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Impact of Inventions


In this unit, students consider how and which inventions have improved peoples’ lives. Students develop criteria in order to substantiate their choices. The Visual Ranking Tool helps students evaluate the impact of inventions and compare their lists with peers. After looking at inventions across history, students can develop their own inventions, using the many tools of an inventor.


Curriculum-Framing Questions

  • Essential Question
    How does change impact our lives?
  • Unit Questions
    What are the most important inventions?
    How have inventions improved people's lives?
  • Sample Content Question
    How did a particular invention develop?
    What is the process for inventing something?



This project idea makes use of the Visual Ranking Tool. Examine the Visual Ranking Web site and familiarize yourself with the tool.


Note: This project idea could be narrowed and integrated with a particular unit of study. For example, students learning about Ancient Egypt could determine which Egyptian inventions had the greatest impact, historically.


Pose the Essential Question: How does change impact our lives? Discuss students’ interpretation of this question. Ask students to share examples of how change has impacted their lives, in personal and societal realms. Then, ask the Unit Question, What are the most important inventions? As a class, brainstorm a list of important inventions.


Provide guidelines for the inventions, such as: inventions must have been created from the year 0 to the present; they must be a physical device (not concepts); and they must not be parts that are used to build something else (for example, gears, microchips). Review the list and ask students how they chose to include particular inventions.


As a class, develop criteria for a great invention. Criteria might include, for example: it changed the way people live; it would be difficult to live without, and; it had the greatest impact on the most people around the world. Another suggestion is to have students look at the impact of the invention from different perspectives, for example, how the invention impacted health, the economy, the environment, and so forth. Using the established criteria, narrow the list to ten inventions and, in no particular order, enter the inventions into the Visual Ranking Tool. Gather students into small groups to review the list.


Use the Visual Ranking Tool

Have groups do an initial ranking of the list in Visual Ranking. They do not need to include comments at this time. Next, have groups conduct research on the list of inventions in order to better understand the background of each of the inventions and its eventual impact, focusing on the Unit Question, How have inventions improved peoples’ lives? Pose research questions such as the following:

  • Who was the inventor?  
  • What was the need that the invention was meant to fill? 
  • Through what stages did the object develop? What caused changes in the object over time?
  • How did the object affect the way people behave or live?
  • What is the economic impact of the object? 
  • How has this invention sparked other inventions?


Students can also survey other people (parents, peers, or community members) by asking them to rank the list in Visual Ranking. This will help students better understand different perspectives on how inventions have impacted peoples’ lives.


Instruct students to review and discuss their research and data collection, reconsider the original criteria, and re-think their Visual Ranking order. They can change their list order. Instruct each team to provide a rationale for each of their choices by using the Visual Ranking comment feature. They should explain why they placed the items in the particular order, making sure they address the established class criteria.


When all groups have finished their ranking and added comments, groups can compare their lists and comments with their peers’ lists. Assess students based on how well students’ rationales meet the established ranking criteria, which can be done by looking at student comments or giving a written assignment.  


When students have reviewed all of the lists, conduct another discussion about change, revisiting the Essential Question, How does change impact our lives? Discuss how innovation brings change and change brings innovation. Ask students how they think the world will change in the next fifty years. Based on the predicted changes, what new things will people need to do? What inventions will they need to do these tasks?


As an optional extension, have students come up with a new invention for the future. This can be done using the design process: search for a problem, brainstorm a solution, and create something that has never existed before. Ultimately, students create and share models of their inventions. Optionally, audience members could use Visual Ranking to determine which student invention they think would have the most impact on their lives. Design logs, sketches, models, and presentations can be assessed with a rubric or scoring guide.


Examine the Visual Ranking Activity

The Visual Ranking workspace below represents one team's ranking on this project. The view you see is functional. You can roll over the white icon to see the team's comments and click the compare button to see how different teams ranked the items.


Project Name: Impact of Inventions (Click here to set up this project in your workspace)
Question: Which inventions had the greatest impact on peoples’ lives? Rank the inventions from the greatest impact to the least impact.


Explore an interactive demo.


Impact of Inventions
Project Ideas

At a Glance

Grade Level: 5-8

Subject: Social Studies

Higher-Order Thinking Skills:  Decision Making, Creativity

Key Learnings: Invention History, Research, Design Process
Time Needed: Two weeks