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The Draper Spark!Lab at
the National Museum of American History

Building a Hands-on Invention Space Virtually

At Draper Spark!Lab at the National Museum of American History, the flagship educational initiative of The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, museum visitors become inventors. In Spark!Lab, we believe everyone is inventive and invites inventors of all ages to create, collaborate, explore, test, experiment, and invent. We provide opportunities for visitors, especially children and families, to explore their inventive creativity—to innovate, adapt, think critically, and problem-solve—because these experiences empower visitors to develop the skills and confidence they need to succeed today and in the future. 

Spark!Lab activities encourage visitors to explore their own inventiveness through hands-on exploration and demonstrate the central role that invention plays in American history—and today. In Spark!Lab, visitors don’t follow a step-by-step instructions or create cookie-cutter products. Instead, they identify problems and challenges, develop and test their own possible solutions, and then put their ideas into action. Spark!Lab activities cut across traditional disciplines – combining traditional science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) with art, humanities, and creativity – and connect the deep scholarship of the Museum’s collections and exhibitions to the invention process. 

In March of 2020 the pandemic forced the temporary closing of Draper Spark!Lab. The Spark!Lab team seized this opportunity to create digital version of the Spark!Lab experience. Through a collaboration with Autodesk, Spark!Lab leveraged the free access and open structures of the Instructables and Tinkercad platforms to offer a digital version of the analog hands-on experience found in the exhibit space. These virtual experiences offer the same opportunities to engage in the invention stories, invention process, and skills and traits inventors use at home, mirroring the in-person Spark!Lab experience. As limited in-person programming returned the Spark!Lab team paired virtual activities with their physical analog in a public environment to explore the intersection between the virtual and the physical. 

To learn more about Spark!Lab and how we’re inspiring future inventors, please visit invention.si.edu.