K-12 Instructional Activity Guide

Page 3 - Selecting a Problem

Is There Anything Left to Invent?
What Can I Invent?
Invention Ideas List
Problems, Problems!
Problem-Finder's Guide
Problem-Finder's Survey
Be a Problem Solver

Is There Anything Left to Invent?

Yes! There are thousands of possibilities right here on this page!!! Try picking one word from each column below. Does the combination give you any new ideas about possible inventions?

ToolProtectAppearanceSmall Children
ShelterReduceFeelingsThe Disabled
Vehicle ImproveSafetyThe Elderly
FurnitureEnhanceTimePet Owners

An example might be: A gadget to simplify the lives of teachers.

Another fun idea -- Think up words you can add to each column, and come with more and more ideas. The only thing that holds you back is your imagination!

Adapted from Using Creative Problem Solving in Inventing by D. Treffinger, P. McEwen and C. Wittig, 1989

back to the top

What Can I Invent?

Sometimes it's hard to get started thinking about what you can invent. Below are some invention ideas from students just like you. They began by thinking about a real-life problem they had, and then tried to solve it. Maybe reading about them will help you get your "invention juices" flowing!

Sixth-grader Anna Thompson's Measure Quick Shortening Dispenser makes her father's job as a pastry cook much easier.

Fifth-grader Chris Robben's baby brother chewed on the germ ridden handles of shopping carts at the supermarket. So Chris cut a plastic shower-rod cover that fits over the shopping cart handle. He calls it the Germ Buster, Now his brother can chew to his heart's content, and not get sick.

Jenny Horowitz sat at the corner of her dinner table where the table leg always got in her way. So the fifth-grader invented the Special Corner Chair. It has a groove cut in the seat so that Jenny can pull right up to the table leg and straddle it.

Fourth grader Kristin Doherty invented the Retractable Leash for her dog's collar. When it's walk time, Kristin doesn't search for the leash, she just pulls it out of the collar.

Sixth-grader Scott Burnett invented his School Bus Early Warning System so he can wait for the school bus inside his home when the weather is bad. Scott's invention picks up a signal from the bus on an FM radio while he sits safe and dry inside.

Fourth grader Jennifer Acosta came up with a Pop Top Mouthpiece. Jennifer's reusable mouthpiece snaps into the slot where the top was pulled off a not-so-clean can and allows the user to drink without fear of germs.

Mark Mueller was tired of soggy cereal. So the fourth-grader invented the Cereal Plate -- a bowl with an angled bottom that keeps the cereal and the milk separate until they are mixed together.

Sixth grader Aaron Snyder wanted to be in full control when pushing his wheelbarrow down-hill. Now he is, because he invented the Wheelbarrow Brake.

Source: Be An Inventor by Barbara Taylor

back to the top

Invention Ideas List

  • A new kitchen utensil
  • A new way to turn pages in a book
  • A new way to help someone break a bad habit -- like nailbiting
  • A new way to keep dirt outside
  • A new way to water a houseplant
  • Something to keep your pet cool in the summer
  • A new way to prevent forest fires
  • A new musical instrument
  • A new game for children who have a certain disability -- like blindness
  • A new way to package food
  • A new way to send messages
  • A new way to make a job safer on the farm
  • A new piece of playground equipment
  • A new way to fasten things together
  • A new way for people to keep from getting lost in the woods
  • A better birdbath or birdfeeder
  • A new way to exercise your pet
  • Something to make a short or tall person's life easier
  • A new garden tool
  • A new product that absorbs liquids
  • A new way to move or pick up something that is very heavy
  • A new drawing or painting tool
  • A new way to recycle
  • Something that makes one of your chores easier to do
  • A new way to control pests
  • A new product that helps disabled people

Now you come up with more invention ideas!

back to the top

Problems, Problems!

Materials: Chalkboard and chalk; paper and pencil for each team or group
Approximate time: 20 - 30 minutes

  1. Begin by saying these words or expressing the following ideas: Inventors are problem solvers. They see problems as puzzles or challenges just waiting for solutions! Although some inventions happen by accident, most inventions come from someone finding and solving a problem. Sometimes the hardest part of inventing is coming up with a real problem to solve.

    There are many possible solutions. An invention is something novel that is a result of ingenious thinking or experiments. An invention is made for the purpose of making life easier, fulfilling a need or a want, or solving a problem. Some things like the television, the telephone and the computer are inventions that have drastically changed the way people live. But many other simple inventions like pencils, Velcro, and coat hangers are everyday items that have become very important to our day-to-day lives as well. Whether you realize it or not, your world is full of inventions, both big and small.
  2. Divide the room into groups of four to five students. Let one student from each group select from a bowl a strip of paper on which is written a "room" familiar to those in the group (kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, garage, den, family room, classroom, library, music room, art room, etc.).
  3. Have each group select a recorder, and give the group five minutes to come up with and write down as many inventions in their room as they can think of.
  4. At the end of five minutes have a spokesperson (different from the strip selector or the recorder) read the list to the large group.
  5. Next give each group five minutes to decide which three inventions on their list they think are the most important.
  6. Have yet another person in the group share with the class the group's top three choices, and briefly describe why they selected these three inventions over the others.
  7. End the class by reviewing what you have learned.

back to the top

Problem Finders Guide

Ask yourself these questions. Think about your life at school, at home and with your friends to help you come up with lots of problems!

What is your biggest problem?
What task or chore could you make easier?
What object do you use that could work better?
What is your favorite thing to do, and how could you make it even safer, more fun, or more interesting?
What new use could you invent for something you already have?

back to the top

Problem Finder's Survey

A good way to find problems that need to be solved is to take a survey. Try to ask many different kinds of people as you can. Family, friends, and neighbors are a good place to start. Then think of other people you can ask. Here are some ideas for questions you might ask--or make up your own list. Remember, the more people you ask, the more problems you'll find!

What is your biggest problem around the house?
at work?
at school?
when you are driving or traveling?
What object, tool, or appliance doesn't work as well as you would like it to?
What would be a good invention that you think would make someone's life easier, that would make someone's life safer, more fun, or more interesting?
What big problem would you like to see solved?

back to the top

Be a Problem Solver

Now that you have a list of ideas, take a few minutes and decide which three ideas you think are the most interesting. List these ideas below:


Now be creative and try to think about ways to address these ideas. Put everything down that you can think of, even if seems silly. Give yourself plenty of time to think about your lists. You can ask friends and family to help you think of possible solutions, too.

Solutions or thoughts about Idea #1

Solutions or thoughts about Idea #2

Solutions or thoughts about Idea #3

Now ask yourself the following questions about each solution:

  1. Is this a real and novel solution to this problem or a new and useful way to address this idea?
  2. Can I make a working or demonstration model of the solution?
  3. Can this become an invention?

When you have asked yourself these questions about all your possible solutions, pick one solution for each idea that you think is the best. List these below:

Idea and Super Solution #1!

Idea and Super Solution #2!

Idea and Super Solution #3!

back to the top

back to the top

next: Inventor's Log