FreshPlans had the opportunity to interview inventor Douglas Hutchings, who was recently on the cover of Inventor’s Digest. Dr. Hutchings has been responsible for two inventions: a new kind of solar panel which makes solar energy much more affordable, and a website that helps people find special deals in their neighborhood.
Our conversation with Dr. Hutchings was a great starting point for classroom activities about inventors Read more
At this writing, there are two entrepreneurship contests going on. Use them to focus your entrepreneurship lesson plans, or recreate them just for your class or school.
Interview an entrepreneur
The first is the Hot Shot Entrepreneurs Video Contest for students.This contest clebrates Entrepreneurship week (February 18-25 in 2012), and entries are due on February 13th. Click the link for the full rules of the contest.
This is essentially an oral history project. Students must identify an entrepreneur, interview him or her about business accomplishments and obstacles overcome, and produce a video to upload to YouTube.
Here’s how we see this project:
- Research local entrepreneurs through newspapers, online search, or visits to business organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce or business incubators.
- Choose an entrepreneur and conduct further research on this individual.
- Write a letter or email requesting the interview.
- Prepare for the interview by developing questions.
- Conduct the interview.
- Get required permissions and upload the files, if taking part in the contest.
- Edit the video.
- Upload the video to YouTube.
- Send the submission forms electronically, if entering the contest.
That’s a lot of technology practice! Plenty of research, writing, and art as well. Students can work in small groups, gaining skills in collaboration as well.
If you’re not entering the contest, plan a day for students to share their videos with the class or the school.
There is also, at this writing, a contest to find the best new consumer products being run by Walmart, the world’s largest retailer. The “Get On the Shelf” contest, accepting entries till February 22, lets people vote for their favorite product, much as people vote for their favorite singer on American Idol. Just as the winner on that TV show gets a recording contract, the winner of “Get on the Shelf” will get a contract to sell their product.
Current entries include dog shoes and zombie repellant spray, so we see no reason that your class shouldn’t enter, or at least play along at home. Click the link above to see examples of video entries people have already created.
The plan here is to come up with an idea for a new product (an item people would buy) and to make a video showing how it works.
FreshPlans talked with the experts at 8th & Walton, a company that provides training for entrepreneurs who want to see their products on the shelves, and for suppliers. They told us that this contest was ” tremendous opportunity.” It can take years to get to see a Walmart buyer in the usual way, and inventors typically have just one chance to impress the buyer. They also told us that a new product invention needs to be really new, but also something that people want. It needs to be safe. It has to be possible to make the new product for a price people are willing to pay.
Have students begin by coming up with an idea for a product. One of the best ways to start inventing is to think of a problem that could be solved by a new invention. Brainstorm with the class to identify pet peeves that could be solved by something bought at a store. Examples of problems solved by inventions:
- Ordinary light bulbs use too much electricity.
- People get cold when they have to take their arms out of the blankets to use the remote control.
- Women have nowhere to put their purses when they’re eating at a restaurant.
- The Earl of Sandwich didn’t like to stop playing cards long enough to eat dinner.
- People get lost while driving, and can’t read a map while they drive.
Check out a collection of problems needing solutions if you need help thinking of ideas.
Once students have come up with an idea, they should do some market research. Draw a model, using SketchUp (you could then have a 3d print made) or classroom art supplies, and show it to lots of people, asking their opinions. Help students practice listening and taking notes instead of defending or explaining their products — paying attention to feedback is a useful skill! Students should also ask what people would be willing to pay for their inventions.
Have students incorporate the feedback into the invention and perfect their inventions. If possible, have students create a working prototype of the invention. If this is not practical, encourage students to be as realistic as possible in planning their inventions. They should, for example, think about what materials could be used to make the invention and how they could keep prices in line with what people would be willing to pay.
Now to make the video. SketchUp allows you to create 3d models and fly around them, as in this video from the “Get On the Shelf” site:
Students can also create live videos. If you’re not planning to enter the contest, students might enjoy making an infomercial type video, beginning with the problem they plan to solve and then showing the happy users of their imaginary product.
Art, technology, writing, critical thinking, and research skills are all required for this project.
Either of these contests — whether students actually enter or you just produce videos simulating the entries — will make a great introduction to entrepreneurship.
“What comes next?” is a deceptively simple question. Identifying a series and predicting what comes next is a critical thinking skill that lets us test comprehension of a wide range of math concepts — and one which we use as adults in reading, planning, and decision making as well.
Use craft sticks and chart stickers to create “What Comes Next?” games or centers customized for your classroom, or have students make “What Comes Next?” puzzles for each other.
