Monday, August 16, 2010


When I was in second grade, our teacher assigned us a project on inventors. It was to be our first research project, where we had to use the school and public libraries to collect information about our chosen inventors.

“I already have my book,” I told Mrs. Flanagan on the day the project was assigned.

Mrs. Flanagan was duly impressed by my efficiency, until she found out that my book was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and that my chosen inventor was Willy Wonka.

“He’s not a real person, dear,” she said. “Your report has to be on an actual inventor.”

I don’t remember which inventor I eventually settled on, but I do remember feeling fairly crushed that I couldn’t write a report on Willy Wonka. To me, he represented the gold standard of inventors – eccentric, solitary, creative. Most importantly, he made candy, which pretty much made him the embodiment of awesomeness. And isn’t that ultimately what inventors do – enhance our lives and make them better?

August is National Inventors Month, which was established in 1998 by the United Inventors Association of the USA, the Academy of Applied Science, and Inventors’ Digest magazine. It’s a month-long event that honors the pioneering spirit and creative vision of inventors worldwide – those men and women who have helped to shape the modern world as we currently know it, and in the future to come. Despite setbacks and numerous failures, they have persevered in the face of adversity and defied the odds to create inventions – some heralded, some unnoticed by the general public but used in everyday life – to make our existence just that much better.

My picks this week feature fun hands-on lessons where students get to be inventors and create their own machines. As always, please be sure to check our Facebook and Twitter pages throughout the week, where we will post links to more resources on inventions, inventors, and hands-on activities for a variety of ages.

Design Squad: Invent It, Build It
Subjects: Engineering, Physical sciences
Grade: 4-8
This unit presents five hands-on challenges designed to inspire kids to think like inventors and engineers. Additionally, the activities highlight how invention improves people’s lives. The unit is available in both English and Spanish, and is aligned to national and Massachusetts state standards. If you need to translate these standards to your state standards, no problem – use our ASN standards suggestion tool that appears at the bottom of The Gateway page for each resource. This resource was developed by PBS’s Peabody Award-winning reality competition series Design Squad, where teenage contestants tackle engineering challenges for actual clients.

Go-Go Gadget: Invent a Machine
Subjects: Engineering, Physical sciences
Grade: 3-5
In this unit, students study the concepts of force, motion, and work as they analyze simple machines (and simple machines found in complex machines). There’s also a design challenge where students become inventors, identify work they want to perform, and they invent labor-saving machines to do the jobs. There’s a strong focus on the design steps in the process of invention - the planning, drafting, construction, troubleshooting, and reliability testing. The unit is also aligned to national standards. This unit was created by Intel Education, which works with schools and communities worldwide to help advance education. They offer free professional development, tools, and resources to help K-12 teachers effectively use technology to educate students.

Designing a Rube Goldberg Machine
Subjects: Engineering, Physical sciences
Grade: 9-12
In this lesson, students apply their knowledge of complex and simple machines to designing a Rube Goldberg Machine. Students calculate the mechanical advantage of 3 of the simple machines in their design and also relate Newton's 3 Laws of Motion to their machine. This lesson was produced by ALEX (Alabama Learning Exchange), an award-winning education portal that provides lesson plans, education-related podcasts, best practices, and Alabama professional development activities. The lesson is aligned to Alabama Content Standards.

~Joann's Picks - 8/14/10~


  1. Your story made me smile! I wish that your teacher had let you study Willy Wonka, obviously asking you to change your choice didn't leave a lasting learning experience about the new inventor since you can't remember who you settled on. That is exactly how we kill student creativity!


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