Thomas Edison – Relevant in the Classroom

Teaching Thomas Edison in the classroom is the fundamental expression of what STEM/STEAM is all about, how he changed the world with his invention process-the so-called invention factory, later re-named R&D labs. It was his greatest invention.

Many teachers and educators write in to us, access our websites and visit the Thomas Edison National Historic Park [TENHP] to learn how to bring his lessons into the classroom. Shown below are some tips for integrating Edison into the classroom.

Edison at his office desk-always studying new things.

Edison at his office desk-always studying new things.

The roots of his 1093 patents always began with detailed notebooks of his experiments and findings. Whenever student teams work on developing new ideas, have them keep track of their work in a team notebook, practicing the important skill of documenting their findings. This will help them continually improve their inventions—something Edison would heartily applaud.

Original Edison sketch for the phonograph!

Original Edison sketch for the phonograph!

The invention process you encounter in STEM literature is basically the one Edison used to codify the iterative invention process:
1) Identify a problem worth solving
2) Evaluate the economics/market needs
3) Identify constraints, impacts, challenges
4) Identify/test potential solutions-invent!
5) Validate invention against 1), 2) and 3)
[repeat 1) thru 5) as necessary-re-design/re-evaluate original problem]
6) Market the invention
7) Grow and improve the invention

Use this process to empower students to ask questions. The quality of solutions is dependent upon the quality of the questions asked. Teach them how to ask tough questions! Let your students be like “hard boiled” detectives when they have problems to solve-to get in there and turn every problem inside-out, learning as much as possible about the problem and how proposed solutions could be used.
The questions are especially important to step 3) above…dealing with constraints and limits that can affect any new invention.

A smiling Edison

A smiling Edison

Host a website/newsletter in your class/school. What a great way to promote and practice communications! Have students develop a website accessible to the entire school, and perhaps other schools within your district. Students can write articles about how Edison changed the world, influencing us yet today. All things Edison can be explored and discussed, along with publicly available photos of the great inventor and his work.

Invite inventors into the classroom, modern day inventors so they can explain how to use creativity techniques to develop solutions to problems. Allow your students to learn first-hand from men and women who invent as a living or as a vital part of their jobs as engineers, technologists, scientists…etc. Consider writing articles about the meeting with inventors and publish them on the school website mentioned above.

Which was Edison’s greatest Invention? Study the many inventions created by Edison, fostering a debate about the pros and cons of his introduced technologies. How did his technologies impact the economy, society, environment, culture, and standards of living? Make sure your students marshal their arguments as quantitatively as possible.

Check out these websites for additional information and classroom projects and activities:

Have a wonderful school year and happy inventing!

Thomas Edison said, “If we all did the things we are really capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves …”

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

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