So Many Inventions!
Students build their own compasses to learn about Chinese inventions.
- Grades: 1–2
- 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.
- Observe teacher demonstrate how to make a compass.
- Make a compass with a partner.
- Ms. Frizzle’s Adventures in Imperial China by Joanna Cole
- Look What Came From China by Miles Harvey
- Chart paper and markers
- Materials for making compasses: Large bowl of water, magnet, needle, cork (one set of these supplies for each compass being made.)
Set Up and Prepare
- Collect a few of the inventions. (Examples: dominoes, uncooked rice and pasta, abacus, sparklers/fireworks, silk scarf, and kite.)
- Set up chart paper with the heading Chinese Inventions.
- 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. The way it works is this: 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 connected 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.
Read Ms. Frizzle’s Adventures in Imperial China. This book is dense with facts and needs to be read twice on two consecutive days. On Day 1 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.
Step 1: Review Ms. Frizzle’s story and reread, 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: Make a list of Chinese inventions on chart paper.
Step 5: Ask students to bring in inventions that they find at home for display. Through the display, students will teach others at the school about what they’ve learned.
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 needle points and observe it move 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: Students make compasses with their partners.
Supporting All Learners
Make it clear to all that Ms. Frizzle’s Adventures in Imperial China involves time travel. Perhaps show photos from another book that illustrates China today. One good book, China by Henry Pluckrose, is from Picture A Country series published by Franklin Watts.
- 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. Display on a table or in a hallway display case. When we used a display case we also included descriptions of the inventions on 3" X 5" cards, Chinese flags, good luck signs, and large dragon drawings.
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?