It’s very easy. Use stickers on one side of a craft stick to establish a pattern. End with a question mark. Turn the stick over and add the next item in the series so the puzzle will be self-checking.
Here we have groups of pink stickers in simple patterns: one sticker, two stickers, one sticker, two stickers… Other sticks show [one, two, one, one, two] and [one, two, three,one, two, three], and so on.
You can use chart stickers to match your current classroom theme, or put all your leftover chart stickers into a box and pull it out for this project.
Use numbers of items, colors, right and left facing stickers, different items, or any concept or pattern you’re working on in class.
Stickers make this fun for younger students, but you can also create puzzles with numbers or expressions. Have students work out puzzles for one another. The steps are simple:
- Decide on an action that can be taken on any number. This could be “add 3″ or “multiply by 2 and add 1″ or “subtract the preceding number” or “multiply by the final digit of the preceding number” — anything at all.
- Choose a beginning number and write it on the left of the stick.
- Apply the action to that number to create the next number in the sequence. Repeat this step several times.
- End with a question mark.
- Flip the stick and write the next number in the sequence. You could also give the rule, such as “n-3,” and write that on the back (answer side) of the stick.
When students have completed their puzzle sticks, have them trade and work to figure out one another’s puzzles. Add an element of competition by allowing students to keep the puzzle sticks they solve and return those that stump them.
Alternatively, keep the puzzle sticks in a pencil cup, pocket chart, or shoe box for fast finishers to solve — and let them create more, too.
President Kennedy said that physical fitness is not only important for physical health, but that it is also “the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.” Still, we know that many of our students (and maybe even some of us) aren’t making the lifestyle choices that lead to optimum health and fitness. Try a lesson that looks at some of those choices.
This lesson begins with infograpics. You might want to start with our Infographics Lesson Plans, using the health-related infographics offered here as the starting point.
Start by printing or projecting this infographic and sharing it with your class:
Brought to you by MAT@USC Masters in Teaching
Discuss the infographic and list the facts your class finds surprising. Did they realize that so few kids eat vegetables and exercise? Did they know that babies drink soda? Were they aware of the consequences of these lifestyle choices?
Check out a few more infographics on kids and health:
- School lunches and nutrition
- Vegetables and Physical Activity (not for kids especially, but these are probably the most important changes kids can make)
- Changing eating patterns
- Balanced meals
- Fruit drinks
Divide the class into four groups. Ask each group to come up with a healthy change they’d be willing to make. Examples:
- Cutting out soda
- Using the new MyPlate system
- Having 4-6 servings of vegetables every day
- Getting 30 minutes of activity every day
- Cutting out candy
If you have students who are not ready to make changes, ask them to serve as the control group for the class study.
Determine as a class how you’ll measure the difference in each group’s health. All groups must use the same metric for accuracy. Possibilities:
- Number of school days missed because of illness
- Perceived energy levels (have students write how great they feel, from 1 to 10, on a slip of paper each day at the same time and collect the slips for each group in a jar)
- Heart rate tests before and after the study
Give each group a box with a slit in the top, like a piggy bank. Every day, students should anonymously write “Yes, did it” or “No, not today” and put their slip into the box. This will allow you to determine whether the groups made their planned changes or not. If the majority of the slips say “no,” then that group can’t be said to have made their change.
Hve your class continue with their changes for three weeks. Encourage students, share news about fitness and health, and keep up with any measurements you planned on during the study. At the end of the three weeks, analyze the data:
- Count “yes” and “no” slips for each group, and eliminate any group that has a majority of “no” slips.
- Take and count the agreed upon measures for all the groups.
- Compare the group results.
- Create your own class chart, infographic, or other presentation about the results of your study.
21 days is long enough to creatre a habit. Discuss with the students whether they plan to keep up with the change now that the study is over.
Mesopotamia, meaning “between the rivers,” was the cradle of civilization. Explore the people who lived here thousands of years ago with a couple of our favorite Mesopotamia lesson plans. These two lessons are designed to give a sense of time and place for ancient Mesopotamia, while integrating critical thinking, math, and social studies goals.
Books for this study:
- DK Eyewitness Books: Mesopotamia
- Gilgamesh the King
- You Wouldn’t Want to Be a Sumerian Slave!: A Life of Hard Labor You’d Rather Avoid
- The British Museum has an interactive site with extensive basic information and images.
- University of Chicago‘s interactive site
- Mr. Donn’s Mesopotamia
- Discover Babylon game
- LookLex timeline
Economics: Needs and Opportunities
The area called Mesopotamia is a stretch of land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers:
Have students identify this area on modern maps and list the nations that currently exist in this area.
