A question here, some tinkering there, and before you know it, something new is made. Innovation is key to our life on earth as humans. In this unit study we were able to explore the history behind some key inventions as well as the people who created them.
This unit was inspired by a couple chapters in our American History book, America’s Story 2. There are two chapters back-to-back about Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. (Did you know they were born in the same year?) We chose to focus on Thomas Edison in this unit study, but you could choose any inventor to focus on as you explore inventions throughout history.
Planning the Unit Study
Every unit I plan begins with my planning template. You can get a blank editable template and learn more about my planning process here.
You can also download my specific lesson plans for this unit for FREE here.
I try to vary the read alouds in our unit studies throughout the year to span various genres. I thought this unit would provide a perfect opportunity to read a biography together. We read Thomas Edison: Inspiration and Hard Work from the Heroes of History series by Janet and Geoff Benge. We enjoy these books, and they are available in both audio and print.
My oldest absolutely loved the book. He especially enjoyed the explanations of the experiments Thomas Edison conducted. My eight-year-old was bored from time to time, but said he did enjoy the book overall. I think he would have preferred listening to the audio version on the iPad.
This unit is so flexible You could choose any biography on any inventor through history. Here are a few more from the Heroes of History series. I like these because they are engaging, are available in multiple formats (e-book, audio, print, there are even a few in Spanish), and you can get a corresponding unit study guide.
This unit was inspired but the chapters about Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell from our history text book. However, it was so easy to tie science in as well. We specifically focused on electricity and communications related inventions throughout history, but the sky’s really the limit here.
- Chapter 17: The Story of a Very Stubborn Man
- Chapter 18: Can You Hear Me?
- Heat & Energy | Unit 3: Electricity
- Inventions & Technology | Unit 1: Communications – You could use this whole section (or get the section as a stand-alone book) as a spine for the unit, or pick a different unit altogether. Units include: Communications, Transportation, Military Inventions, Modern Conveniences, Medical Inventions, and Entertainment.
Thomas Edison for Kids (21 Activities) – We didn’t end up using this book very much because I already had so many resources. It’s packed with stories, information, and experiments, and could be used as a full spine for this unit. (You may not be able to get through all of it.)
We kept our games fairly simple this time around. We had a couple games to turn our brains on and get us into learning mode every morning with our morning basket, and another fun resource we kept out and available.
- Timeline Inventions – This was a bit of a change from our normal trivia games, but was my favorite part of this entire unit. This game is intended to be a multi-player competitive game, but we gave each person one or two invention cards. We worked together to order the cards chronologically and then flipped them over to see if we were right. We had so much fun doing this, and really learned a lot.
- Circuit Maze – I always like to include a logic puzzle to work on our problem solving skills. This one was a little tricky and we ran into battery issues from time-to-time, but overall we had a lot of fun with it. The kids were always excited when we pulled it out. Each day we would have one person who was in charge of solving the puzzle and he (or she – my three-year-old had fun with it to) would ask for help if things got tricky.
- Snap Circuits – These aren’t really a game, but I thought they would go well in this category. We’ve actually had these for a while. They’re filled with fun step-by-step projects to help kids become familiar with circuit boards and electricity in a safe way. As kids understand more about how things work, they can begin making their own projects. There are many kits and add on packs that all work together.
I like to create YouTube playlists my kids can pick from for their screen time. This one mostly includes resources about Thomas Edison and electricity.
We also really enjoyed watching some of the videos from The Imagineering Story on Disney+. We often think of inventions as strictly useful things, but people invent for all kinds of reasons, and, when we have creative freedom, our curiosity can impact the world in ways we never imagined.
This unit was full of little projects from our science spine, God’s Design for the Physical World, but we did have one main project that ran throughout the course of the unit.
I purchased an Inventor’s Notebook from Teachers Pay Teachers as a guide for doing a unit-long inventions project. I had great plans to do almost every page in the notebook and even have a presentation board at the end to show each child’s process in their creations. My plans did not match reality. While this resource is fantastic, it was just too much structure for one of my kids, and too difficult for the other (we worked on this during the little one’s nap). According to the website, this is made for 3rd to 6th grade students and is used mostly by 4th and 5th graders. It seems to be perfect for those grade levels.
That said, the boys did end up with great projects by the end of the unit. My ten-year-old made a mess-free bird feeder for his grandmother who said she needs something that helps her not spill the seeds. My eight-year-old made Playmobil sized roads (similar to the plates for LEGO,) to fit his city.
We honestly only used a couple of the worksheet pages from the notebook. I do think it helped me to have more of a plan and helped me better guide the boys as they continued to work on their inventions.
Writing, Grammar, and Vocabulary
- Grammar Galaxy – I used the lessons in grammar galaxy as a guide, and whenever possible, pulled passages from our read aloud to help us see the grammar concept in action.
