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What is an Invention?

Photo: PhotoDisc


• What Is An Invention?

• Inventions All Around Us!

• Top 10 Inventions

• Inventions for the 21st Century

Activity: Students will talk about what inventions are (how they're different from discoveries) and learn to recognize some of the many inventions all around them. Then they'll look at a few famous inventors and their inventions, and talk about how each innovation changed the way people lived.
  1. Write the following words on the board: telephone, fire, toothpaste, aspirin, electricity, wheel, gold. Ask your class to choose which of these are inventions. (answer: telephone, toothpaste, aspirin, wheel) Ask them why the other things on the list are not inventions. (They're found in nature; people didn't create them.) Which of these items might be considered discoveries? (fire, electricity, gold) Why? (They had already existed in nature when someone discovered them for the first time.)
  2. On the board, write: "An invention is ..." and ask the class to brainstorm answers. For example, an invention is: something new, something created by a person, something that people use. When this list is complete, ask them to develop a definition of invention. (The Discovery School site below gives the following definition: "Invention is the creation of a new device, process, or product." The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines invention as: "an original device or process.")
  3. Ask students to name inventions they can see in the classroom. For each invention, ask them to describe what the invention is used for. As they brainstorm, keep a list on the board. If they point out things that are not inventions, ask them to return to the definition.
  4. Write the following names on the board: Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Alva Edison, Henry Ford, Orville and Wilbur Wright. Tell students that these are some of the most famous inventors. Ask students if they know what each of them invented and write the invention next to the name.
    • Alexander Graham Bell: Telephone
    • Henry Ford: Assembly line and the Model T (the first popular car to be sold to many people)
    • Wright brothers: Airplane
    • Thomas Alva Edison: Light bulb and phonograph (the first machine to record and play back sounds), and many others
    • Eli Whitney: Cotton gin
  5. Divide students into five groups, each assigned to one of the inventors above. Ask them to answer the following questions. They may use the Web sites below to help them research.
    • How does this invention help people?
    • How do you think this invention changed the way people live?
    • What kinds of things did this person need to know in order to create his invention?
    • Would you consider this a successful invention? Why or why not?
  6. Bring the class together and have each group read their answers. What makes all these inventions important?

General Information About Inventions

Henry Ford

Eli Whitney

Thomas Alva Edison

Orville and Wilbur Wright