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  • Subject: Technology
  • |
  • Grade(s): 6-8
  • |
  • Duration: One class period

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. Some everyday objects are the result of research by their inventors, and some come about accidentally.
2. Many everyday objects have developed over time from one design to another.


For this lesson, you will need:
Reference materials about the invention of everyday objects. See, in particular, if your library has the following titles or others by Henry Petroski:
  • Engineers of Dreams
  • The Evolution of Useful Things
  • The Pencil
  • Remaking the World


1. In this activity, students will work independently to trace everyday objects back through history and then design a bulletin board made up of students' fliers about the origin and development of inventions we wouldn't want to be without.
2. Using a standard encyclopedia or special books devoted to the invention of everyday objects, make and show students a word-and-picture flier that explains one such object—say, the fork.
3. Lead a brainstorming session to help your students make a list of other everyday objects they may be curious about. Some everyday objects to be explored include the following:
  • Zippers
  • Pencils
  • Salt and pepper shakers
  • Self-sticking note paper
  • Staplers
  • Lightbulbs
  • Paper clips
  • Velcro
Come up with enough objects so that, if possible, you can assign only one student to learn the history of each.
4. Specify for students the questions you want them to answer about each everyday object they study:
  • Why did the object first come about? Did someone set out to make it, or did an accident of sorts inspire the inventor?
  • Through what stages did the object develop? What caused changes in the object over time?
  • How did the everyday object in question change the way people behave?
  • What is the economic impact of the object? That is, how many are made each year, and how many people are involved in making it?
5. Give students an idea of how they might illustrate their fliers:
  • Photocopying pictures of the object as it appeared originally and as it appears now
  • Sketching the object as it appeared originally and as it appears now
  • Photographing the object as it appears now
6. When students have completed their fliers, select a committee of students to lay out the fliers on a bulletin board. Encourage the students on this committee to measure and plan before beginning to tack up the fliers.

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Instead of fliers for a bulletin board, the end product made by older students might be copies of a book written for and distributed to a class of elementary school students. This variation on the project will involve making all the information prepared by individual students uniform in style and appearance. It will also involve a plan for mass production.

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Discussion Questions

1. "The advantage to not having any schooling was not knowing what couldn't be done and going ahead and doing what needed to be done." What does this statement mean? Do you agree? Explain your answer.
2. Is there anything of value on television? If so, what? Should programming be changed to make television more valuable to society? How?
3. Petroski states, "There are no new ideas." Is this statement correct? How would life be different for an inventor if no new ideas were possible?
4. "There's no perfect design. Everything has to sacrifice one aspect to achieve another." Is this statement true? Why or why not? List some instances in which this statement may apply.

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You can evaluate students' fliers using the following three-point rubric:
  • Three points: accurate information clearly expressed; carefully selected and arranged illustration; no errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics

  • Two points: accurate information adequately expressed; adequate illustrations; some errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics

  • One point: information inadequate and not clearly expressed; inadequate illustration; many errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics

You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining a minimum number of facts that each flier should include.

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A Better Solution
Discuss with students that a lot of people use backpacks for carrying books and notebooks, but point out that backpacks were not originally designed to transport books. Challenge your students to redesign a backpack or come up with an entirely different object to better meet the needs of people who carry many books. After students have come up with several suggestions, have the class vote on the best idea.

What Will They Think of Next?
Ask students to think like engineers. That is, ask them to identify an everyday problem and come up with an object to get around the problem. They can look around school or home to identify an annoying problem. Then they can design the product that will solve the problem. Ask students to explain why their solutions are better than what may already exist.

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Suggested Readings

They All Laughed: From Lightbulbs to Lasers, the Fascinating Stories Behind the Great Inventions That Have Changed Our Lives
Ira Flatow, HarperCollins, 1992
Silly Putty, synthetic sweeteners, photocopiers, Vaseline, and video games are all explained in terms of their frequently unpopular, sometimes hilarious, and often accidental beginnings.

Art and Technology Through the Ages
Robert R. Ingpen, Chelsea House Publishers, 1995
This adaptation of "The Encyclopedia of Ideas That Changed the World" for young people is a good, illustrated reference work about the history of inventions.

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The Farnsworth Chronicles
This link provides a biography of the inventor who serendipitously got the technological idea for assembling video images.

Interactive MultiMedia
Where will television fit into the history of multimedia? Look back one hundred years and then look fifty years into the future.


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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    photoelectric
Definition: Involving, relating to, or utilizing any of various electrical effects due to the interaction of radiation (as light) with matter.
Context: Each piece of light hit a photoelectric cell which converted the light into electricity.

speaker    cathode
Definition: A negatively charged electrode, as of an electrolytic cell, a storage battery, or an electron tube.
Context: And it could be done with a cathode ray tube.

speaker    pixel
Definition: The smallest image-forming unit of a video display.
Context: The cathode ray tube fired electricity one pixel at a time.

speaker    alkali
Definition: A carbonate or hydroxide of an alkali metal, the aqueous solution of which is bitter, slippery, caustic, and characteristically basic in reactions.
Context: It won't dissolve in solvents, melt or burn easily, or react to acids or alkalies.

speaker    compromise
Definition: A settlement of differences in which each side makes concessions; something that combines qualities or elements of different things.
Context: The paper clip is the perfect example of the principle of compromise in design.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: history
Understands the historical perspective.
Understands that specific individuals and the values those individuals held had an impact on history.

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: technology
Understands the interactions of science, technology and society.
Knows that technology influences society through its products and processes, and technological changes are often accompanied by social, political and economic changes that may be beneficial or detrimental to individuals and to society; social needs, attitudes and values influence the direction of technological development.

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: technology
Understands the scientific enterprise.
Knows that creativity, imagination and a good knowledge base are all required in the work of science and engineering.

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Jeffrey Leaf, technology teacher, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Virginia.

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