Why a Non-Working Prototype can be a Good Thing for your Student

Why a Non-Working Prototype can be a Good Thing for your Student


We have the school STEM-Vention fair this Friday. The past week has been a blur of cutting, pasting, bright-colored-cardstock buying, and planning. The poster is looking great.

But we had a strange bonus this time around. The prototype is a non-working prototype.

Last year, our daughter designed a special kind of room fan. Off we marched to Radio Shack to buy a motor and a battery pack. She learned the ins and outs of wiring, and how to power the motor. It was a great lesson in how to hook up a motor.

But the prototype became about “does the motor work?” Or, “Oops. It’s not working. Is is stuck? Out of battery?”

This is important stuff. But it became a distraction, as the working aspect became more important than the idea.

And it became what the students and judges were most fascinated with. Touch the wires and – boom! – the fan starts up. She received a nod of appreciation from the engineer who judged the contest. He was pleased that she had hooked up a motor. But he did not spend much time on the idea behind it.

This year, she has had to resort to a non-working prototype.

She had to surrender the idea of actually making it work this time. It was too complex.

If the idea takes off? We can spend time over summer break making it into a working prototype.

It has had a liberating affect on her work. She is playing with ideas, tweaking concepts, wondering about possible alternatives. She has been free to brainstorm without limitation.

I think it would be ideal to require some prototypes be working and others not. For, each scenario requires the student approach the concept in a different way.

p.s. I have not revealed the invention idea because she is learning about patents and licenses, and she does not want someone to take her idea. I was allowed to post the info on Facebook to friends/family, but not to Twitter. Sharp young one.

Thanks all, and have a good one.

By the way, ahem, the school is using our Invention Journal. The kids and teachers like it.