All About Chinese Inventions
Students build their own compasses to learn about Chinese inventions.
- Grades: 1–2, 3–5
- Unit Plan:
Students listen to two books about Chinese inventions. Then they make a simple compass. Later students look at home for Chinese inventions, bring them to school, and make a display.
- Listen attentively to books.
- Bring Chinese inventions from home.
- Watch their teacher demonstrate how to make a compass.
- Make a compass with a partner.
- Ms. Frizzle’s Adventures: Imperial China by Joanna Cole
- Look What Came From China by Miles Harvey
- Chart paper and markers
- A few examples of Chinese inventions (Examples: dominoes, uncooked rice and pasta, abacus, sparklers/fireworks, silk scarf, and kite.)
- Materials for making compasses (You'll need one set of these supplies for each compass being made; the class will work in pairs to create them.):
- Large bowl of water
Set Up and Prepare
- Set up the chart paper and write the heading "Chinese Inventions" across the top.
- Practice making a compass ahead of time.
- Review how compasses work and think of ways to communicate this to students.
Some background about compasses and magnetism:
A sewing needle contains iron, a metal which is attracted to magnets. Metal objects that are attracted to magnets can also be made into magnets. Here's how it works: the atoms in the needle contain unpaired electrons that are scattered around, that is, not ordered, or facing random directions. When you stroke a needle over a magnet in one direction, the atoms line up with the electrons, finding partners, plus to minus.
Magnets have magnetic fields that are strongest at either end, at either pole. The needle, once magnetized, is north-south seeking just like the needle on a commercially made compass. This is related to the fact that the earth is itself a giant magnet. The needle is a small magnet that is affected by the earth's magnetic field in such a way that it points to a magnetic pole. One end of the needle is north-seeking. We call that "north" on a compass and usually mark that end with red. You could use a red permanent marker to mark that end of the needle. In order for the needle to point north it needs to be able to move freely. That is why you need the cork and the bowl of water. Together they allow the needle to move freely and align itself with the earth's magnetic field.
Step 1: Read Ms. Frizzle’s Adventures: Imperial China by Joanna Cole. This book is dense with facts and needs to be read twice on two consecutive days. Today, read for the flow of the story. Most of the inventions run along the bottom of the pages. Treat these lightly on first reading and let inventions be the focus of second reading tomorrow.
Step 1: Review and reread Ms. Frizzle’s story, concentrating on the inventions this time.
Step 2: Read Look What Came From China by Miles Harvey.
Step 3: Show the Chinese inventions you brought in.
Step 4: On the chart paper, write a list of Chinese inventions including the ones you brought in. Ask students to suggest inventions from the books you read.
Step 5: Now ask students to bring in inventions that they can find at home. Tell them that you will create a display of these inventions to help teach other students at your school what your class has learned. At a later date, display the inventions on a table or in a hallway display case. Consider including descriptions of the inventions on 3- by 5-inch cards, Chinese flags, good luck signs, and large dragon drawings.
Step 1: Show the students the compass you made ahead of time.
Step 2: Using a conventional compass and your homemade compass, explain how a compass works.
Step 3: Model the making of a compass:
- Stroke a sewing needle in one direction over a magnet about 50 times.
- Stick the needle into the cork and float on a bowl or large paper cup of water. Try to change the direction that the needle points and observe as it moves back to north by itself.
Step 4: Mention that the Earth is a magnet and the needle points north because of the Earth’s magnetic field.
Step 5: Help students figure out where east, south, and west are using the compasses.
Step 6: Divide the class into pairs and have students make compasses with their partners. Offer help as needed.
Supporting All Learners
Make it clear to all that Ms. Frizzle’s Adventures: Imperial China involves time travel. Consider showing photos from another book that illustrates China today. One good book, China by Henry Pluckrose, is from the Picture A Country series. Or, see our book list for ideas.
- Make an abacus.
- Paint a Chinese scroll. A large scroll could be a class project. Sketch with pencil, outline with permanent black marker, and then fill in the color with watercolors. Chinese inventions could be the subject of the scroll and the scroll could serve as a timeline of inventions.
In your weekly newsletter, make a list of Chinese inventions and invite parents to send in any they have at home.
Students participate in making a class list of Chinese inventions. Students make a compass with a partner.
- Read slowly and expressively?
- Stop frequently to ask questions and discuss the text?
- Clearly demonstrate how to make a compass?
- Monitor the partners while they made compasses?
- Create a display that communicated effectively to those who weren’t studying China?
- Sum up what was learned?
- Listening during the read-alouds?
- Asking and answering questions?
- Attentive during demonstration?
- Working well with their partners?
- Seeking adult help as needed?