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...Because Every Subject has a History...


by Connie Williams on 2020-10-26T19:16:00-07:00 | 0 Comments

        This image of a patent for an 
artificial limb was granted in 1865. Why might this be an important invention for its time? What kind of need does this meet and how many people might have need of an artificial leg? Might a war have something to do with it?  

The drawings that make up the core of the material needed in order to obtain a patent can be used in a variety of classes. From science: how are inventions made; what kinds of thinking goes into creating an object that will be used in a new and different way to art: how do drawings help explain things, how are graphics used to understand the workings of objects and history: how did this patent, and its subsequent use change the world? 

      I live in a town where it was a patent  that changed the course of the town’s economy for years. The invention of a chicken incubator by Lyman Byce  and his partners in 1913 allowed family chicken ranchers to create a regulated environment in which to commercially raise chickens – and their subsequent eggs – for sale in San Francisco and other cities across the State (and ultimately the nation). A new industry was created and businesses grew up to support the growing number of farmers including feed suppliers, crate builders and more. Many towns can point to local inventions that helped to create jobs and livelihoods for generations to come. 

      Inventions are important topics for history, science, and sociology and studying them can bring up interesting discussions that can include not only their historical importance, but how it is that we learn from each other. 

      But they are complicated and sometimes obscure. The folks at Docs Teach have created a variety of lessons  for all grades to teach different skills through patent exploration.

The one that caught my eye right away was this patent:

(click on image to link to viewable copy)

       It is, as it turns out, the precursor to the board game Monopoly. It was created by Lizzie Magie patented on January 5, 1904.  Docs Teach lesson plans include using this document to teach grades 3-6 students document analysis skills. Close looking, question building, and critically thinking through ideas of what this could be, are all a part of the lesson. 

       Not knowing anything about Lizzie Magie, a little look/see brought me to a Smithsonian magazine article  on the story of Monopoly, the game.  As far too often happens, a man not only took credit for inventing the game in the 1930’s, he got rich selling the idea, whilst in reality the idea originated with this patented idea by Lizzie Magie as noted above, in 1904. She was a feminist, artist, writer and an inveterate inventor and created her game to teach about the disparities in income using her game. 

       Here is an example of the many uses that patents can provide to jumpstart research:  this woman was ahead of her time, and not afraid to create and invent; and yet, she ended without credit nor riches. Her story is compelling and can easily engage todays students. 

       Other patent images here can be used with the lessons as attached or would make excellent  an Q-focus for the QFT  .  You can  use them to jumpstart research projects for science, art, graphic design, invention, biography and more.  Use the Circle of Viewpoints to ask: whom does  this invention help? 

One not in this collection, but definitely fun is Michael Jackson’s patent: 

(Image fromLemelson Center a Smithsonian Institution)

            As to the process for obtaining a patent, the need to do so, and repercussions for violating patent law, take students to the U.S. Patent Office. Here you will find activities that explain the process and includes activities that can help students understand the process.  One fun activity they share is challenging students to recreate the inventions of expired patents. Learn about the ‘cycle of invention’ and understand the differences between a patent, trademark and copyright – all important to know! 


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