This is a guest blog post from Layla and the Bots author Vicky Fang.
Layla and the Bots love making cool inventions in the Branches series for newly independent readers, Layla and the Bots!
Hi! I'm Vicky Fang. I spent years at Google and Intel inventing products for kids. Much like Layla, I worked with a talented team to create all sorts of fun products—like robots you could build at home, buildings that played music, or games you could play with your voice. And just like Layla, I used a design process that students can use too! Based on that work, I’ve come up with The Invention I’s: A creative process that promotes imagination, problem solving, and making.
I've put together an activity packet that is designed to help kids break down their design and thought process. There’s a printable poster and activity sheets to help put the process into action.
You can use this activity packet to support any kind of design challenge. Here’s an egg drop challenge I put together to show how you could use my activity packet with your own kids!
Step 1. Design Thinking Primer
Layla and the Bots book (Happy Paws and/or Built for Speed)
Read a Layla and the Bots book with your kid.
Use the “Invention I's” poster to help discuss the following questions:
What problem were Layla and the Bots trying to solve? Who were they trying to solve it for?
How did they investigate the problem? How did they learn about the audience they were designing for?
What idea did they come up with to solve their problem?
How did they implement their idea? What did they build and how?
How did they improve their invention? What did they have to change and why?
You’ll see that Layla and the Bots solve more than one problem in their invention process—because invention is all about learning and solving lots of problems along the way.
Step 2. Invention Challenge: Egg Drop!
Recycled/found materials such as cardboard, straws, sticks, bottles, paper, fabric, balloons, rubber bands, plastic bags, egg cartons, etc.
Crafting materials such as tape, glue, scissors
Raw eggs (NOTE: If you don’t want to use a real egg, you can use a plastic Easter egg filled with sand.)
Ruler/Tape measure (to measure drop height)
Ladder (as needed)
Tray/Target (as needed, for easy clean-up)
Layla and the Bots “Invention I’s” Activity Packet
Get your kid excited for the challenge!
Define the rules. For younger kids, try a shorter height, like 5 feet. For older kids, go higher! You can also restrict materials for a harder challenge.
Talk about the problem they are being asked to solve. Help them fill out the “Investigate” section of the activity packet based on the discussion.
What is the problem you are trying to solve?
Who are you solving it for?
“How might we protect a falling egg?”
Tip: Try to frame this as the problem you are trying to solve, not the solution (e.g. "protect a falling egg"—rather than "make an egg parachute".)
Encourage them to find out everything they can about the problem and who they’re solving for. Talk about why the egg falling causes it to break.
Based on your investigation, ask them to articulate why dropping an egg causes it to break, and to use the identified problems to inspire solutions.
Why is it a problem?
Come up with ideas to solve it!
Kids might identify different problems that inspire different solutions. For example:
“Right now, it’s a problem because the egg's shell is fragile. What if we built a strong case around it?”
“Right now, it’s a problem because the egg hits the ground so fast. What if we built a parachute to slow it down?”
“Right now, it’s a problem because the ground is so hard. What if we built a soft cushion around it?”
You can encourage them to come up with multiple problems to generate more solution ideas, and even to combine those ideas!
Start building! Let your kid dive in and make their egg contraption.
Time to test and see how the solution worked out!
Drop the egg from the set height and observe. Did it work? Did it not work? Why or why not?
Ask them to think about what they think could be improved on their own design. Could they make it better or stronger or cooler, etc? Have them fill out the “Improve” section of the activity sheets with their thoughts and ideas.
What’s not working well?
How might you improve it?
“I found out that my solution isn’t great yet because there wasn’t enough padding. What if we added crumpled paper to the box?”
“I found out that my solution isn’t great yet because it looks kind of boring. What if we added decorations?”
Give your kid time to repair and adjust their contraption. They may prefer to re-build before filling out the activity sheet, which is totally fine! It's designed to work either way.
Give the new improved contraption a final test run! Let kids continue to improve their inventions by repeating the cycle of investigate, ideate, and implement as much as they want!
Celebrate the invention process and let your kid know: Every invention is made up of lots of little problems solved with somebody’s great ideas. So keep asking “What if…?” and have fun inventing!
Thanks for reading! If you’d like to see more activities to accompany the Layla and the Bots books, visit Vicky’s website at www.vickyfang.com/activities.
Vicky Fang is a product designer who spent 5 years designing kids’ technology experiences for both Google and Intel, often to inspire and empower kids in coding and technology. She started writing to support the growing need for early coding education, particularly for girls and kids of color. Her goal is for her books to inspire computer literacy for a wide range of kids—while letting their imaginations run wild with the possibilities of technology! She is the author of the Layla and the Bots early chapter book series, as well as the Invent-A-Pet picture book and the I Can Code board book series. Find out more about Vicky by following her on Twitter at @fangmous or on her website at www.vickyfang.com.