At Bethesda’s Kid Museum, Parkland Magnet Middle School seventh-graders Rahwa Tesfay, left, and Katherine Cortez, both 12, use a saw to craft pieces for their motion-sensing light switch as practice for the museum’s Invent the Future Challenge. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

‘Time’s up! Glue guns down.”

Inside the bustling workspace at Bethesda’s Kid Museum on a recent Tuesday morning, teacher Ram Mosher reins in a group of industrious middle-schoolers.

Visiting from Parkland Magnet Middle School in Rockville, the seventh-graders have come to work on a design-and-build project starting with Popsicle sticks and hot glue. The exercise is part of a program to help prepare the students to enter the museum’s spring 2019 Invent the Future Challenge. In the contest, kids will showcase inventions designed to answer the question: What will you make to protect the planet?


Some of the engineering, coding and design challenges involved using Popsicle sticks. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

Director Laurel Harrington helps students start on projects. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

When it comes to kid inventors, “Using your heart is just as important as using your brain,” Mosher says. The museum’s hands-on programs teach skills such as collaboration, creativity and critical thinking, as well as such technical skills as designing and building and even using power tools.

At Mosher’s call to put their glue guns down, students tidy their work stations and gather around an electric spool saw. They’ve designed their inventions for today’s exercise, and now it’s time to cut hard cardboard to finish their prototypes, or models.

“You have to get your hands dirty,” Mosher says. “We believe that that’s a much more effective way to learn skills . . . when you’re building things and using your brain.” A gardener in addition to being an educator, he recalls one of his favorite kid inventions from last year’s contest: a portable rain garden designed to hook up to a home’s gutter system and save water.

On this day at the museum, the inventions are equally creative. Kyle Lopez and Arnav Patil designed a contraption they called a “Super Duper Remote Bringer.” (Kyle entered the contest last year with a prototype of a submarine that picked up trash underwater.)

Addison Murillo and Samuel Marquez used small paper cups, foam and hot glue to construct a model cereal dispenser. The idea, Addison says, is that the food would be dispensed in small batches and waste less than pouring from a box.


Parkland seventh-grader Arnav Patil, 12, pulls fabric through a loom for a project. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

As Mosher demonstrates how to use the electric saw, he reminds them about safety and that, for cutting cardboard, there’s no need to use the power tool at its fastest speed.

Kassarah Kinsey and Damares Ortega use the loud, whirring saw to cut out precisely measured pieces they’ll need to build a model of a home robot they designed to take out trash.

Rahwa Tesfay and Katherine Cortez cut the pieces they’ll need to build out their motion-sensing light switch. “So the lights go out when you leave the room,” Rahwa says, noting that using the saw helped them get the sides of their cardboard pieces perfectly straight. None of the kids seem to have settled on what they’ll invent and submit to the contest, but they have learned a few skills that will help them execute their ideas.

“We’re going to be the grown-ups of the next generation,” Arnav says, “so we need to be practicing everything now, and we can apply those skills later to help save the planet.”

Spring 2019 Invent the Future Challenge

What: An opportunity to showcase a model invention to answer the question: What will you make to protect the planet?

When: Registration open at
kid-museum.org/invent-the-future.

Who: The contest is open to all sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.

How much: Free to enter.

For more information: Have a parent visit kid-museum.org for details about Invent the Future workshops.