Da Vincis Vitruvian Man

Activity: Inventor Workshop

Creating an Invention

Using a variety of materials, imagine and design inventions to solve specific challenges.

Text Block: 

Classroom Activity:

Lesson Plan

Main Idea: Students will imagine and design inventions to solve specific challenges. Using a variety of materials they can create small working models of their inventions to test and improve them. Final diagrams and images of their designs can be sent to this site for display in the Visitor's Invention Gallery.

Learning Objectives: Experience the process of designing an invention to meet a challenge. Select and apply the elements of machines in new situations. Illustrate an invention so that other people can understand how it works.

Time: 3 or more class periods

Teaching Tip: This activity will be more successful after a class has completed the Gadget Anatomy activity. The more experience students have had observing and sketching machines to see how they work, the more they will be ready for this more creative challenge.

Day 1

Materials: paper, pencils with erasers, copies of the Materials Requisition Form, copies of the Design Challenges and Suggested Materials List

Teaching Tip: Explain that Leonardo created machines to solve many problems during his lifetime. He saw ways that machines could save people time and effort, and he used his creativity and his understanding of machinery to design and sketch his inventions. In this activity, students will get to choose from a list of design challenges. They will work in small groups to sketch possible solutions, build prototypes, and create finished blueprints for their inventions.


  1. Present the list of design challenges and encourage students to discuss them and select the challenge they wish to work on.
  2. Divide into groups based on the challenges selected. If many students choose the same challenge, create workable subgroups of 2-5 members. Groups can them begin brainstorming and sketching their ideas, using the Inventor's Toolbox pages for reference. They should also write down any questions they have about the assignment so they can ask them when you, the teacher, come around.
  3. Explain that each group needs to make a list of materials that they think will be needed to create a working model of their invention. They should list the description and quantity of each material on the Materials Requisition Form. Explain that the models should be on a small scale and that toys and dolls can be used to take the place of larger objects and people.
  4. At the end of day one, collect the sketches and Materials Requisition Forms and compare them with what you have available in the classroom for construction. Inform the students of materials you don't have available and enlist their help in bringing in materials from home that the class can use. Each group should assign someone to bring in any special materials their challenge requires such as toothpaste or an empty cereal box and milk jug.

Day 2

Materials: all requested materials, pencils with erasers, completed Materials Requisition Forms, empty grocery bags for collecting supplies

Teaching Tip: Put out all of the materials to be used for constructing inventions.


  1. Pass back the Materials Requisition Forms and ask each group to send up two team members to collect what the group needs in a grocery bag.
  2. Groups should spend the rest of the period constructing and testing their inventions. They may find their initial ideas need modifying substantially as they work, so allow plenty of time and give lots of encouragement. Groups can update their Materials Requisition Forms to obtain additional supplies.
  3. Some obstacles may be common enough to benefit from some whole class brainstorming; for example, everyone may be having difficulty creating sturdy supporting structures for their inventions or finding good places to hang them. Discuss possible solutions and provide helpful suggestions and techniques from your own experience.
  4. When construction is complete, groups should test their machines and make improvements as necessary.
  5. After the inventions reach their final form. Groups should present them to the class and explain how they work. This might be a good place to discuss the process as well and for students to share their insights about working in groups, inventing, and solving problems.

Day 3

Materials: inventions, original sketches, pencils or pens, paper, all updated Materials Requisition Forms


  1. Now that the inventions are finished, students need to make final accurate sketches or "blueprints" that show how their finished inventions work.
  2. They should sketch their machines from at least two points of view such as side and overhead, or side and front. They should check to be sure all materials they actually used are shown. If part of the invention is complicated they may also want to draw an enlargement of just that part, something Leonardo often did. If something is hidden inside a structure, they should try sketching a cut-away image.
  3. They should add arrows and labels to make their blueprints clearer to someone else trying to duplicate their invention.