Autodesk Teams Up With the Smithsonian Lemelson Center to Inspire Next Generation of Inventors Through Distance Learning

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Traditionally, April in Washington D.C. means cherry blossoms and students arriving for their spring trips to our nation’s capital. One of the hallmark stops for these school visits is the Draper Spark!Lab located in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History where kids can spend time playing and inventing with hands-on activities. While at Spark!Lab, visitors are empowered to believe that everyone is inventive in some way. At a time when staying home is essential to public health, distance learning has become the norm, with educators, parents and students alike looking to online resources as essential ways to learn, play, and explore. And the Spark!Lab is no different!  

Child working at table at Spark!Lab

Located in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, kids visit the Spark!Lab to play and invent through hands-on activities. Currently, all museum spaces are indefinitely closed.

Spark!Labs, both in the museum and in network sites across the country, are physical spaces where kids develop the skills and confidence they need to succeed today and in the future. While museum spaces are closed indefinitely, Spark!Lab, in collaboration with Autodesk, is launching the most popular activities from the hands-on invention spaces through a no-cost online experience. What I love about these challenges is that they encourage students of all ages to think critically and creatively about different types of objects. By bringing these design challenges online, kids swap physical tools like cardboard and rubber bands for Tinkercad, exposing learners to the basics of 3D modeling, electronics, and codingTo start, there are fiveSpark!Lab  activities available on Instructables: Help Clean Up the Ocean, Invent a Musical Instrument, Reinvent the Shopping Cart, Design a Spacecraft, and Design a Stadium.  

Ready to dive in? Watch as one Tinkercad user designs a solution for cleaning up the ocean. 

Spark!Lab provides opportunities for children and families to explore their inventive creativity—to create, innovate, collaborate, and problem-solve. Supplemented by historical 3D content from the National Museum of American History, kids of all ages can virtually explore the seven steps of the invention process, from concept to sharing their invention. More Spark!Lab activities will be added to Instructables often, ensuring that repeat visitors have something new to explore each time they login.  

Interested in inventions? Read more on the Lemelson Center’s study of innovation in skateboarding.  

Tinkercad users can also create their own designs using some of the most famous Smithsonian artifacts. This past February, the Smithsonian contributed hundreds of 3D scans of historical artifacts into the Creative Commons through the Smithsonian Open Access Initiative. Autodesk collaborated with the Smithsonian to include a portion of this collection inside Tinkercad’s 3D editor. Now, users can access the woolly mammoth, Morse telegraph, Apollo 11 command module, and more, all from the editor’s dropdown list – just look for the Smithsonian label.  

Image of woolly mammoth in tinkercad

From a woolly mammoth to the Apollo 11 command module, kids can bring some of the most famous Smithsonian artifacts into their designs.


Read more on the Autodesk software and resources available to students and educators.

Beyond the new invention lessons from Spark!Lab and the Smithsonian collection in Tinkercad, Autodesk has curated additional resources for educators, students, and parents to support distance learning, including online instruction that can be seamlessly integrated into an educator’s curriculum, self-paced courses, and projects to supplement classwork.