Lesson: Mission: Invention 
Grades: 6-12
Subject: Language Arts/Science/Social Studies/Math/Technology/Art
Estimated Time of Completion: Five 50-minute class sessions 

I. Summary

Have you ever had what you consider to be a brilliant idea? Maybe you are visionary and an innovator like many that have helped our country become great. Inventors like Robert "Steamboat" Fulton, King "Safety Razor" Gillette, George "Air Brake" Westinghouse, Alexander Graham "telephone" Bell, George Washington Carver, Thomas A. Edison, or Guglielmo Marconi all share a sense of adventure, a vision of the future, and courage to meet challenges with determination. They dream, they push the envelope, and they make a difference! However there's another side of inventions: the cutthroat competition, the extreme stress of multiple claims, agonizing ridicule for different ideas, and even espionage and danger. Yet this lesson stirs dreams and seeks originality and creativity. This lesson gets students involved in a simulated business atmosphere where the student designs an invention. The student becomes familiar with terms like patent, copyright, and trademark; learns about the behind the scenes of promotion and finance; and enjoys the opportunity to put what is learned to the test.

II. Objectives

  • Students will use estimation skills
  • Students will practice and improve real-life problem-solving skills in computation and surveying techniques
  • Students will use the scientific method to choose, design, and develop an invention
  • Students will use investigative techniques for exploring past and present inventions and while designing a future invention
  • Students will appreciate inventions while realizing the paperwork, ownership, promotion, and efforts behind them

III. Materials Needed

  • PBS History Detectives site
  • Optional: Computer with Internet access with a presentation device or available computers for groups of students and Internet accesscan view the Nazi Technology streaming video.

IV. Procedure

1. (Day 1) The teacher will use the History Detectives site to introduce this project by sharing the streaming video Nazi Technology with the class. As a class, students will discuss inventions that have changed their world and impacted society. (Students may wish to take an indepth look at technology from this era).


Nazi Technology

Gwen tells us more about the development of technology in Nazi Germany.


2. Discuss a common tape player with students. They may need clarification about what a tape player is and what it does. Discuss with students how inventions become obsolete and how they and are often replaced with better technology. Discuss some other inventions other than the tape player that have been replaced such as the phonograph, analog camcorders (replaced with digital camcorders), VCR players, and VHS tapes are rapidly being replaced with DVD players and DVDs, etc. 

3. Students will examine the tape player as an invention that impacted the world. Students will understand the challenge and controversy that surrounds inventions. Students should discuss the danger that could be involved, the controversy of "stolen ownership," and the frustration of failure and/or ridicule.

4. Ask how a tape player may have changed people's lives. Ask students' opinions of the fairness of our process using patents. 

5. With the students, explore the history of the tape technology. Use these sites to further examine the tape player's history:

History of the 8 track

A chronology of magnetic recording

A Short History of the Pursuit and Capture of Musical Sound

6. This is also an excellent opportunity to discuss "stealing ideas" or "plagiarism." Ask students' opinions of stealing printed ideas. Explain to students that this is illegal.

7. This is also an excellent opportunity (time permitting) to discuss where inventions fit into the United States historical timeline. According to Search of America by Brewster-Jennings, "The Constitution recognized an inventor's exclusive, if only temporary, claim to his or her own discovery ... and until the Bill or Rights was added, this was the only individual right that the Constitution acknowledged." The same source has Thomas Jefferson (1790) as the nation's first patent officer, awarding the first patent. Have students locate more history of patents.

8. Have the students access the following site: Zoom Inventors and Inventions. Let them look at the different time periods and decide which invention, from the inventions given, has most impacted their lives and in what ways their lives were impacted. Put the students in groups of 3-5. The students should compare their choices and choose a group invention that most impacted their lives. List each group's choice on the board and discuss how these inventions have impacted the world. The students should keep a journal and write their thoughts about how the loss of one of the above inventions would change their life.

9. (Day 2) The teacher will ask the students to get into groups of 3-5. The students will brainstorm common situations that have caused them problems (such as: glasses fogging over when you leave a cool building and go outside). Have the groups look at the problem situations and brainstorm possible solutions. (This is the groundwork for ideas for Mission: Invention.) The teacher will ask the students, "How do you keep other people from marketing or taking your idea?" Have the students review the following Web site:Patents in Brief and the United States Patent and Trademark Office Web site. As they review the site, the students should acquire a working definition for the following terms: patent, copyright, and trademark. Have the students decide in their groups whether their solutions would be need a utility patent, a design patent, or a plant patent. Tell the students that in their group or as individuals they will design and create an invention to be exhibited. Pass out the Mission: Invention Application and the rubric.

10. (Day 3) The teacher will discuss surveying techniques with the class. The students will then take their problem situation from the day before and survey their peers. Using the survey, the teacher will discuss the concept of intended target groups with the students. For example, If your invention will help the elderly, you'll need to go to the nursing home to do your survey. This will assure that you have addressed your target group's needs. The teacher will assist the students as they develop a survey tool for their invention.

