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Lesson Plans

Lesson plan: Help your loved ones monitor health at home through invention

August 3, 2020

Full Lesson


Note: Make sure to respect the privacy of your family members and get permission from them before sharing any details about their health.

For a google doc version of this lesson, click here.


Many people outside hospital settings need constant medical attention, and it can be difficult for medical professionals to keep track of some patients’ conditions. This is especially true during natural disasters and other crises (such as a pandemic or hurricane) when people are required to stay home and their routines may change. During such times, monitoring health conditions becomes more challenging, and daily routines can be harder to stick to.

Through the invention process, you will explore ways to use household items or routines to monitor health conditions for at-risk patients. You will also design an invention that monitors at least one health indicator or vital sign without requiring additional input or change in daily habits from the end user.


  • Computer or tablet with internet access
  • Inventor’s Notebook (print or use online)  
  • Crafting materials
  • Cardboard or recycled paper products 
  • Adhesives—glue, hot glue, tape, etc.
  • Old and safe appliances or toys




Biology, Technology, Physics, Engineering, Medical Sciences, Health and Wellness, Psychology, Ergonomics, Preventative Medicine

Essential question:

How could new inventions help doctors, caregivers or individuals monitor patient health without a burdensome change in a patient’s daily routines?

Warm up activity:

In the Explore It section of your Inventor’s notebook, record how many times individuals in your household use surfaces, items or appliances in your home. Create a chart and keep a record over a period of a day or few hours.

  • Write a description of how and when the other members in your household and yourself used or touched these surfaces, items or appliances.
  • As you prepare to address the issues with at-home health monitoring, you may also consider how you could use current technologies, appliances or items in an inventive way. Imagine a body temperature recording device built onto an every day appliance, for instance.
  • Based on the data you collected, for each household member, pick an item that you could modify to measure his or her body temperature without causing a change in his or her day to day routine. Share this information with each participant and ask for feedback.

Main activities

A. Getting Started: Read the PBS NewsHour story: Could a toilet seat help prevent hospital readmissions?

Next, read Doctors monitor patients remotely via smartphones and fitness trackers.

Check for Understanding

  1. Why do many congestive heart failure patients get readmitted to the hospital within three months of their discharges? 
  2. Why did Nicholas Conn, David Brokholder and Carl Schwarz choose to work on modifying toilet seats to monitor patients? 
  3. How is the monitoring toilet seat different from the sensors used in the hospitals and at home medical devices? 
  4. What are possible downsides, if any, of doctors monitoring patients remotely?

B.  Invention Directions: For a product to go from an idea to a finished product, it must go through the engineering design process, which we’ll refer to as the “invention process.” Someone — likely a team of people — invented nearly all of the things we use on a daily basis: tablets and TVs; cars and stop lights; apps and video games; along with new recycling devices. All of these products were developed as a result of the invention process. 

In this lesson, you will create an invention that monitors health condition(s) at home by detection of vital bodily functions through commonly used surfaces, items or appliances. Record your invention process in the Inventor’s Notebook, including notes, sketches, labels and data collection. You may also want to take pictures or videos of your invention process.

Use this diagram via Lemelson Center Spark!Lab as a guide:

C. Explore It!

Great inventions are useful and unique. The goal for this stage of the invention process is to observe, research and identify a problem, who the problem impacts and then develop an original idea for an invention to solve the problem.

Watch PBS NewHour’s “Will real-time health data for consumers add up to healthier living?” to learn about inventions medical technology companies have to improve preventative medicine.

Anything from refrigerator doors or kitchen mats to couches, shoes and teddy bears can be used to monitor various health indicators like body temperature, tremors, weight, sleep and other vital bodily functions.

To kick off your invention process, find an inspiration for your invention. For example, this could be a parent, sibling, grandparent or a neighbor. Discuss with this family member or (with parental permission) video conference or call someone that you know who has a medical problem that he or she is comfortable discussing. Does this person have a medical condition that could be monitored during daily routine(s)? Prepare for the interview by developing some questions. Record your interviewee’s answers in the Explore It section of your Inventor’s notebook. Here are some questions you can consider asking:

  1. What medical condition do you take medication for or require treatment for?
  2. How old are you?
  3. Are you comfortable using new technology to track your medical care?
  4. What are your daily routines?  

 Research the medical condition that your subject has. Read the  following questions and gather information that will help you create a health monitoring solution. 

  1. What effects does this disease or condition have on the human body?
  2. Is this a life-long condition?
  3. What is the main vital sign that needs tracking for this condition?
  4. How often does someone with this condition need to be monitored or hospitalized?
  5. Does a sensor need to come in direct contact with the user’s skin?

D. Think It!

Use what you learned from your interview and research to start thinking of some possible solutions for the problem you are working on. Record these in the Think It section of your Inventors Notebook.

  1. You should also research existing solutions. This can be accomplished by looking at patents. The patent system was developed so that inventors would share their new creations yet maintain their intellectual property rights. A patent  allows the owner to exclude others from making, using, selling or offering the invention to others.Here are a couple of sample patents:
  2. Continue to record your findings in your notebooks. Keeping  good records of this information. Record keeping  is essential if you wish to apply for a patent one day.
  3. Once you have an invention idea or have narrowed down a few inventions, you can move on to the next stage of the invention process.

