Did Thomas Edison steal the idea for electric light globes?

Age group: 
8-11
Subject: 
Science
Social Science

Classroom unit

Overview

Students explore one of the most significant inventions in science, the electric incandescent light. They understand the principles involved, but also challenge the commonly accepted idea that the light globe was invented by Edison. They see the significance for Edison’s life of his use of patents, and they also question how we know what we think we know. 

The central IP concept contained in this unit is patents.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this unit students will be better able to:

  • explain how an electric light works
  • describe the traditional story behind the invention of the electric light bulb
  • explain why that story might not be true
  • explain the way a patent works
  • understand the importance of patents to the inventor and to others who learn from that invention
  • explain how we might be able to make judgements in history.

Curriculum Area/s:    

  • Science - electricity
  • History - how do we know what happened in history? - important people and ideas in history

Year/s: Ages 8-11 (Primary)

Delivery

Duration: 1-2 x 45 minute lessons

Teacher Prep Time: 10 minutes

Materials required:

  • Power packs (batteries)
  • Leads to connect the battery terminals to the steel wool
  • 10-15 cigar-shaped pieces of steel wool
  • Online, smart board or hard copies of Worksheets 1-4

Procedure

1. Discuss the importance of electricity in students’ lives today.

2. Ask students: who invented the light globe?

3. Show students an old-style incandescent light globe. Ask them to observe: where does the light actually come from?

4. Let students ‘invent’ the light globe from these materials:

  • Power packs (batteries)
  • Leads to connect the battery terminals to the steel wool
  • 10-15 cigar-shaped pieces of steel wool

Students complete the circuit and see the steel wool glow.

5. Discuss with students why the connection also generates heat, and why a covering of glass would be useful.

6. Ask students: Who invented the incandescent light bulb? This can be done by questioning in class, or setting a research task overnight.

7. Most students will say Edison. Some may query that — mentioning John Swan or Henry Goebel.

8. Have students read the story of Edison (Worksheet 1), and the definition of a patent (Worksheet 2). They answer any questions that they can at this stage on Worksheet 4.

9. What is the advantage of a patent to the holder of the patent, and to other researchers? They answer any questions that they can at this stage on Worksheet 4.

10. Discuss why Edison might have made so much money from patents. They answer any questions that they can at this stage on Worksheet 4.

11 Discuss also why he might have paid a lot of attention to other people’s patents. They answer any questions that they can at this stage on Worksheet 4.

12. Have students read the summary of information on Swan (Worksheet 3). Discuss: why would we have conflicting evidence about who was the inventor of the light bulb? Why has history seemed to accept that it was Edison? How could we finally find out? They answer any questions that they can at this stage on Worksheet 4.

11. Have students complete Worksheet 4 on Edison and the importance of patents in his life as an inventor and businessman.

AttachmentSize
worksheet_1-_the_story_of_thomas_edison.pdf PDF in PDF format [172.6 KB]172.6 KB
worksheet_2-_what_is_a_patent.pdf PDF in PDF format [164.17 KB]164.17 KB
worksheet_3-_who_was_joseph_swan.pdf PDF in PDF format [174.37 KB]174.37 KB
worksheet_4-_thomas_edison_and_the_electric_light_bulb_summary_page.pdf PDF in PDF format [37.88 KB]37.88 KB
Last updated: 
Thursday, November 28, 2013