11. (Day 4) The teacher will review the scientific method with the students. The teacher will demonstrate a lesson that uses the scientific method in five steps:

  • Research
  • State Problem
  • Hypothesis
  • Project Experimentation
  • Project Conclusion

Have students relate the steps of the scientific method to investigative work they plan to do. As the students develop their invention, remind them to use facets of the scientific method. This will allow them to test their invention on the target group to see if it works and helps their target group. The students will keep a journal as they work on their invention. The journal will include the date, time session started, time session ended, people present during session, drawings of invention, and/or ideas about their invention.

12. Students with serious and successful inventions will want to look at the Patent.Info site for patent information. Also visit the History Detectives site under investigative techniques and further explore patents with the link Patent Searches.

13. (Day 5) The teacher will need to introduce the concepts of wholesale versus retail prices. Ask the students, "How will you decide how much to charge for your invention? What guideline(s) should you follow?" Have the students look at this site: Retail Industry. This will expose students to the ways businesses determine their retail prices, giving students a basis for pricing their invention.

14. Then have students explore the process of promoting their invention. Students will design a poster with an advertising slogan for their invention. The slogans should be copyrighted.

15. Display the students' final inventions with their advertising slogan at a "Mission: Invention" show for the rest of the school.

V. Classroom Rubric for Assessment 

Rubric for Mission: Invention





  Partial Mastery   Mastery  

The invention could not be used by the targeted group. The invention would not work at all


  The invention might be used by its targeted group. The invention worked most of the time   The invention could be used by its targeted group. The invention worked  
Application to Invention Convention  

The application was partially filled out. The invention explanation was difficult to understand and not well planned. It was messy and written in pencil. It was late


  The application was partially filled out. The invention explanation was not well planned. It was neat. It was turned in on time   The application was filled out completely. The invention explanation was concise and well planned. It was neat and written in ink or typed. It was turned in on time  
Presentation of Invention at Convention  

Little of the invention information was presented. The presentation of the information was not visually appealing


  Most of the invention information was presented. The information was visible at the convention   All of the invention information was listed. The information was clearly and attractively presented at the convention  
Trademark   No trademark was submitted   Logo was loosely formed, drab, and unappealing   Logo was well formed, colorful, and visually appealing  


VI. Extensions and Adaptations

  • Provide students with access to PowerPoint and let them develop a PowerPoint presentation on their invention. It should include a picture of the invention.
  • Have students give the class an "infomercial" about their invention if there is not enough room to set up a floor display.

VII. Standards From McREL Standards


  • Standard 1.7 Writes expository compositions (e.g., synthesizes and organizes information from first- and second-hand sources, including books, magazines, computer data banks, and the community; uses a variety of techniques to develop the main idea [names, describes, or differentiates parts; compares or contrasts; examines the history of a subject; cites an anecdote to provide an example; illustrates through a scenario; provides interesting facts about the subject]; distinguishes relative importance of facts, data, and ideas; uses appropriate technical terms and notations)
  • Standard 1.11 Writes reflective compositions (e.g., uses personal experience as a basis for reflection on some aspect of life, draws abstract comparisons between specific incidents and abstract concepts, maintains a balance between describing incidents and relating them to more general abstract ideas that illustrate personal beliefs, moves from specific examples to generalizations about life)
  • Standard 4.1 Uses appropriate research methodology (e.g., formulates questions and refines topics, develops a plan for research; organizes what is known about a topic; uses appropriate research methods, such as questionnaires, experiments, field studies; collects information to narrow and develop a topic and support a thesis)


  • Standard 3.1 Establishes and adjusts purposes for reading (e.g., to understand, interpret, enjoy, solve problems, predict outcomes, answer a specific question, form an opinion, skim for facts; to discover models for own writing)


  • Standard 2. 2 Understands historical perspective Understands that specific individuals had a great impact on history
  • Standard 2. 3 Understands historical perspective Understands that specific ideas had an impact on history


  • Standard 12.1: Understands the nature of scientific inquiry
    Knows that there is no fixed procedure called "the scientific method," but that investigations involve systematic observations, carefully collected, relevant evidence, logical reasoning, and some imagination in developing hypotheses and explanations
  • Standard 13.1: Understands the scientific enterprise
    Knows that people of all backgrounds and with diverse interests, talents, qualities, and motivations engage in fields of science and engineering; some of these people work in teams and others work alone, but all communicate extensively with others


  • Standard 1.4: Uses a variety of strategies in the problem-solving process
    Formulates a problem, determines information required to solve the problem, chooses methods for obtaining this information, and sets limits for acceptable solutions
  • Standard 3.1: Uses basic and advanced procedures while performing the processes of computation
    Adds, subtracts, multiplies, and divides integers, and rational numbers


  • Standard 1. 3: Knows the characteristics and uses of computer hardware and operating systems

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