Invention Convention

Questacon Invention Convention

Don't just use the latest technology- create it!

Students learning robotics at an Invention Convention

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Enterprising Australians

Find out about Australian inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs.

Taj Pabari, founder of Fiftysix Creations, works with a student

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Make at Questacon in Canberra

Ball Run Resource

Welcome to the Questacon Maker Project Ball Run workshop. This resource provides information and activities designed to complement your workshop experience. This includes pre- and post-visit activities, questions to keep your class thinking about the project, tips on running this workshop on a smaller scale and general information on the innovation process.



Contrary to popular belief, Thomas Edison didn't "invent" the light bulb. He is known for this life changing invention because he improved upon a 50-year-old idea and made it accessible for everyone to use. This process of building on ideas to create something new is called innovation.


We all have the tools we need to be innovative; problem solving, creativity, maths, science and technology, but it’s how we use these tools that can make the difference between having an idea and doing something with it.


The process of need, think, make, try, refine is at the heart of any design or engineering feat. These stages don’t follow a set pattern or order, but arise naturally from the exploration of new ideas. It can be useful to think about each of these stages as you work on your own designs.

  • Does your idea address your need?
  • Can you think of a new or better approach to solve your problem?
  • Can you make a prototype?
  • Try out your prototype – does it do what it’s supposed to?
  • How can you refine your design to make it better?




Before your visit

Pre-visit Activities

The innovation process is about taking an idea and making something new. So an innovator is someone who wants to create change for the better by coming up with new ways of doing things.  Sometimes, making this change in society comes from changing your perspective.

Activity 1

Obtain two random objects (anything from a plastic spoon, a single serve pack of vegemite to a test tube).

  1. For each object ask the class to brainstorm other ways the object could be used. It might be helpful to ask your students what they could use the object for if they were abandoned on a desert island – this can get the creative juices flowing.
  2. Now imagine the object at any scale, made of any material, or in any context. What could it be used for? Does this new object perform the function better than existing products?


Activity 2

This activity is designed to show your students some of the real world problems that relate to the Ball Run workshop. As it is a brainstorming exercise, we recommend having your class work in small groups to think of ways to solve the problem given below.


You are helping fruit growers in a developing country. Their farm is located in a hard to reach location on a mountain.


The farmers need to get their fruit safely down the mountain so it can be sold at the market. Currently they use a very labour intensive approach, carrying the produce down by hand. This is a very slow process so each year lots of the fruit is ruined while it sits waiting. Can we find a more efficient way to move the fruit down the mountain?

Things to keep in mind
  • Fruit is fragile
  • You only have access to very basic resources (Planks of wood, ropes, tarpaulin, etc.)



During your visit

What to expect at the workshop

Students will use tools and basic supplies, such as wood, card and string, to create a unique solution to control the descent of a marble through a maze. The initial challenge asks students to make a run that lasts 15 seconds however, the challenges can be endless. Fast working students are encouraged to refine their run with added restrictions.

All tools and resources will be supplied; a teacher must be present to supervise students at all times.

Running time: 120 minutes



Introduction to the IPTLC and the innovation process

Induction to tools, materials and workspace

Introduction to  ball runs and the challenge

Students break into small groups (2-4)

Main Activity

Students construct and test their desk top ball run

Challenge: Marble must go from top to bottom of the run in 10 seconds

To incite creative thinking and problem solving, students must incorporate 1-2 prefabricated maze pieces that may slow or redirect the descent of the marble


Extension activities


If certain groups excel quickly at these tasks, there are a number of extension activities that can be tailored to the individual groups and their designs.



Watch and time students’ ball runs for a final time.
Ball run deconstruction, recycling as much material as possible.
Facilitate questions and discussion on workshop, including:

  • Approach to the challenge(s)
  • What did you find the most challenging throughout the process?
  • Was testing important during the design phase?
  • What would you do differently next time?


Final video of an inspiring ball run/Rube Goldberg contraption


  • 3D Ball run frames and pre-fabricated maze pieces
  • Raw materials including; wood, card, string, tape, plastics
  • Tools, including; saws, scissors, hot glue guns


After your visit

Follow up questions

During the pre-visit activities, you asked your students how they would help remote farmers move fruit down a mountain. Referring back to this question:

  • Does anyone have any new\better ideas of how this could be achieved?
  • What if you were allowed any materials\resources?
  • Can you think of any other industries that need things like ball runs, e.g. dry cleaners, soft drink canneries?
  • Could any part of your life be improved with ramp technology, e.g. taking out the rubbish, feeding pets?


Run your own workshop

The Ball run activity can be simplified by running it along a single plane. This can be done by constructing the ball run on a wall, rather than in a cage. Pin boards and magnetic boards can be used to great effect. This allows you to create vertical runs that use very little horizontal space. Cardboard or paper ramps can be easily adjusted and repositioned to reduce material use and allow for simple refinements.


Explore and Expand: Science and Innovation

Many new inventions that have made our lives easier, or just more enjoyable, wouldn’t have happened without innovative thinking. However, you need tools to innovate, and scientific knowledge is one of those tools. Other tools that you may need (or already have access to) include maths, drawing, design, language and computer science. Science and innovation have a close relationship—they go hand in hand. Many scientific and technological advancements and developments are due to innovative thinking; using something that already exists but applying it to something new—being creative, thinking laterally.


