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Grade level: 4-6
Subjects: Science / Art
Overview: In this activity, students will look at some visionary artists from the Off the Map Web site who are also inventors. They should think about what it means to be an inventor, how inventions can be considered art, and create inventions of their own.
What does it take to be an inventor? Do you have to be like the Wright Brothers and make an airplane fly? Do you have to use metal or wood? Many people try to invent things every day. Some of the artists in Off the Map were inventors, but maybe not in the conventional sense.
Let's look at two inventors from the Off the Map site:
Dr. Evermor: Interactive tour | Travelogue
Vollis Simpson: Interactive tour | Travelogue
(1) Dr. Evermor - Creator of the Forevertron
Something to think about: Dr. Tom Evermor of Baraboo, Wisconsin, believed that he could build a device that sent him into space. He used old industrial machines to construct a huge monument called the “Forevertron.” It is an impressive creation, and many people enjoy seeing how he used old machines to create something new. But is he really an inventor if he never got into space?
Ask the students: "Have you ever had an alarm clock that failed to wake you up?" Lots of us have trouble getting up in the morning, and the most popular invention to solve that problem has been the alarm clock. If the alarm clock doesn’t always work perfectly, is it still a good invention?
Visit the site: By visiting the Off the Map section devoted to the Forevertron, ask the students what they think of the Forevertron after seeing it for themselves. Students might mention how fun it looks, how people from all over the world come to see it because it contains old, rare machines, and because of its impressive size. What do they think now? Even if Dr. Evermor has not gotten to space, is his invention serving a purpose?
Either individually or in groups, depending on class size, have the students come up with something they would invent if they could. What would make their life easier, or help them fulfill a goal they could not otherwise?
Have them sketch a prototype, indicating that it doesn’t need to be perfect; it just needs to function as they think it would. Then have the students share their ideas and drawings with the class.
(2) Vollis Simpson of Windmill Park fame
Something to think about: Vollis Simpson began to make windmills in order to harness the power of the wind. His first windmill powered a washing machine. But he liked the way they looked, so he began to make windmills, or whirligigs, simply because they looked so wonderful. Some of his whirligigs are 50-feet tall, and he used what he had on hand to construct them: bicycle wheels, street signs and whatever he found around him. Even though these whirligigs did not serve a useful purpose, like the one that ran the washing machine, people love them.
Ask the students: Asking the students to think back to Dr. Evermor and his Forevertron, do they think that Vollis Simpson was right to take an invention and simply make art out of it? Do they think they could make their inventions work, or would they just like to try?
Individually or in groups, ask the class to really make a prototype of their invention. Maybe they think that it would be too complicated. Have the class collect objects from the classroom and around the school that they could use to build their invention. When they have finished building, again have them present their invention to the class.