Invention Convention

Questacon Invention Convention

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

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Make at Questacon in Canberra

Robot Hack Resource

Welcome to the IPTLC Robots Hack workshop. In this workshop we will show students the importance of hardware when designing robots. This resource provides information to prepare you and your students for the workshop. Included in this document are activities we recommend you run before and after the workshop to help maximise your students’ learning from our workshop.

Background – Innovation

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 simply about taking an idea and making something new. So an innovator is someone who wants to create change 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). For each object ask the class to brainstorm other ways the object could be used.

1. Imagine the object at any scale, made of any material, or in any context. 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. How would you improve the original object to better address the new purpose? Does this new object perform the function better than existing products?


Activity 2

This activity is designed to help your students experience some of the creative thinking processes they will need during the Robots Hack workshop. We recommend having your class work in small groups to think of ways to solve the problem given below.


In groups of 4 or 5 members, elect a student (the “guesser”) to wait outside the room until the rest of the team is ready.  The remaining team members must create a short (approx. 30 sec) story that they will act out using repeating actions, without talking.  When ready, bring the guesser back into the room, and begin acting out the story to them.  Teams can only repeat pre-decided actions to the guesser until they can describe the story line.

Things to keep in mind

Students are not allowed to talk, except to say “yes” or “no” to questions from the guesser.  It is suggested that students start with simple, short storylines for the first couple of rounds before expanding.  For example, the early storylines can be as simple as “taking a dog for a walk, and picking a flower”, while a later storyline may be more along the lines of somebody attending a fancy dress party.  If students are engaged, group sizes can also be expanded. 

This activity is more about the interpretation of the guessing student than the movements of the creating students.  To this end, there is no limit on the number or types of actions that the creating students can use.


During your visit

What to expect at the workshop

Developing good technology relies on a judicious blend of science and imagination. The aim of this workshop is for students to find an alternative use for an existing machine without being able to change how it works. Students will learn about mechanical design concepts, such as range of motion, motion conversion and sensor inputs, using simple pre-programmed robotic learning kits. Given parts such as motors and sensors, students use creative problem solving to figure out how to repurpose the technology to complete a household chore..

This workshop contains many strong links to the Australian Curriculum. All tools and resources will be supplied; a teacher will need to be present at the workshop to act as a supervisor.

Running time: 120 minutes



Introduction to Life Hacks and finding alternative uses for simple machines. Demonstration of materials dissection by finding alternative uses for a simple product such as a wooden peg.

Demonstration of Lego NXT robots and understanding of inputs and outputs. Discuss what is required of the students in the challenge.

Main Activity

Students will work in small groups to build a labour saving machine using the Lego NXT robot provided.

The robot will be pre-programmed to perform certain motions (outputs), and students will have to experiment to work out what different outputs are triggered by the various inputs.

A life hack theme will challenge students to make solutions to domestic chores. Students must utilise the robot program and a wide range of building materials to solve their challenge.

Students are encouraged to continually test and try out their contraption as the challenge progresses.

Extension activities

Facilitated as required.


A demonstration from each group showcasing their machine.

Facilitate questions and discussion on workshop, including:

  • What was your favourite aspect of the workshop?
  • Approach to the challenge(s)
  • The construction process
  • The testing process
  • What would you do differently next time?


  • Robotics hardware including; motor, sensors, programmable brain
  • Raw materials including; wood, card, string, tape, plastics
  • Tools, including; saws, scissors, hot glue guns

After your visit

Follow up activity

Brainstorming pioneer Alex Osborn was a master at using perspective changes to encourage people to think of new ideas. He developed a list of questions including:

  • What other product is like this one?
  • How could I change or modify this product?
  • How could I add to this product?
  • What could I take away from this product to minimise it?
  • What could I use instead of this product or a portion of it?
  • How could I alter or rearrange this product’s composition?
  • What things could I put together to make a new product?

Activity 1

In student groups of 2 or 3, groups are given one product as chosen by the teacher (examples include: lamp, shoe, wallet). Each group is asked to answer the brainstorming questions referring to their product. They can write down their ideas on a piece of butchers paper and present to the class their favourite answer.

Further investigation into 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 just 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.

Case Study: 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

Old knowledge + lateral thinking + problem solving = a new solution (innovation)


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 robots, machinery, and how technology might influence society, 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)


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