Today, the first grade readers started a unit about inventions. To begin, I divided the kids into two groups and gave each group a different object — one group a cup and one received scissors. I asked the groups to talk to each other about what problem each of the items solved and how the item has helped people. We discussed the kids’ thoughts.
I then asked the kids if they thought the items were technology. This is not my first time at the rodeo with this unit, but, for the first time ever, I had two children (in two different classes) who said YES. We went around the room, and these two kids stood firm even when every other student in the class argued that no, of course these items are not technology. My heart almost exploded with admiration for them. I hope they never lose that confidence and ability to express their own viewpoint even when no one else agrees. (This experience might have helped, since according to the definition we were using, they were correct!).
We talked about the definition of technology — the students decided that to be technology, something must have an outside power source. The kids specifically mentioned electricity, batteries and solar power. They came up with these on their own! I then read them the wikipedia definition of technology:
Technology is the making, modification, usage, and knowledge of tools, machines, techniques, crafts, systems, methods of organization, in order to solve a problem, improve a preexisting solution to a problem, achieve a goal or perform a specific function. It can also refer to the collection of such tools, machinery, modifications, arrangements and procedures. Technologies significantly affect human as well as other animal species’ ability to control and adapt to their natural environments.
Based on this definition, what do you think? Are a cup and scissors technology? The kids decided that indeed they are. I assigned the kids homework that had to do with this concept. There was no worksheet — the homework was just something they were supposed to say to you at the dinner table. If you don’t think you heard it, ask your child!
Finally, we read a book called Imaginative Inventions by Charise Mericle Harper. This book uses silly rhymes and illustrations to explain the random ways in which many common items — such as potato chips, the doughnut and (my personal favorite) high-heeled shoes — were invented. Ask your child how the invention of the doughnut involves a boat, or how long it took between the time eyeglasses were invented until someone came up with the idea to add arms going over ears to keep the glasses on our face.
As our unit progresses, we’ll examine a number of enduring inventions that were actually “accidents.” I love the idea of leading the students to the realization that “mistakes” are not just okay, sometimes they’re actually more valuable than if things had gone the way we expected. Students will also come up with their own inventions.
A special thank you to the Elementary PTA, who helped fund this Inventions Unit through its Teacher Grant Program!