Invent on the Spot

Source Institutions

Source Institutions

Add to list Go to activity
In this activity, learners design a device to solve a problem: how to get a ball out of a drain pipe. Learners are given a pile of "junk"--pipe cleaners, paper clips, clothespins, twist ties, etc.--along with "juice" (a bottle of water) to develop a tool to retrieve the ball. Learners hypothesize, conduct experiments, and test their inventions based on observations. [Activity is publicly available through a web crawler capture on]

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
5 to 10 minutes

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$5 - $10 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 6 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan


Materials List (per group of students)

  • Clear plastic or glass containers that have large enough holes to fit a superball, but small enough that a student's hand will not fit. This is the drain pipe.
  • Bottles of water (liquid should not fill more than half of container above). This is the juice.
  • Superball
  • Junk: assortment of pipe cleaners, paper clips, clothespins, popsicle sticks, string, twist ties, clothespins, and/or other materials as you see fit
  • Paper and pencils for data recording


  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations
      • Gathering Data
      • Formulating Explanations
      • Communicating Results
  • The Nature of Technology
    • The Design Process
      • Invention and Innovation
      • Problem Solving
      • Troubleshooting and Maintenance

Informal Categories

  • Toys


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



  • All rights reserved, Chicago Children's Museum, 2008