How We Got to Now


  • Fostering Innovative Thinking with Steven Johnson | How We Got to Now

    Watch as Steven Johnson, the host of the PBS series How We Got to Now, shares his advice for fostering innovative thinking: have diverse interests, follow your hunches, and don’t be afraid to fail. The series tells the stories behind the ideas and inventions that made the modern world possible.

    Grades: 1-13+
  • Making the Modern Clock | How We Got to Now: Time

    Understand how Galileo discovered that a pendulum could be used to regulate clocks in this clip from How We Got to Now. Support Materials include a background essay on the history of timekeeping and the development of the atomic clock, teaching tips to foster innovation and bring concepts from this clip into the social studies, science, and math classrooms, as well as pre-viewing and post-viewing discussion questions.

    Grades: 6-12
  • The Quest for Clean Water | How We Got to Now: Clean

    Discover how John Leal found the solution to ridding bacteria from dirty water with chlorine at the turn of the 20th century in this clip from How We Got to Now. Support Materials include a background essay on the history of attempts to rid water of bacteria, teaching tips to foster innovation and bring concepts from this clip into the social studies, science, and math classrooms, as well as pre-viewing and post-viewing discussion questions.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Lens Making, the Microscope, and the Telescope | How We Got to Now: Glass

    In the 1590s, a father-son team of lens makers in the Netherlands discovered a new alignment for lenses that allowed them to see tiny objects magnified, paving the way for the invention of the microscope. Understand the unpredictable way that innovation works, and explore the cascade of advancements in disease control and astronomy that 16th-century innovations in lens making prompted with this clip from How We Got to Now with host Steven Johnson.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Invention of the Light Bulb | How We Got to Now: Light

    Though we often credit Thomas Edison with the invention of the light bulb, he and his team built on more than 40 years of research by other inventors and engineers. In 1878, Edison bought up an existing Canadian patent for an early light bulb, brought together a team of engineers—setting up the world’s first research and development lab—and worked with them for two years before unveiling a light bulb that could burn for more than 1,000 hours.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Keeping Ice Frozen Before Refrigeration | How We Got to Now: Cold

    Explode the myth of the “Eureka moment” in innovation with this clip from How We Got to Now with host Steven Johnson. In 1805, moving ice long distances was impossible. But a young Bostonian, Frederic Tudor, was determined to solve the problem. While Tudor’s first attempts to ship ice from New England to the U.S. South and the Caribbean initially failed, he kept track of his ideas and observations for how to ship ice effectively, as well as developments in related industries, and eventually built one of the first successful companies in what became a huge new industry.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Noise Control and the Decibel | How We Got to Now: Sound

    Stand on the corner of 34th Street and 6th Avenue in New York City with How We Got to Now host Steven Johnson, and explore the history of attempts to control noise. Historical footage bring to life New York City in the 1920s, when Harvey Fletcher and the Noise Abatement Commission created more accurate ways to measure noise levels, and helped establish the decibel as the unit of measurement to do just that.

    Grades: 6-12

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