Australian Innovation

Did you know? WiFi is an Australian innovation

WiFi was originally developed by Dr. John O’Sullivan while he was trying to solve a radio astronomy problem—finding exploding black holes. After some time, other researchers from CSIRO modified his idea; using mathematics and physics to solve another problem—wireless communication. This didn’t happen overnight, but the various applications of WiFi have made this innovation one of the most crucial technologies in our networked society. Check out the full story at


Activity 3

Research and discuss: Ask students to discover some of Australia’s coolest inventions and discuss the process behind their creation!

Questions might include:

  1. What are some of Australia’s most creative inventions?
  2. Who came up with them? Was it a team effort or an individual effort?
  3. How did the creator(s) come up with their invention? What Ideas did they build on? What inspired them?
  4. Can you identify the need?
  5. Were there any prototypes? What did they look like?

Questions are based around the innovation process to help unpack it and provide real world examples of the process in action.


After your visit

Activity 4

During the workshop students were able to engage their imaginations. This is an integral part of creative problem solving and innovation. A great way to apply this style of thinking to real world problems is to use the Innovation Process to investigate solutions.

As a class, brainstorm a “society need” by coming up with problems around the classroom – noticing that society has a need is often the first step in the process.

Ask students to select one of these brainstormed problems and develop a solution using the THINK, MAKE, TRY, REFINE worksheets (on the next page). Ask them to fill it out with details relating to their chosen “society need” – they can work individually or in groups.

If you only have a short amount of time, this activity can be done as a thinking exercise relating to innovation, or could expand into a week-long practical problem solving endeavour if the class seems enthusiastic to apply their solutions. We leave it to you, as the teacher, to determine which solutions can be practically and inexpensively implemented in the classroom.


Teacher prompt problems

For example, students may feel that listening to music would improve their ability to concentrate in class.  How could your class incorporate music into the classroom?  Can they design a device that would amplify their smartphone without using cords?

Other possible problems:

  • Arrangement of desks
  • Morning / afternoon sunlight issues
  • People getting moody / tired in the afternoon
  • Approach to storage
  • Getting to class on time
  • Taking turns talking
  • Lack of motivation
  • Issues with mobile phones


NAME:                                                                                    DATE:


  • How have similar problems been solved?
  • What materials/tools/ideas/scientific concepts are important for understanding and solving the problem?
  • Design your new idea – sketch it out
  • Can you make a small adjustment to improve on an existing design?


  • Build a basic prototype using household materials
  • Come up with a way to implement your idea in the classroom
  • Can you adjust things in your classroom to complement your idea?





  • Put your idea into action
  • Does it do what you wanted it to do?
  • Does it do something different? Something better?


  • Evaluate your idea – how do you think it went? How do your classmates feel it went?
  • How could you improve on your idea? A different material/colour/size?






Curriculum links

Science Inquiry Skills Strand

This workshop’s activities relates to Science Inquiry Skills across all years by encouraging:

  • Questioning and predicting
  • Planning and conducting
  • Processing and analysing data and information
  • Evaluating
  • Communicating

Science as a Human Endeavour Strand

If this activity is extended to research and discuss the applications of ball runs, where and how they are used in society (eg. Coin mints, fruit and chocolate conveyors, recycling plants), it links to the Science as a Human Endeavour Strand.

Science Understanding Strand

As well as investigating physical force gravity, if this activity is extended to research and discuss motion and transfer of energy it links across various subjects in the Science Understanding Strand.

Year 7 Physical Science

Changes to an object’s motion is caused by unbalanced forces acting on the object (ACSSU117)

Earth’s gravity pulls objects towards the centre of the Earth (ACSSU118)


Year 8 Physical Science

Energy appears in different forms including movement (kinetic energy), heat and potential energy and causes changes within systems (ACSSU155)


Year 10 Physical Science

Energy conservation in a system can be explained by describing energy transfers and transformations (ACSSU190)

The motion of objects can be described and predicted using the laws of physics (ACSSU229)


Design and Technology: Processes and Production

Year 7/8

Critique needs or opportunities for designing and investigate, analyse and select from a range of materials, components, tools, equipment and processes to develop design ideas (ACTDEP035)

Effectively and safely use a broad range of materials, components, tools, equipment and techniques to make designed solutions (ACTDEP037)


Year 9/10

Apply design thinking, creativity, innovation and enterprise skills to develop, modify and communicate design ideas of increasing sophistication (ACTDEP049)

Work flexibly to safely test, select, justify and use appropriate technologies and processes to make designed solutions (ACTDEP050)


Design and Technology: Knowledge and Understanding

Year 9/10

Investigate and make judgments on how the characteristics and properties of materials, systems, components, tools and equipment can be combined to create designed solutions (ACTDEK046)


Australian National Curriculum Online:

Questacon Maker ProjectQuestacon Smart SkillsQuestacon Invention ConventionEnterprising Australians, Developed by Questacon