By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, August 23, 2006

Grade Level

  • PreK-1


  • Design History

Subject Area

  • Language Arts
  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

One fifty-minute class period


Throughout history people have designed objects that have changed and enhanced the quality of people's lives. These objects help us to both survive and enjoy life. In this activity, students will examine historic artifacts to determine if they were designed to help people survive or to create enjoyment.

National Standards

Standard 16. Level I. Understands the changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution and importance of resources
1. Knows the role that resources play in our daily lives (resources used to generate electricity; resources used to produce automobiles, medicines, clothing, and food)
Standard 17. Level I. Understands how geography is used to interpret the past
1. Knows how areas of a community have changed over time (in terms of, e.g., size and style of homes; how people earn their living; changes in the plant and animal population) 
Historical Understanding. Standard 1. Level I. Understands and knows how to analyze chronological relationships and patterns
3. Distinguishes among broad categories of historical time (e.g., long, long ago; long ago; yesterday; today; tomorrow)
Language Arts
Standard 1. Level I. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process
7. Writes in a variety of forms or genres (e.g., picture books, friendly letters, stories, poems, information pieces, invitations, personal experience narratives, messages, responses to literature)
8. Writes for different purposes (e.g., to entertain, inform, learn, communicate ideas)


Students will do the following:

  • identify objects that were designed to help people to survive and to enjoy themselves
  • compare and contrast how daily life changes through time


  • "What Do I Like and Need?" worksheet
  • Internet websites


  • copies of the historic artifacts listed in the activity


Building Background
Historic Artifacts 

The purpose of this activity is to provide an opportunity for students to examine historic artifacts to determine if they were designed to help people survive or to make their lives more enjoyable.

1. Show students copies of the artifacts listed below. Ask students to determine if each object was created to help people survive or to make their lives more enjoyable. Hang copies of the images on the board.

Designs to Help People Survive:      

Compass used on the Lewis and Clark expedition, 1804-6 http://www.smithsonianlegacies.si.edu/objectdescription.cfm?ID=55

Hatchet presented to Davy Crockett in 1835 http://www.smithsonianlegacies.si.edu/objectdescription.cfm?ID=98

Life preserver worn by Major John Wesley Powell during exploration of the Green and Colorado Rivers, 1869 http://www.smithsonianlegacies.si.edu/objectdescription.cfm?ID=267

Barbara McClintock's microscope, 1940s-50s http://www.smithsonianlegacies.si.edu/objectdescription.cfm?ID=84

Vials of polio vaccine, 1954 http://www.smithsonianlegacies.si.edu/objectdescription.cfm?ID=171

Jarvik-7 artificial heart, 1985 http://www.smithsonianlegacies.si.edu/objectdescription.cfm?ID=172

Designs for Enjoyment:

Stradivari violoncello, 1701 http://www.smithsonianlegacies.si.edu/objectdescription.cfm?ID=26

Cast-iron fire engine, about 1900 http://www.smithsonianlegacies.si.edu/objectdescription.cfm?ID=226

Teddy bear, about 1903 http://www.smithsonianlegacies.si.edu/objectdescription.cfm?ID=72

Array of autographed baseballs, 1950s-80s http://www.smithsonianlegacies.si.edu/objectdescription.cfm?ID=122

Barbie doll, 1958          http://www.smithsonianlegacies.si.edu/objectdescription.cfm?ID=266

"Squash-blossom" necklace and earrings made by a Zuni silversmith in New Mexico, 1973                           http://www.smithsonianlegacies.si.edu/objectdescription.cfm?ID=214

2. Have students choose the object from each category that they are the most interested in or that they like the most. Ask students to explain their choices.

Steps for Learning
Survival and Enjoyment 

In this activity, students will consider objects that improve their lives.

1. Have students answer the questions on the "What Do I Like and Need?" worksheet. This worksheet may be completed as a whole-class, small group, or individual activity.

2. Provide time for students to share their work with the class.


Answer the following question:
What three things have you learned during this assignment?

Enrichment Extension Activities

Then and Now
1. Explore the Woodland Indian Village on the Exploring Maryland's Roots website. http://mdroots.thinkport.org/interactives/indvillage/intro.asp

2. Work with students to analyze the ways in which their basic needs are met in comparison with the ways the basic needs of the people in the Woodland Indian Village were met.

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