To explore the scientific enterprise and the contributions of diverse people.
The study of science as an intellectual and social endeavor—the application of human intelligence in figuring out how the world works—should have a prominent place in any curriculum that has science literacy as one of its aims.
This investigation focuses on inventions because it allows students to explore some of the more practical applications of the scientific enterprise. Even at points in American history when women and minorities were excluded from the formal scientific enterprise, ordinary people from all walks of life contributed to science and technology as inventors of products that we use everyday. This is important because children in early adolescence need to see science-related careers as a real option for themselves.
Read about California student Krysta Morlan’s Cast Cooler invention on the Invention Dimension website. Ask students to describe how the cast cooler works, and discuss how Morlan's own personal experience led to her invention.
Students will use the Inventor of the Week Archives to create and develop a project on American inventions. There are about 150 inventors profiled in this resource.
In the first part of the project, the entire class will work on a timeline that will include information on all of the inventors profiled on the site. To do this, assign five or six inventors to each student in the class. Provide Internet time for each student to read their assigned profiles and ask them to write the following information on an index card for each inventor: name, gender, date and place of birth, and the name(s) and date(s) of their invention.
Use the index cards to create a timeline of American invention. Ask students to make generalizations about American inventors based on the timeline. For example, how many inventors were women, which regions of the country produce the most inventors, how many of the inventions do we still use today.
Next, ask students to select one of the inventors about whom they gathered information and prepare a report on that inventor. The report should include personal information about the inventor, as well as an explanation of his/her invention and the social, historical, scientific, and economic impact of the invention.
In addition to the Invention Dimension resources, students can look for books, articles, or other resources that provide more information on their topic, each of which should be properly noted in a bibliography. A good source for information and links to inventors on the Smithsonian Institution’s websites can be found on Smithsonian: Behind Every Invention There's A Story.
For a final product students should prepare a written report and a poster. The posters can be displayed in the classroom, in the library, or on bulletin boards in the school hallways. (If displayed in the libraries, ask students to work with the school librarian to compile a bibliography of books that students can read for information about American inventors and inventions.) Have the class work as a group to decide how the information should be displayed. For example, they may wish to group inventions by categories, by time periods, or by demographic information about the inventors.
The images that many people have of science and how it works are often distorted. The myths and stereotypes that young people have about science are not dispelled when science teaching focuses narrowly on the laws, concepts, and theories of science.
In this lesson, the range of inventors selected by students should represent a group of people who used science in a variety of settings, including laboratories, farms, factories, and hospitals.
To help focus student thinking on ideas in the benchmarks, ask each student to list three or more examples from the class projects that support the following statement:
Important contributions to the advancement of science, mathematics, and technology have been made by different kinds of people, in different cultures, at different times.
Ideas about invention and innovation can be extended by letting students explore the resources on BKFK.
Working in teams, have students prepare a visual timeline of the accomplishments of women in science. Display the timelines and have student teams present their projects to the class. In addition to the sites listed above, students can obtain more information for their timelines from the resources listed below:
- 4000 Years of Women in Science is a website that contains biographies and pictures of over 125 women who have contributed to the history of science and technology.
- TAP: The Ada Project is a site designed to serve as a clearinghouse for information and resources relating to women in computing from Carnegie Mellon University.
- Women of NASA includes profiles of over 20 modern women "firsts."