Grade 3-5

An Entreduction

Updated: August 13 2015,
Author: Conor Irons

This lesson illustrates the differences between inventions and innovations. It discusses what entrepreneurs are and their role with inventions and innovations.


It’s such a pain to sharpen your pencil, isn’t it? And don’t you hate it when you can’t keep a window clean? Well, cartoonist Rube Goldberg can help you out.

Check out Rube Goldberg or How to Keep Shop Windows Clean

  1. How does Rube’s invention sharpen a pencil?
  2. How does Rube keep shop windows clean? [The caption to each picture explains the roundabout way in which the task gets done.]
  3. Why do you think Rube’s absurdly complex solutions to simple problems never make it to your local stores? [Answers will vary. The machines exert maximum effort for minimal results. It would be very difficult for these inventions to be shipped and assembled easily. The machines are practical and efficient ways to solve the problems .]
  4. However, people still need ways to sharpen pencils and clean windows. So, how do these tasks get done without Rube’s machines?

Part of the answer lies with entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are people who recognize opportunities to develop new products and start new businesses. Although Rube’s solutions are admirable, the entrepreneurs behind the development of the electric pencil sharpener and the squeegee had more success with solving those problems.

Invention versus Innovation

When entrepreneurs see an opportunity, they can do one of two things. They can develop either an invention or an innovation. An invention is a new product created by an inventor. When you think of inventions and inventors you probably think of big things like Thomas Edison and the light bulb or Alexander Graham Bell and the telephone. But, little inventions, like the eraser, also play big parts in our lives. Slinky

  1. What would you consider the five most important inventions and why?
  2. Why do you consider those inventions important? [Answers will vary. You may want to help your class brainstorm a big list of inventions. Suggestions for important inventions include Steve Jobs’s personal computer, Henry Ford’s automobile, etc.]

An innovation is the introduction of an invention into a use that has economic value. Innovations change how people use preexisting products. You probably innovate in some way almost every day. Have you ever used a piece of gum to hold something together? Or have you ever used sock as a puppet? Well, that’s innovation. Some entrepreneurs believe that some innovations will be very popular on the market. Check out the web site below and answer the following questions.

Learning Objectives

  • Define entrepreneur.
  • Explain the difference between invention and innovation.
  • Determine the skills necessary to be a successful entrepreneur.

Resource List

  • Rube's Simplified Pencil Sharpener/How to Keep Shop Windows Clean: At the Rube Goldberg website, one can endeavor to capture the whimsical side of Rube Goldberg’s work and life.
  • Inventor of the Week Archive: This website offers information concerning how the slinky accidentally was invented in 1943 by engineer Richard James.
  • The Hottest Gadgets: This website contains some inventions in which the inventors could use an entrepreneur's help in developing.


View Interactive Activity

  1. What was the original idea for the Slinky?
    [A spring that could be used on ships during World War II.]
  2. What made the Slinky a successful toy?
    [Impossible to find an exact answer. The success of the slinky it due to the subjective nature of utility (satisfaction) that humans find in different products. It may have well happened that even though the inventor found amusement in the slinky, that others may not have and it would have failed. Or perhaps he would not have found amusement in it but another might have and re-introduced the product at a later time. Entrepreneur is not only about seizing opportunity but also recognizing it.] 
  3. How did the Slinky entrepreneur make the Slinky successful?
    [A combination of recognizing and seizing an opportunity, and also implementing a proper marketing strategy for the toy. The Jameses were able to develop a production process which made producing slinky's more cost effective and profitable. Over time other individuals have found different uses for the toy, an example of the dynamic nature of the economy.] 
  4. What risks did the Slinky entrepreneur take?
    [Time, money, reputation, esteem etc.] 
  5. What incentives did the entrepreneur have to make the Slinky successful?
    [Profit motive, but also a passion for the project which developed as a result of spending so much time and energy developing and implementing the idea.]


In that toy story, it required a person to develop the idea into a tangible marketable product, something Rube never cared to attempt. The willingness of an entrepreneurs to take a risk on a product depends largely on how successful the entrepreneur believes the product will be. A free market economy encourages entrepreneurship by allowing entrepreneurs the opportunity to make a profit on their ideas.


Check out these Amazing Gadgets and Inventions and see some inventions that these inventors could use an entrepreneur's help in developing.

View Interactive Activity


  1. Do you see any invention there that you would be willing to invest in? [The answers will vary.] 

    Slinky on Stair

  2. What skills do you need in order to transform an idea into a profitable success?[The answers will vary. Possible ideas include willing to take risks, accept challenges, work well with others, and become your own boss. These people should be decisive, dedicated, and hard working.]
  3. What risks are involved in putting your product on the market? [People risk losing money because they do not know whether consumers will like the product and whether the customers will be willing to pay for it.]
  4. How does the free market encourage you to develop your idea? [The free market encourages entrepreneurs through providing profits as incentives.]