Take a look at how inventions, such as plastic, have changed our lives and how they are changing the future of living in space. Students explore the concept of invention and innovation by studying the use of plastics. Various uses of plastics are discussed and students are asked to list new innovations and then create a new use for plastic.
Prior to the lesson, allow the children to access the images found here. Ask them to consider the following questions:
- How are the soda bottles shown in this photograph different from the soda bottles sold today? [They are made of glass, rather than plastic.]
- In what ways do you think the soda bottles sold today are better than the bottles shown in the photograph? [They are not breakable. They are lighter.]
At the beginning of the lesson, ask the children to give their answers to the questions listed above. State it wasn’t for some time after the plastic used to make soda bottles was invented that it was actually used to make bottles [Polyethylene was invented in the 1930s but plastic soda bottles did not become widely available until the 1970s.] Why was this so? [Even though plastic was available, someone had to develop the innovative idea of using plastic to make bottles. A process for making plastic into soda bottles had to be developed. Manufacturers had to invest in the equipment needed to make plastic soda bottles. Customers had to be convinced to buy plastic soda bottles. In other words, entrepreneurship was needed in order to bring about the production and use of plastic bottles.]
Ask the children to name other products that are now made using plastic. [For example, plastic bags, plastic toys, plastic containers.]
- Name an example of an invention (plastic).
- Identify innovations created as a result of the invention of plastic (For example: plastic soda bottles, plastic wrap, plastic safety equipment, plastic sports equipment).
- Identify cutting-edge innovative uses of plastic (in space technology).
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration: At this site, you can access a drawing of the Transhab capsule and examine other images.
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration: This page shows a cutaway of the inside of the Transhab capsule.
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration: This site contains many images of a “space home”.
- American Chemistry Council: Learn more about polymers and plastics. This site gives background information about the history of plastics. You can also learn more about the role that plastics play in our lives.
- National Geographic Society: This website gives information about the Human Ecological Footprint and Plastics.
- The Macrogalleria- A Cyber World of Polymer Fun: At this site, you can visit a virtual shopping mall and discover the many everyday products that are created using plastics and other polymers.
- The National Inventors Hall of Fame: This site includes alphabetical listings of both inventors and inventions. Some of the biographical entries include audio clips describing the life and works of the featured inventor.
- Inventing a New Kind of Pencil: You can find an interesting activity involving reinventing the pencil at this site.
Explain that the class is now going to have a glimpse at how plastics might be used in the future. Explain that they are going to look at a special sort of space home that astronauts might use when visiting the moon or, one day, even Mars. Plastics have been used to make the space home. It is called the Transhab capsule.
Access a drawing of the capsule here , and examine the images together.
This page shows a cutaway of the inside of the capsule. Further down the page is a photo showing a test inflation of the Transhab capsule in a swimming pool. Divide the class into pairs or small groups, and then ask them to access the photos found here. Ask the following questions:
- What makes this space home different from a normal house? [The space home is inflatable and made of plastic and man-made fibers. The outside is made of many different layers. The space home is round, light and will fold up.]
- Why do you think the space home needs to be made differently from a normal house? [The space home must be smaller and lighter so it can be transported into space. However, it must be big enough when in use to house several astronauts. There is a great deal of debris in space, so it must be strong enough to withstand being hit by rocks and other debris.]
- Do you think people on earth might live in houses like these one day?
- Would you like to live in a house like this? Why or why not?
Expect a wide variety of responses to these questions. Allow the children time to share and discuss their answers. Explain to the students that entrepreneurs create new innovations all of the time. In small groups, have students list at least 10 innovations which did not exist 10 years ago.
- The https://plastics.americanchemistry.com/default.aspx gives background information about the history of plastics. You can also learn more about the role that plastics play in our lives by clicking https://www.nationalgeographic.org/activity/mapping-our-human-footprint/. The site gives information about polymers found in the home and in nature, and also how recycled plastic is used. At this website , you can visit a virtual shopping mall and discover the many diverse products that are created using plastics and other polymers.
- Learn about specific inventors and inventions at https://www.invent.org/inductees/search. The site includes alphabetical listings of both inventors and inventions. Some of the biographical entries include audio clips describing the life and works of the featured inventor. The Invention Dimension houses a section called Inventor of the Week, which highlights the achievements of different American inventors.
- Encourage the children in your class to become inventors themselves. Encourage your class to invent a product to solve a specific problem. This website highlights inventions created by children in K-6 classes, and might give inspiration to the children in your class. Here is a link where you can find an interesting activity involving reinventing the pencil .
Ask the children to create a new product using plastic. Ask them to draw a picture of their idea. Allow them to share their ideas with the rest of the class.