, classroom activities, invention and play quotations, issues in play, and teacher resources and references. Topics for the activities include making a tube telephone, choosing a bike, making a light bulb, and mapping animal behavior as well as activities in exploratory play, pretend play, social play, and play with patterns, puzzles, and problems. Included in the resource section is a guide for families.


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