Extreme Innovation – Bay Area Discovery Museum

Extreme Innovation

Imagine, build, and share innovations that can help people living in extreme conditions. Using recycled materials, children will design models of shelters or other tools to help those living in the desert.

Materials Required

  • Images of the desert
  • Pencils
  • Paper
  • Recycled materials (egg cartons, yogurt containers, milk jugs, shoe boxes, cardboard tubes, etc.)
  • Colored construction paper
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Bubble wrap
  • Chocolate chips
  • Hairdryer
  • Thermometer


  1. Discuss the unique conditions of the desert with children. Ask: What kind of shelter could you construct in the desert? How could you stay cool in the heat of the day? Tell them their design challenge for today is to build something that will protect a chocolate chip from the heat of the “desert” (simulated by a hairdryer).
  2. Encourage children to plan their ideas using pencil and paper first.
  3. Children will build models of their ideas using recycled materials, construction paper, bubble wrap, tape, and scissors.
  4. Using a hairdryer to simulate the desert, invite children to test their models by placing a chocolate chip inside their creation to see if it will withstand the extreme weather conditions. Guide children to notice what happens to their models and to the chocolate chip: do pieces of it melt or become too hot to touch? What happens over time? Does the chocolate chip melt? How long does it take to melt?
  5. As children test their designs, use the thermometer to take and record the temperature of the chocolate. Which design has the coolest/warmest temperature?
  6. Challenge children to improve their design: How will it stay cool during the day and warm at night? What else does the model need?

Additional Tips

Try these add-on activities:

  • After children have finished building, hold a gallery walk and allow children to walk around to view each other’s creations.
  • Ask older children to write about their creation and explain how it would help people survive in the desert.
  • Learn about real innovations that help people who live in the desert today survive and thrive.
  • Ask older kids what other extreme condition they want to solve for, such as the arctic tundra, living underwater, moving to Mars, etc. Help them think through constraints they would encounter in that situation.


Links to Creativity

Asking a child to imagine an unfamiliar scenario like that of being in a desert or tsunami is an exercise in perspective taking and creativity. In fact, one of the tasks from the fabled Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking has measured creativity for decades by asking people to generate solutions for unlikely scenarios (Torrance & Safter, 1989). Even if your child has already experienced extreme weather conditions, perspective taking helps her understand what an extreme event is like, and how to innovate solutions for those who need help dealing with such obstacles in life. Empathizing with someone living under those conditions makes us more likely to see things differently (Grant & Berry, 2011) while coming up with creative solutions.

Supporting research includes:

Grant, A. M., & Berry, J. W. (2011). The necessity of others is the mother of invention: Intrinsic and prosocial motivations, perspective taking, and creativity. Academy of Management Journal, 54(1), 73-96.

Torrance, E., & Safter, H. T. (1989). The long range predictive validity of the Just Suppose Test. The Journal of Creative Behavior, 23(4), 219-223.


This activity was contributed by the Bay Area Discovery Museum. ©2016 Bay Area Discovery Museum. For more information and resources see BayAreaDiscoveryMuseum.org

Extreme Innovation

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