In 5th grade my primary teacher had each student in his class independently come up with an invention. Parents were allowed to help but it had to be mostly driven by the kids themselves. Mine was a golf putter with an aluminum tube attached to the side that could hold and deploy balls that would enable you to rapidly practice putting and assess the nearby ground. This was probably the kind of project that ultimately helped to propel me into the worlds I’m in now.
I only remember a few of the other kids’ inventions – mostly the ones that were really bad. Some kind of pizza turn table and a basketball hoop with a laundry basket mounted on the bottom. Makes me wonder what enabled and inhibited creativity in us back then.
Anyway I was reminded of all of this during our past winter holiday family outing when my 10 year old cousin and I deployed what we affectionately dubbed “the bowling stick” – a 2 meter long flimsy PVC pipe with a confusing, twisted assemblage of pipe parts and pads for chair legs attached to the bottom. It was the invention of my Aunt, who really intended it to be a low-impact Adaptive Bowling instrument that required a little more skill than a ramp that she and my grandmother could use. For my little cousin and I, however, it breathed new life into bowling like nothing else could have. Normally the game seems pretty predictable: you fling a ball down the lane, aiming for the center pin hoping to knock them all down… and after regular practice can get spares and strikes quite easily. There’s little in the way of thrilling competition or real athleticism involved, I get the sense that it’s more about having an easily interruptible game medium that can serve as a pseudo-escapist way to punctuate conversation.
Enter the stick. Neither one of us knew how to use this thing, and while it felt a little like hockey it was much harder to control the heavy ball. It was adjustable and you could use all kinds of techniques to send it down, amounting to a substantial amount of silliness and chaos. Anyway I thought it would make an excellent updated version of the 5th grade invention project:
- First and foremost it could be used as an excellent excuse to teach physics and engineering – angles and spinning with the ball, bending and tensile strength of the stick, force created from different swing techniques , friction of various surfaces and so on.
- As a kid I would have been pretty bored by talking about this kind of physics until we actually had to apply it! And that’s the beauty of this thing – you could take what you learned and attempt to make improvements to your technique and the actual construction of the device, and then observe and test them in an iterative and scientific method type fashion. What happens when you add more or different prongs on the end? Alter the wheels or put pads everywhere instead of just on the bottom?
- A variety of models could be developed around each kind of ball propulsion technique, with advantages and disadvantages and instructors could help students to learn that it doesn’t have to just be about speed or efficiency. Perhaps the controlled-instability and unpredictability makes the game more fun. Might there be other improvements, like making it height-adjustable for multiple players or able to hook on to a table without falling over? How might the aesthetics alter the experience we have using the stick?
- And this of course could build into other related projects: can we make a new off-shoot of bowling based on this stick? What makes a good game? What would it take to make a Kickstarter out of it? Do we need to create a video and how do we categorize and present the features or benefits? How can research data be collected about health impacts, possible damage to the floor or other issues that might come up?
Anyway just a thought. I’m not really qualified to be a full-time teacher for 10 year olds but if any of them want to come to the Fab Lab to pioneer a bowling stick, just tell them to drop me a line. I sent the same cousin home with an Arduino this year. $10 says she loses or breaks it, but maybe, just maybe, she’ll get to thinking about what to invent with it 🙂