People Movers

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, October 11, 2006

Grade Level

  • Elementary School


  • Design History

Subject Area

  • Social Studies
  • Technology

Lesson Time

Two fifty-minute class periods


People are always inventing new ways to solve problems and accomplish work. In this activity, students will investigate how transportation has evolved through the years and how it may continue to change in the future. Students will place a series of objects in chronological order and discuss what problem the designers addressed and solved with the invention of each of the objects. Students will also work in small groups to brainstorm ideas to identify and solve a current-day transportation problem.

National Standards

Standard 3. Level II. Understands the relationships among science, technology, society, and the individual 2. Knows areas in which technology has improved human lives (e.g., transportation, communication, nutrition, sanitation, health care, entertainment) 3. Knows that new inventions often lead to other new inventions and ways of doing things Standard 4. Level II. Understands the nature of technological design 2. Knows that group collaboration is useful as the combination of multiple creative minds can yield more possible design solutions 3. Knows that the design process is a series of methodical steps for turning ideas into useful products and systems 7. Evaluates a product or design (e.g., considers how well the product or design met the challenge to solve a problem; considers the ability of the product or design to meet constraints), and makes modifications based on results


Students will do the following:
  • analyze the progression of inventions in the area of transportation
  • explain how people invent new ways to solve problems
  • consider ideas to solve a current-day transportation problem


  • "People Mover Problem" worksheet


  • photographs of the following: a person walking, a wheel, horse and buggy, bicycle, train, automobile, airplane, space shuttle


Building Background How Things Change


The purpose of this activity is to place items in chronological order, and analyze how each invention solved a problem.

1. Make copies of images of a person walking, a wheel, horse and buggy, a bicycle, train, automobile, airplane and a space shuttle. 2. Show the class the image of a person walking and discuss how at one point in time people could only get from one place to another (on land) by using their feet. 3. Tape the remaining images on the blackboard in no particular order. As a class, place the images in the order in which they were invented. (The wheel, horse and buggy, bicycle, train, automobile, airplane and the space shuttle.) 4. After the items have been placed in chronological order, discuss what problem each invention addressed and how it was solved. 5. As a class, brainstorm inventions in the transportation category that were created to do work, i.e., tractors, helicopters, plows, backhoes, etc. Recap how people are always inventing new ways to solve problems and accomplish work. Teacher Note: This activity format could also be used with a variety of other topics. (e.g., communication, medicine, housing)

Steps for Learning Solving the Next Problem

The purpose of this activity is to provide students with an opportunity to analyze a problem and brainstorm ways to solve it. 1. Divide the class into small groups. Ask students to think about a problem in the category of transportation. This might include new ways to move people and/or new ways to move people in a more economical, environmentally friendly, or energy efficient manner. Explain to students that the goal is to think creatively about an existing problem. It's the thinking process that is important NOT the feasibility of the idea. 2. Ask students to select one of the ideas and either write a description of or draw an illustration of the idea. 3. Provide time for students to share their ideas.



Create a class rubric with your students that will help them understand the effectiveness of their design process. Use the following guidelines to help create the rubric. -How effective was your brainstorming in generating ideas? Excellent          Good           Adequate          Poor -Rate how effectively you analyzed the information you used to identify your problem. Excellent          Good           Adequate          Poor -Rate the effectiveness of your solution. Excellent          Good           Adequate          Poor -Rate how clearly you communicated the problem you wanted to solve. Excellent          Good           Adequate          Poor -Rate how clearly you communicated your solution. Excellent          Good           Adequate           Poor -Rate your effectiveness as problem solvers. Excellent          Good           Adequate          Poor

Enrichment Extension Activities


Have students research an inventor and give an oral presentation to the class.

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