Alexander Graham Bell Background Information for Teachers and Parents

Grade Levels: K-3

This page contains information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students about Alexander Graham Bell and the invention of the telephone.  The information is designed to complement the BrainPOP Jr. movie Alexander Graham Bell. It explains the type of content covered in the movie, provides ideas for how teachers and parents can develop related understandings, and suggests how other BrainPOP Jr. resources can be used to scaffold and extend student learning.

Help children understand that important inventors have changed lives. Inspire them to be inventors themselves and find ways to change and improve the world around them. This movie will explore the life and work of Alexander Graham Bell and discuss a few of his key inventions, including the telephone.

Alexander Graham Bell was born on March 3, 1847, in Edinburgh, Scotland. His mother was a pianist, even though she had lost her hearing and was deaf. His father was a teacher who taught deaf students how to communicate. As a young boy, Bell learned how to communicate with his mother using his hands and fingers. He was curious as a child, and he enjoyed studying different subjects and conducting experiments. When he was twelve years old, Bell made his first invention. It was a device that helped separate wheat kernels from their husks and it incorporated rotating paddles with brushes. His device was used on a family friend’s mill for several years, and the mill owner even gave young Bell a workshop to try out his experiments and inventions. Later, Bell followed in his father’s footsteps and became a teacher of deaf students in Massachusetts. One of his students was Helen Keller.

Help children understand that in the mid and late 1800s, people communicated with each other via telegraphs. The telegraph sent and received clicking signals over a wire. The signals were a code that spelled out a message. Alexander Graham Bell and other inventors, including Thomas Edison and Elisha Gray, were all trying to find ways to communicate speech over electrical wires. Bell and his assistant Thomas Watson worked on a device that could take sounds and change them into signals that traveled over a wire. Then, another device could receive the signals and change them back into sounds. Bell spoke into his invention and famously said, “Come here, Watson. I need you!” Bell and Watson filed a patent with the government. Remind children that a patent is a set of rights allowing an inventor to be the only person to make or sell the invention for a period of time. Eventually, Bell formed a company to manufacture and distribute the telephone and eventually revolutionized the telecommunications industry.

There is much controversy surrounding Bell’s invention and the details of filing his patent. Though several people were working on inventions similar to the telephone, many people consider Bell to be the first to invent a device that could send and receive speech clearly.

Help children understand that Alexander Graham Bell continued to create and build other inventions and made innovations throughout his entire life. In 1877, Thomas Edison developed the phonograph, a machine that could record and play back sound. His phonograph, however, was quite fragile. Bell and other scientists and engineers improved Edison’s invention by changing the design and some of its parts so it would be more durable. After President Garfield was shot in 1881, Bell invented a metal detector to help find the bullets. The device worked, but the president was laying on a metal-frame bed which interfered with the device’s success and the bullets were not recovered. Later, Bell began exploring innovations in flight. He experimented with kites and tetrahedrons and later applied what he learned to planes. In addition, Bell helped design and build a hydrofoil, which is a boat that travels on top of the water to go faster. His hydrofoil broke a world speed record that was untouched for many years.

Help children understand that Alexander Graham Bell came up with ideas, inventions, and improvements that helped change many lives. He asked questions and wondered about the world around him. Use Bell’s life and work to inspire children to create, innovate, and explore.