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Lesson Plans

Lesson plan: Solar invention makes safety and production levels shine

August 13, 2018

Full Lesson


Think about all the different ways humans rely on light each day. Imagine trying to drive or cross the road without any streetlights. How would hospitals and schools function without light?

In this PBS lesson, students will learn about emerging technologies that have helped inventors seek new settings for light sources, including in remote and high-poverty parts of the world. To better understand how light allows humans to live and thrive, students will invent their own light source using the steps of the invention process.

PBS NewsHour Classroom is always looking for ways to make our invention resources stronger. If you complete part or all of this lesson, we’d greatly appreciate it if you filled out this feedback form.

Estimated time:

Five 50-minute periods




Engineering, Technology, Design, Physics


PLA 3D Filament is recommended for classroom with good ventilation use as it has lower VOC than ABS options: CR2032 batteries and LED lights.


Beneficiary: Someone who benefits from the use of an invention
Invention: Entirely brand new product or device
Innovation: Improving an existing product or device
Constraint: A restriction or limitation
Prototype: Functional draft of a product
PLA filament: Polylactic Acid material used by 3D printer

Essential question:

How might inventors improve a person’s work or home environment with innovative light sources?

Warm up activities:

Period 1: 20 minutes

Patent station activity:

Follow the directions using this Google doc and complete the patent station activity.

Video activity:

Period 1: 6 minutes + 5 minutes for Q/A

Illac Diaz, entrepreneur and founder of Liter of Light, wanted to accomplish two things in his home country of the Philippines: provide light to those who need it and recycle trash. His organization teaches locals how to fashion affordable lighting from empty one-liter plastic bottles. The “lamps” help families save on electricity costs. 

Watch NewsHour’s “Agents for Change: Illac Diaz’s Lightbulb Moment,” and answer the questions below.

  1. Note: *Info not in the video, teacher provides or students quickly research. Did Diaz invent the water bottle lamp to refract light as a light source for humans?
    • No, it was originally invented by Alfredo Moser in 2002, and is known as the Moser Lamp.
    • Diaz created a system to spread Moser’s invention in the Philippines and beyond.
  1. What three principles did Diaz put in place to ensure that the Moser Lamp invention could help many people? (*These three things made Diaz’s rollout of the Moser Lamp successful. Moser had invented the lamp but had no plan to take it to market.)
    • The product would require no movement of materials; everything is available on site.
    • No high tech tools or fabrication are required to solve the problem.
    • Teach people how to solve the problem and help them build business models to spread the solution.
  1. What are Diaz’s goals for his Liter of Light project? Potential answers:
    • Illuminate homes in third world countries.
    • Reduce energy consumption and associated costs.
    • Create a scaleable project that can spread globally to serve more beneficiaries.

Activity: What is the invention process?

Period 1, 15-minutes

This activity introduces/reviews the “invention process” (like the design process, but we use this term instead). The excerpt below is taken from the main page of NewsHour’s “Invention Ed” STEM series.

  1. Write out the italic parts on the whiteboard:

Let your students know that someone — likely a team of people — invented nearly all of the things we use on a daily basis: apps and video games, sneakers and sports equipment, Band-Aids and first-aid cream, etc. All of these products were part of the invention process. Here’s a brief look at the invention process based on the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams program (modified for the lessons below):

Concept phase: Identify a problem, conduct research and brainstorm solutions.

Design phase: Create a plan, calculate costs, select the best solution and determine necessary resources.

Build phase: Sketch, model or build a prototype. For the invention lesson here, a sketch of the invention is more than fine!

Review and redesign phase: Review the invention for strengths and weaknesses.

Share phase: Present the invention to your class then share photos of your invention using #PBSInvention via NewsHour Classroom’s Twitter or enter your invention in one of the contests here. Email with any questions or feedback.

2. Then hand out the “Where to Begin” handout from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which is an awesome resource and review with your students.

3. Next, put the five phases of the invention process above into action. Ask students to fill out this Inventor’s Notebook using the light source issue addressed in the NewsHour video above. Let them know they will be using the same Inventor’s Notebook template when they begin their work on their own inventive light source.

