|What was life like in the past?|
“Long ago” is a relative term. To the children in your class it likely includes anything that occurred before they were born. That ranges from when dinosaurs ruled the earth to the time when their parents and teachers were young! By conducting interviews, looking at pictures, and visiting museums, the children will start to get a sense of the world during different time periods.
What Primary Sources Can Tell Us about Now and Long Ago
Anything that was used, drawn, written, or photographed in an earlier time helps us to learn about what life was like then.
Thomas Edisonís Phonograph
Motion pictures and sound recordings of the Edison companies
Thomas Alva Edison earned patents for more than a thousand inventions during his lifetime. One of these was the phonograph, a machine that enabled sounds to be recorded and heard. Edison developed his first phonograph in 1877. Originally he had intended the phonograph to be used as a dictating machine in offices. Within ten years, though, phonographs, along with phonograph records, were being used to record the sounds of musicians. Soon people found other uses for phonographs, including helping the children learn!
The Rate of Technological Change
Scientists who study rates of technological change claim that change really is taking place at a much more rapid pace than in the past. The change is increasing so fast that one scientist believes that the 21st century will see the same amount of change as the previous 20,000 years. Inventor and author Ray Kurzweil says the first change in technology took tens of thousands of years as the wheel and stone tools became widespread. The next major shift, the invention of the printing press, took about 100 years to permeate society. Now, he says, new major changes are measured in only a few years time as he counts the rate it has taken for the World Wide Web to become worldwide. Kurzweil says that the rate of technical change will affect every aspect of our lives.
Guessing Game: Technology Then and Now
1. Ask the children to name some machines they know of that are able to record sound. (Among these are tape recorders, compact discs, video discs, and phone answering machines.)
2. Distribute a copy of the photo of Edison’s phonograph to each child. (Or, refer the children to the picture of children listening to Edison’s phonograph on page 30 of your Primary Sources Handbook.) Explain to the children what the photograph shows. Ask:
3. Have the children flip through Unit 4 of their textbook, keeping an eye out for other types of tools and technology that were used long ago. (These include typewriters, steam locomotives, an abacus, and horse-drawn carriage.) Keep a list of the children’s responses on chart paper or a chalkboard. Challenge children to think of other items used long ago that are now obsolete, or not as common as they once were. For more ideas, see websites on household tools that are no longer used, such as those used in the late 19th century. Add these to your chalkboard list. Together create a list that is long enough to assign one item to every other child in your classroom.
4. Organize the children into pairs, and write each technology word that your children brainstormed on a separate index card. Distribute one of these randomly to each pair of children. Then go around the room, making sure teams are able to read the word on their card.
5. Distribute art supplies (crayons, markers, and drawing paper). Working with their partner, direct the children to draw a picture of a modern-day tool that is now used in place of the one on the card they were given. For example, the team given “typewriter” might draw a computer, the team given “abacus” might draw a calculator, and the team given “horse-drawn carriage” might draw an automobile.
6. When the children are ready, invite each team to present its drawing to the rest of the class. As they do so, challenge classmates to figure out what item was written on the card that each team was given.
Additional Primary Sources
Image credits: a. Library of Congress, Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division; b. C Squared Studios/Getty Images