Inventions Lesson Plan: The Origins of Computers and Other Technology

Submitted by: Gabriel Garcia

Grade Levels: 6-8

In this lesson plan which is adaptable for grades 6-8, students use BrainPOP resources to explore the origins of computers and how they have changed our lives and affected other inventions.

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Understand the history of computers.
  2. Explain how and why inventions can change the way we live.
  3. Identify the positive and negative aspects of the Internet blurring the lines between computing and communications and the affects of this technology on our lives.

Materials:

  • Computer with internet access
  • Encyclopedia dated 1980 or earlier (optional)

Preparation:

Prepare a rubric to evaluate your students on their assignments. One option is to use the following three-point rubric:
 
  • Three points: all questions answered, sketch imaginative and carefully executed, oral presentation well-organized and presented in a clear and lively manner
  • Two points: most questions answered, sketch adequately executed, oral presentation clear and organized
  • One point: few questions answered, sketch missing or poorly executed, oral presentation lacking clarity and organization.

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Ask students if they know who invented the computer. If they don't know, inform them that, in 1884, Charles Babbage, an English mathematician, tried to build a complicated machine called the "analytical engine." It was mechanical, rather than electronic, and Babbage never completed it, but computers today are based on many of the principles he used in his design. Your students may be interested to know that, as recently as forty years ago, computers were so large that they filled whole rooms. They were so complicated that only specially trained people were able to use them.
  2. If you can find an encyclopedia dated 1980 or earlier, have students read the entry for computer and hold a brief discussion of computers then and now. Show the BrainPOP movie Computer History to facilitate the conversation.
  3. Ask students if they can think of any other inventions that changed the way we work and live. Can they trace changes and refinements in those inventions? An example might be the sewing machine, which, originally, was mechanical, rather than electric, and had to be operated by a foot pedal. Another might be the phonograph, which evolved into the CD player.
  4. Tell the class that the activity in which they will participate will illustrate how inventions have evolved and are still evolving. Start by having students find partners.
  5. Give each pair of students the following assignment: Select a common, non-electric household item that you believe is important. Together, write down answers to the following questions about your item: What need does this item fill? What do you think the first one looked like? How did it change? How could it still be improved? What might this item look like in the future? (Draw a sketch.)
  6. After students have selected their items and answered their questions, have each pair of partners give an oral presentation on their findings.
  7. Lead a class discussion about how the activity applies to computers and how they evolved and continue to evolve.

Extension Activity:

The U.S. Government pays out millions of dollars a year to "think tanks." These are organizations that research the state of things now and where they think things are going. In your class, establish think-tank teams of people with varied interests. Their assignment is to develop an image of a possible American culture fifty years from now. They should consider these questions:
 
  • What can the Internet do?
  • How do people communicate?
  • What new uses have been found for integrated circuits?
  • What advances in health care occurred because of the computer and/or integrated circuit?
  • What are the problems in society as a result of growth and development?
  • What new job possibilities are there that don't exist today?
  • The culmination of the activity is an oral presentation by each team, painting the picture of the world they envision and giving reasons for their predictions.

    Another extension activity is to ask your students if they can think of any things we use in everyday life that are not very well designed. Do they think there are needs that no one has yet filled with the appropriate invention? Have students choose one of the following assignments:
      A. Find an item used at home, school, or another place you frequent, that is not designed well, and redesign it to make it easier for people to use. (Designs may be presented as drawings or physical mock-ups. Mock-ups may be made from any materials available. They do not necessarily have to work, just so they represent what the real item would look like, either full size or to scale.)
      B. Think of a problem that hasn't been solved or a need that hasn't been met, and design an invention to provide a solution or fill that need. Respond in writing to define the problem, give causes for the problem, describe your solution, and tell why your solution will improve the situation.