In 3100 BC, when people in Mesopotamia began writing, people had already lived there for a long time. The Sumerians lived there some 7500 years ago, and the Assyrians, Babylonians, and ancient Persians were among the other civilizations that made this part of the world their home. The region became part of the Roman Empire in 114 or so. Later the Ottoman Turks controlled the area, and it has been part of Iraq since 1932.
It was a good place to live all that time because it allowed people to meet their basic needs. Try our Cookie Geography lesson to make this point. Have students cut the shape of your state from gingerbread (there’s a recipe at the link), use icing to show the rivers or other bodies of water, and add chocolate chips to show the major cities. You’ll find that the oldest, largest cities are nearly always on the water, and usually on a river. Discuss the ways in which rivers satisfy basic human needs for food, water, and transportation. Then look at the map of Mesopotamia and note how the rivers made it a good place to live.
Older students can research the weather in the area. They’ll find that there was regular rainfall and predictable growing seasons, a set of circumstances which encouraged agriculture. While hunting, fishing, and gathering wild plants will produce enough food to sustain life, agriculture is a more reliable and efficient way to produce food.
Propose this as a hypothesis and have students figure out how they can support or reject it. For example, they might compare the amount of food produced by wild plants with the amount produced by cultivated plants. They might calculate the amount of time searching for 1,000 calories of wild foods would take, compared with the amount of time required to produce 1,000 calories of food from a garden. They could estimate the amount of fish or game an individual with simple tools such as a spear or net could bring home in a day, compared with the amount of food a day’s farming could produce.
Once students are convinced that agriculture is an efficient means of satisfying people’s need for food, point out that the rise of agriculture allowed specialization. If all the people have to spend most of their time coming up with food, they won’t have the leisure to develop other special talents. If fewer people can be farmers and produce enough food for all, then some people can work on pottery, metalcrafting, and even just coming up with ideas for useful things like ships and calendars.
This is what happened in Mesopotamia. With enough leisure to specialize, people came up with writing, laws, new forms of transportation, government, and other technologies. The rivers allowed trade with other growing civilizations, bringing new goods and also new ideas to the Sumerians, Babylonians, and Assyrians who lived there.
Have students use resources like Material World: A Global Family Portrait to identify nations or areas where much of people’s attention has to be devoted to basic survival. Compare the level of specialization in careers in these places with that in more affluent nations. Use this information to develop context for a discussion about how the natural resources and climate of Mesopotamia influenced the history of the societies there. The resources linked above will provide background information.
Play Civilization or any other history simulation game and discuss how the game’s creators have tried to replicate the effects of differing access to resources.
Alternatively, have students use Google Earth with cities and building layers turned off to identify good places for building a civilization. They could imagine that they are beings from another planet coming to what they think is an uninhabited earth and choosing a likely spot to form a colony. Have students create a Google Earth Tour to show the places they recommend to their commander back on their home planet.
Mesopotamia is the home of mathematics. People began to count, using their fingers and thus coming up with a base 10 system of arithmetic. They also developed a calendar. At first, they divided their years by agricultural events, deciding that a new year would begin with the barley harvest in what we would now call May and June. Events like the time to plant could be identified as a fairly regular and predictable time. This led to the development of the 360 day year.
360 is a tidy number that can be divided in many ways. We still divide a circle into 360 degrees, and Math Forum has an interesting discussion of this fact which includes Mesopotamia’s relationship to it. Have students draw or cut big circles and divide them into 360 days– and they’ll notice a striking resemblance to an analog clock, which has 60 minutes, each with 60 seconds.
360 divided by 12 gives 30, roughly the number of days in a month measured by the changes of the moon. And it takes just about 360 days for the earth to circle the sun, so it seemed to be a pretty good length of time for a year.
It’s not perfect, though. After some years of using this base 60 calendar, people would find that the harvests weren’t falling at “harvest time” any more. Various lunar and solar calendars were used in different places, and then the Julian calendar became popular in much of the world. It has largely been replaced by the Gregorian calendar, which has been in use in the United States since September of 1752.
Students can find a lot of detail about various calendars at Calendar FAQ.
There is a new proposed calendar called the Hanke-Henry Calendar which would have 30 days in each month and then have an extra week every few years.
Divide students into groups and assign each one a particular calendar from the links above. Have each group prepare a timeline showing an overview of the history of Mesopotamia using their assigned calendar. Compare the various timelines.
Finish up by determining how a change of calendar might affect your lives. For example, the new Hanke-Henry calendar would put an end to Hallowe’en as we know it, and what would we do with the extra week in 2015?