Main activity:

1. Identify a problem

Period 2, 20-minutes

  • Students will identify a problem associated with a lack of light source. This can be anything related to their work, habitat or leisure time where there is a lack of light.
  • To do this, students will utilize one of the University of Iowa’s problem selection processes, which will help them identify a real-world problem they would like to solve. There are a few methods listed; decided which one works best for your class here.
  • Next, students should fill out the “Think It” and “Explore It” sections of their Inventor’s Notebook in response to the following Essential question: What makes a problem worthy of solving with an invention?

2. Brainstorm and select a solution:

Period 2, 20-minutes

  • Students will work through a number of proposed solutions and select using a methodical and organized process.
  • Essential Question: Why is it beneficial to have multiple solutions in mind before fabricating a prototype?

3. Design a prototype of the selected solution:

Period 3, 50-minutes

  • Students produce a rendering of their design with the purpose of creating a functional prototype. *If CAD and 3D Printing is not available, final products may be constructed of other readily available materials such as cardboard, card stock, paper, plastic bottles, tapes, glues, etc.
  • Free CAD options and others available per school:
  • Essential question: What opportunities does a computer model provide to an engineer that a physical model does not?
  • Students complete the “Sketch It” section of their Inventor’s Notebook.

4. Fabrication of invention prototype:

Period 4, 50-minutes

Watch NewsHour’s From ballet shoes to human tissue, printing ideas into 3-D reality and answer the questions below.

For video with transcript, go here.

  • What are the associated costs and constraints of 3D printing prototypes? Possible answers: machine costs, filament costs, environmental, time
  • How does 3D printing provide more opportunities to inventors? Possible answers: access, inexpensive, rapid prototyping
  • What ethical issues does the ease of 3D printing introduce to society? Possible answers: weapons, violence, intellectual property infringement

For an alternative video showcasing more current 3D printing technologies in the aerospace industry, check out: How 3D printing is spurring revolutionary advances in manufacturing and design and answer the questions below.

For video with transcript, go here.

  • Summary: Students slice their CAD files using slicing software. Students print their sliced CAD models on a 3D printer in the classroom and test their products. Essential question: What manufacturing constraints have an impact on an engineer’s designs as they transition to the manufacturing process?
  • Students enter “Create It” and “Try It” into Inventor’s Notebook.

5. Filing a simulated utility patent:

Period 5, 50-minutes

  • Students create a patent application that reflects on their invention and engineering design processes.
    • Patent application template is here.
    • Essential questions: What is the importance of protecting your intellectual property? Why would an inventor/engineer want to reflect on a completed project
    • Students enter “Tweak It” and “Sell It” into Inventor’s Notebook.

Extension activities:

  1. Rapid prototyping via clay modeling: Students create a non-hardening clay/cardboard rapid prototype from their original design in their engineering notebook. Students receive feedback and test clay/cardboard prototypes.
    • Essential question: Why would you want to build a “rough draft” of your design before committing to a full build?
  2. Showcase of prototypes: Students showcase their prototypes to visitors in a trade show format.  The visitors review and rank the student prototypes.
    1. Showcase ranking rubric is here.

Doug Scott teaches Robotics and Information Technology at Hopkinton High School in Massachusetts. He started off as a business undergraduate student at Framingham State University, but was always a lifelong inventor at heart. Doug’s 16-year teaching career sprung from his hockey coaching experiences, which have been instrumental in helping him motivate students through the inventing processes. Doug and the Natick High School InvenTeam participated in the Lemelson-MIT Program’s EurekaFest in 2013. In the spring of 2014, Doug accompanied two student representatives from Natick to the fourth White House Science Fair. Just a few years later, their invention was awarded U.S. Patent
US9511833B2. Doug was awarded the 2014 Massachusetts STEM Teacher of the Year and continues to be an advocate for invention education for all. Follow Doug on Twitter @mrscottbot.

PBS NewsHour Classroom is always looking for ways to make our invention resources stronger. If you completed part or all of this lesson, we’d greatly appreciate it if you filled out this feedback form.