- Worksheets.com – This is my go to for creating copywork passages. My kids are still at a place where bigger lines and tracing letters first is helpful for them. I have one who’s working on cursive, and the other working on print. I can easily create handwriting pages for their copywork on this website. Oh, and it’s FREE!
- Word of the Week – As usual, I pulled some fun words from our read alouds and the kids (generally) enjoyed exploring their picks. Incandescent was a favorite word for this unit, as well as strike (like a worker’s strike). You can get the worksheets we use for FREE right here on Ticket to Learning.
Somehow I forgot to show our math plans in my unit study video. During the course of this unit study I was making the switch to a new math program, Math on the Level.
While figuring things out, I decided to take things pretty slow and easy with math this time around. My eight-year-old continued to work through his Math Lessons for a Living Education books. For my ten-year-old, we worked through some of the Are You a Math Genius: The Inventor’s Book of Calculations from the Thinking Tree. It turned out to be just what we needed.
There are several activities in the book that help you figure out the cost to run and build various inventions. My son was a bit disappointed these were real inventions, but it gave us a good, gentle opportunity to brush up on some math skills. We didn’t finish the book, but made a good dent in it.
Book basket books are books I set out for my kids to look through on their own, or for me to read to them. We set aside at lest 15 minutes a day to look through the basket, and I rotate the books regularly. If there’s a topic my kids want to know more about, I try to find books on that topic to add to our basket.
I love that more books continue to be released related to science, engineering, and technology. Not too long ago it would have been difficult to find many resources beyond project books for a unit like this. I’m glad to be seeing more about the stories and people behind scientific discovery and innovation.
I have another blog post that outlines the books we used in more detail, but these are some of our favorites from this unit:
- The Inventor’s Secret – This was one of my favorite reads as it went through the lives of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford side-by-side. As he grew up, Henry couldn’t help but wonder why Edison was so successful. One day, Henry got to meet Thomas and discover his secret first hand.
- It’s a Snap!: George Eastman’s First Photograph – My kids have always loved these books with any unit study we’ve done. This time they particularly enjoyed It’s a Snap!, which chronicles the invention of the KODAK camera company.
- The Boo-Boos that Changed the World – When Earl created a special bandage for his accident-prone wife, he had no idea his invention would forever change the way we handle boo-boos. This book is written in such a fun and playful tone. It was a quick favorite in our home.
- The House that Cleaned Itself – Sometimes inventions don’t become something important or even popular, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worthwhile. Every time we read it, my kids ask to see this interview with Frances Gabe, the inventor of the Self-Cleaning house.
- Faraday: Pioneer of Electricity – The illustration and format of these books are very similar to the “You Wouldn’t Want to Be . . .” history series. I found the tone, however, to be less cynical, which is a total win in my books. It took us a couple sittings to get through the book on Farady, but the kids really enjoyed it.
- Nerf Genius: Reyn Guyer – My kids thoroughly enjoyed hearing the origin story of their beloved Nerf Guns. It actually took us a while to read this book because of all the fun conversations and rabbit trails it sparked. Nerf Genius is part of a whole series of books on the inventors of some of the most iconic toys. There are too many for me to include here, but you can check out the whole Toy Trailblazers Series here.
- Inventions (DK Smithsonian) – This is a massive book that looks at so many inventions throughout history. My son enjoyed sitting with this book for long periods of time and pouring over its contents.
- The Story of Inventions – I debated on including this in the chapter book section or the dictionary section. Each section includes a story and some information about one invention. The writing is engaging and you will find all kinds of inventions from all over the world. This is a household favorite.
- See Inside How Things Work – Children love to see how things work. This engaging lift-the flap book shows the inner workings of day-to-day gadgets. The bite sized chunks of information make it easy for you to read as much or as little as you would like at a sitting.
- Then and Now – This is a fun look at how machines and inventions have changed over time and how they have effected our lives. My son especially enjoys the pictures from “way back when you were a kid.”
- History Timeline Binder – We added the people we read about from America’s Story as well as the inventions we learned about in God’s Design for the Physical World to our History Timeline Binder. This honestly added so much richness to our unit study and helped the kids make a lot of connections they would have otherwise missed. For more information about how we use our binders as well as some free printable templates, check out this post.
- My Crazy Inventions Sketchbook – This is a resource we already had, but I pulled it out and let my ten-year-old work on this some instead of handwriting during this unit. He came up with some pretty cool inventions. I love that it encourages creativity. You can even turn it into a writing activity by encouraging your children to write about their fun inventions.
Of course having all of these resources is one thing, but seeing how they work together is another. Here’s a random day in our homeschool as we worked through our Inventor’s and Electricity unit study. This is near the end, so things were wrapping up, but it can give you an idea of what a day might be like with this type of homeschool set up.
I felt quite a bit more confident going into this unit study than I did our previous study on Emergency Workers. I still feel like I’m figuring things out and getting some of the kinks worked out, but I felt pretty good about this unit. The kids also really enjoyed it, so I’d say we’re on the right track!