Add all the Mesopotamian information you’ve discovered to your classroom timeline and map.
Civilization: The Board Game is a complex strategy game chronicling the rise (and fall) of civilizations. At home or with friends, you’ll find that hours pass swiftly as great cities are built and destroyed, new technologies are discovered and shared, and alliances develop and change.
In the classroom, you can easily stretch the game out over a week or two, comparing the events of the game with actual history and geography and considering how the flow of history is smoothed, interrupted, or changed by events and choices.
There are four ways to win this game, which is another way of saying that there are four metrics for civilization:
- War: a player who takes another’s capital city wins the game. Players have many opportunities tthroughout the game to strengthen their defenses and also to adopt strategic positions for aggression. It was interesting to us to see how, once one player has shown an intention to win in this way, other players begin diverting resources from other goals to strengthening their military powers.
- Economy: a player who amasses 15 gold coins wins the game. While 15 coins doesn’t sound like much, players are more likely to gain wealth in the form of natural resources, labor, or property than in the form of gold. Focusing on gold means giving up many other opportunities.
- Culture: players may choose to move their pieces along a path in the marketplace that leads to a cultural victory. The first gains are fairly easy, as a player can devote a city to the arts and receive a Culture Card giving special privileges and powers, but the price of cultural accomplishment increases as the game continues.
- Technology: a player who builds a pyramid of technology cards culminating in space travel wins. All players work for technology, which must be paid for in labor and trade — or gained through espionage and alliances. Decisions about which technology to choose and how much to invest in technology affect players’ outcomes.
The players in the game are China, Egypt, Rome, Russia, Germany, and America. Each starts with certain advantages; for example, China begins with writing and gains extra culture points during exploration. However, players don’t have to follow the actual course of history. Players can choose their form of government and their path toward the hoped-for win.
The map is different every time, and it is gradually discovered. Natural resources and land forms affect the course of the game, and natural disasters (or those caused by humans) can change the course of history. There are also great people and great accomplishments which can be gained either by chance or through hard work and investment.
Each round in the game is played in five stages:
- Start of turn: players can build cities, change their government, and take advantage of special opportunities they’ve earned. Often, especially at the beginning of the game, every player must pass during this stage.
- Trade: players collect the trade produced by their cities, which they will use later in the game to gain technologies or for other priorities. Both luck and strategy can lead to increased or decreased production of trade. Players also trade with one another during this stage.
- City management: players build things like libraries, marketplaces or barracks, build up armies and artilleries, and take part in the cultural life of their nation. This requires production points, some of which are gained by luck and others of which are strategically developed.
- Movement: players take part in exploration and conquest. Activities in this stage range from scouting for resources to attacking other nations.
- Research: players use their resources to gain new technologies.
In the classroom, this can be one day of play, and the class (playing in teams) can stop at this point and debrief, discussing the events that took place and the decisions that were made, and how they affected the players. For example, the discovery of irrigation allows a player to build an additional city. Discuss how irrigation developed in the real world, and how it allowed civilizations to expand away from rivers and to feed more people.
At home, it’s possible to stop in between rounds of play, but we never want to. This is a very fun, social game. We’d use Twitter on the classroom projector and allow players to text within their teams as well as using their smartphones to tweet publicly about the course of the game as it takes place. For younger students or classes in which most students don’t have the technology or its use is forbidden, teams can gather and discuss their moves, sending an envoy to make each move.
We found that it was hard to get the game started. There’s a magazine of instructions, and you have to read and understand them fully before you can begin your first game. This is probably more natural in the classroom, where it will bring up many thought-provoking questions. Here’s how the first round is likely to go:
- Start of turn: each civilization builds a city, and places an army and a scout in the outskirts of the city.
- Trade: each city collects the initial trade points on the board around its city.
- City management: depending on the amount of production the city begins with, players may be able to build public buildings or to strengthen their military.
- Movement: players move their scouts out in search of resources and places to build additional cities. They can only move slowly at first, until the civilization develops better technologies for travel. As civilizations move, they uncover more of the map.
- Research: some players will have enough trade points to gain new technologies, while some will have to wait for another round of trade.
Here the Russians have developed their pyramid of technology cards to the point of being poised to add space travel. Their city has been built up to encourage trade and productivity to pay for the expensive technology.
Here the Americans are working toward a Culture win. The small orange figures of their scouts and armies are not even on the board, and they’ve built their cities with Great People to gain culture points.
The combination of fun and teachable moments makes this an excellent educational game, but it’s also very enjoyable as a strategy and critical thinking game. Set it up in the corner of your classroom and let fast finishers spend a few minutes in play, or take it home and have fun with your friends.