inventive adaptation- The principle of taking objects or systems from one area of life and repurposing them to function in another system or area of life. Inventive adaptation has a role in almost every modern invention. For example, the first vacuum cleaner was a machine with a set of roller brushes (from a hair stylist) attached to bellows (from a blacksmithing shop). The machine generated a vacuum when the bellows expanded. When Daniel Hess built the first vacuum cleaner from seemingly unrelated objects, he used inventive adaptation. When students repurpose everyday objects to create their projects for a Buildit Challenge, it is an exercise in inventive adaptation.

Improvisational engineering (or improvisational play)- The process of making small changes, adjustments, and repairs along the way to create a working model. When students begin to construct their projects, they usually start with a goal in mind. For example, they plan to make a claw machine or a model dream home. As they work with various building materials, they learn about material properties such as the operating range of cardboard, and they learn about mechanical principles such as shape dynamics, structural tension and compression, and the laws of physics.

Most students who participate in the Buildit Challenge will not become inventors or structural engineers. However, these concepts have universal applications in all fields of study and all parts of life. Combined, they make a philosophy called, “Yankee ingenuity.” This philosophy was the backbone of the Industrial Revolution, and it is the kind of engineering that fuels NASA. And we need more of it as this generation faces some of the biggest challenges in history.