E. Sketch It!

Inventors design and prototype their ideas to test different versions of the ideas. Patents can be awarded for an invention’s aesthetics and/or function. Think of cellphones for instance. Many cellular devices have very similar functions; however, each is protected under patents for the look of a design. This is called a design patent. A utility patent may be granted for a new, useful and novel invention for the way that it functions.

You may want to use this additional information about how design can impact work efficiency and reduce injury. It may be especially  important if your invention is hand held: 

Ergonomics and Design — MisterRolls  

Ergonomics: Using Handles to Help — Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation

Get a Grip: Three Things to Know about “Ergonomic” Handles — Humantech Ergonomics

  • The goal of the Sketch It stage is to bring your invention ideas to life by first.
  • Draw your ideas in your notebooks. Keep in mind scale and perspective when sketching your device. You may want to draw multiple solutions.

Your sketch should include the following:

  • Parameters and constraints — what will be the size and weight of the device?
  • Materials — what materials will make the actual device? What type of materials will make up the prototype?
  • Top view, side views and the view from the bottom

If time permits, you should also research the costs of the materials you will use to construct the actual device.

E. Create It!

Next, build your ideas using recycled items or household items. At this stage you should make your first prototype.

If you do not have access to sensors, focus on the look and feel of the invention and form clear descriptions of how the parts will function. You can even work on the mechanical parts of the invention. Consider the ergonomics of the invention, making sure your design fits the life of the person who will be using it.

Materials like cardboard, bottle caps, pipe cleaner’s coffee stirs, modeling clay, wooden dowels and basal wood are excellent for rapid prototyping. If you have an old version of the item you will work on, and your parents approve of you modifying it, go for it!

F. Try it and Tweak it!

Inventing is a process of trial and error. Inventors often test, redesign and re-test ideas many times before getting to the final product. The goal of this stage is to gain feedback, reflect and make changes to improve your prototype before the final presentation. The prototype is not expected to work, but you should model how the actual device may look and/or function.  

  1. First, try your invention on yourself. Test your device and make necessary changes.
  2. Ask someone else to try your device. Your prototype tester must feel comfortable using the device and it should apply seamlessly in their daily activities.
  3. Invite the others in your home to review your device and provide feedback.

E. Sell it! 

To get the inventions in the hands of the users, inventors and/or your partners need to properly communicate the usefulness and function of it to stakeholders. The goal of this stage is to have you practice and perform your elevator pitch for your invention as well as develop potential marketing materials to promote the device. For inventors who seek patents, this stage is often withheld until the patent is awarded because if detailed information is released there is a time limit that follows for the ability to have a patent granted. An inventor may decide to create open source work and release their ideas and designs for others to modify.

  1. Come up with a name for your invention!
  2. Using TIK TOK, Instagram, Twitter or YouTube, with parental permission, create a social media video or series of videos to showcase and promote your invention and your invention process. Your campaign should be clear on the following aspects of your project:
    • What is the problem?
    • Who are you trying to help with your invention?
    • What is your invention?
    • How is your invention better than possibly similar products?
    • What was your invention process like?
  3. If you are working to produce open source work, challenge your friends to add on to your design and make modifications for the people they know.
  4. Finally, share photos of your invention using #PBSInvention via NewsHour Classroom’s Twitter or enter your invention in one of the contests here or here. Email with any questions or feedback.

Extension activities:

  1. Read PBS NewsHour’s  “Asthma patients breathe easier with new Bluetooth inhalers
    • Research medical devices like wheelchairs, walkers, hearing aids, blood pressure cuffs, medical masks and more.
    • Identify the most recent innovations to the product you selected, consider both the transitions of the functions and the designs of the product.
    • Design a new version of the device that can alert or identify sources of distress, when it is in use.
  2. Read PBS NewHour’s “Creepy cyber coincidence? Probably not
    • What kinds of threats come with designing remote medical devices?
    • Design a policy or process for reducing cyber crimes against medical devices or industries.


HS-ETS1-2 Engineering Design

Design a solution to a complex real-world problem, based on scientific knowledge, student-generated sources of evidence, prioritized criteria and trade off considerations.

HS-ETS1-3 Engineering Design

Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics as well as possible social, cultural and environmental impacts.

MS-ETS1-1 Engineering Design

Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.

MS-ETS1-2 Engineering Design

Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

L. Clara Mabour teaches Biology, AICE (Advanced International Certificate of Education) Marine Science and AICE Global Perspectives at her alma mater, Northeast High School in Oakland Park, Florida. In 2017, she was awarded a Lemelson-MIT Excite Award to travel to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for invention education and professional development. Mabour advises a group of student inventors who received the  Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam grant in 2017. Her InvenTeam students created the Mosquito Disruptor, a device that presents mosquitoes from propagating in stagnant waters. In addition, she facilitates an after school STEM club and a new group of young inventors and future scientists who are conducting independent and team research projects that address local and global issues. 

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.