Extending Human Ability through Technology

What You Need


Extending Human Ability through Technology


To explore how technology has been used to enhance human abilities. 


Many middle-school students are interested in machines that support or enhance life function. They should begin to examine ways in which people use various machines to improve speed, mobility, strength, hearing, seeing, etc.

In this lesson, students will explore various ways in which technology has enhanced human abilities. By doing so, they also will learn something about human capabilities and limitations.


Have students use their Extending Human Ability through Technology student esheet to read Barbie Legs, from Science Update. This Science Update looks at how Barbie’s knee joints are being used to help patients with prosthetic fingers. This story can be used to prompt an interesting discussion on the role that technology can play in enhancing human capabilities. It also provides evidence of the fact that technology need not be complicated and that anyone can be an inventor.

After listening to the transcript, ask students:

  • How did the idea for improving the prosthetic finger develop?
  • What have researchers learned from studying Barbie's knees? 
  • In this story, how is technology used to extend a human capability? 
  • Can you think of other technologies, or medical interventions, that are used to extend human capabilities? 
  • What would life have been like before these technologies were invented? 


Begin by reading the following quote to students:

"Compared with other species, we are nothing special when it comes to speed, agility, strength, stamina, vision, hearing, or the ability to withstand the extremes of environmental conditions. A variety of technologies, however, improves our ability to interact with the physical world. In a sense, our inventions have helped us make up for our biological disadvantages. Written records enable us to share and compile great amounts of information, vehicles allow us to move more rapidly than other animals, to travel in many media (even in space), and to reach remote and inhospitable places. Tools provide us with delicate control and prodigious strength and speed. For example, telescopes, cameras, infrared sensors, microphones, and other instruments extend our visual, auditory, and tactile senses and increase their sensitivity. Prosthetic devices and chemical and surgical intervention enable people with physical disabilities to function more effectively in their environment." (Science for All Americans, p. 72.)

Ask students to think of other technologies that are used to extend human abilities.

Have students break into groups. Assign one of the following technologies to each group to be investigated on or offline. Students can use their student esheet to go to these sites:

Have groups read background information on the assigned technology and prepare a short presentation for classmates on the following:

  • How the product or device works
  • How the product or device is modified or adapted to overcome a human limitation
  • How the product or device enables the user to do something that they were unable to do or had difficulty doing without it
  • How the product or device can be further modified to make it even more useful

If desired, have students explore the Inventor Archive website for more examples of adaptive technologies.

Have students consider these questions as they explore the various inventions:

  • What limitation does this technology help humans overcome?
  • How will this technology enhance and extend human ability?
  • Are there other technologies that address the same limitation?
  • How did the invention of this product come about?
  • Who is the technology specifically designed for? 
  • What materials are used? 
  • How might this product be marketed? 

Allow students to work in groups to create a technology designed to extend human capabilities. Students should begin by identifying a human limitation, which could be specific to a group (young children, the aged, people with diverse needs, etc.) or a biological constraint common to the human species. Their product should be designed to help individuals overcome this limitation. Ask students to draw or construct a model of this technology and create a marketing plan for it. 

Students should use the Extending Human Ability Product Design student sheet to answer these questions:

  • What limitation does this technology help humans overcome?
  • How will this technology enhance and extend human ability?
  • Why is this technology necessary? 
  • Who is the technology designed for? 
  • What materials would you use? 
  • How will this technology enhance and extend human ability? 

Have groups present and market their inventions to the class.

Read More


To summarize and assess the ideas in this lesson, have each student read The Changing Face of Sports and write a brief essay in support of or against the increasing use of technology in sports. Students can read the article online as directed by the student esheet. Or you can print out the article and have students read it offline. 

The essay should include some examples of how human function has been enhanced by technology and whether this has had a positive or negative effect on sports competition. 

Note: Consider developing a rubric for assessment of the essay. There are several resources on the Internet that describe the use of rubrics in the K-12 classroom, a few of which are highlighted here.

To learn more about rubrics in general, see Make Room for Rubrics on the Scholastic site.

For specific examples of rubrics, more information, and links to other resources, check out these sites:

Finally, you can go to Teacher Rubric Makers on the Teach-nology.com website to create your own rubrics. At this site, you can fill out forms to create rubrics suitable for your particular students and then print them instantly from your computer.


Have students explore Lasers: From Science Fiction to Everyday Life from The Tech Museum of Innovation. Have students focus on Everyday Lasers, referring to Laser Basics as a reference to help them understand what lasers do.

The point of this, however, is to focus on how technology has enhanced human abilities, not on the science of lasers. Pay particular attention to the section on “Lasers in Hospitals,” which includes discussions on the role of lasers in eye surgery, cosmetic surgery, and gallbladder surgery. 

The Science Update Robotic Arm introduces students to a robotic arm that may help stroke victims regain control of their movement.

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Lesson Details

Grades Themes Project 2061 Benchmarks