All Subjects
      All Types




        Permitted Use

        Part of WNET
        45 Favorites

        Eye Opening Discoveries

        This lesson plan encourages students to explore the process of inventing in this lesson based on the public television documentary Through My Eyes: The Charlie Kelman Story.

        Lesson Summary


        In this lesson, students explore the process of inventing. The lesson begins with a fun hands-on activity where students match current day inventions with similar inventions from the past. Students discuss the process involved in creating an invention and view segments from the public television documentary Through My Eyes: The Charlie Kelman Story to explore the process that Charles Kelman went through to create procedures and tools related to cataract surgery. As a culminating activity, students create their own inventions using common objects.


        Students will:

        • Discuss the process involved in creating an invention;
        • Identify some famous inventions from the past;
        • Describe some of the changes that have taken place to well-known inventions over time;
        • Explain who Charles Kelman was and describe his process of inventing;
        • Explain what a cataract is and describe what Charles Kelman contributed to the field of ophthalmology and science in general;
        • Plan and create their own inventions by modifying tools designed for one purpose and using them for another.

        Grade Level:


        Suggested Time

        Two to three 45-minute class periods

        Media Resources


        For the class:

        • Computers with internet access (if using any of the optional websites listed in the “Media Components” section )
        • Computer, projection screen, and speakers (for class viewing of online/downloaded video segments)
        • One copy of the “Inventions of the Past and Present Answer Key
        • A variety of common objects for students use in the Culminating Activity to create an invention. Some possible objects: paper clips, rubber bands, paper, plastic or Styrofoam cups, plates and/or utensils, water bottles, pieces of paper, popsicle sticks, toilet paper &/or paper towel rolls, shoeboxes and other cardboard boxes, pencils, pens, crayons, a compass, a protractor, rulers, string, ribbon, small balls, marbles, etc.

        For each group of 3-4 students:

        Web Sites

        • Invention Process Flow Chart
          This flow chart on the NASA SCI Files™ Web site could be used in the Introductory Activity to help illustrate the invention process.
        • Tinker Ball Game
          This online game from Invention Playhouse on the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovations’ Invention at Play Web site challenges students to position objects in order to successfully get the ball from one point to another. This could be used during the culminating activity to help give students ideas about how they can use common objects to create their own fun inventions.
        • Which Came First? Game
          This quiz on the MIT Web site challenges site visitors to compare various inventions and identify which came first.
        • Goldburger to Go Game
          This online activity challenges kids to make adjustments to a machine that is designed like a Rube Goldberg contraption, where simple tasks are made more complicated. The goal of the game is to try to fix the machine so that the Zoom cast and crew can get their lunch.

        Before The Lesson

        Preview all of the video segments used in the lesson.

        Preview the optional Web sites listed for this lesson and decide if you want to use any of them in this lesson.

        Download the video clips used in the lesson to your classroom computer, or prepare to watch them using your classroom’s Internet connection.

        Bookmark any Web sites that you plan to use in the lesson on each computer in your classroom. Using a social bookmarking tool such as or diigo (or an online bookmarking utility such as portaportal) will allow you to organize all the links in a central location.

        Make one copy of the “Inventions of the Past and Present” Game Board and Game Cards for each group of 3-4 students. Cut the game cards along the dotted lines to create 9 squares. Attach the pile of 9 cards to a corner of the game board with a paper clip.

        Print out one copy of the “Inventions of the Past and Present Answer Key”.

        Create an “invention station” somewhere in the room, where students can view and select different items to use to create their inventions in the Culminating Activity. The “invention station” should include a variety of common objects, such as: paper clips, rubber bands, paper, plastic or Styrofoam cups, plates and/or utensils, water bottles, pieces of paper, popsicle sticks, toilet paper&/or paper towel rolls, shoeboxes and other cardboard boxes, pencils, pens, crayons, a compass, a protractor, rulers, string, ribbon, small balls, marbles, etc.

        The Lesson

        Part I: Introductory Activity

        1.Let students know that today they will be learning about the process of inventing. Brainstorm with students about the steps involved in creating an invention and write the responses on the board. Make sure to include the following steps in the discussion:

        • Identify a need.
        • Come up with ideas to reach that goal.
        • Pick one invention idea to pursue.
        • Make a design and/or plan about how you are going to make your invention.
        • Assemble necessary materials to create the invention.
        • Create the invention.
        • Test the invention to see if it does what you wanted it to do.
        • Refine and modify the invention as needed.
        • Complete the invention.

        2.Explain that the steps which involve testing and refining/modifying the invention are very important and can take a long time. Even the most famous inventors need to make many changes to their inventions as they develop them. Also, even after something has been created, other inventors might come up with ideas to improve upon it or change it to meet new needs.

        3.Divide the class into groups of 3-4 students. Give each group one “Inventions of the Past and Present” game board and one set of game cards.

        4.Explain to the students that the sheet of paper that you have handed them features inventions from a long time ago and the cards show inventions from today. Instruct members of each group to work together to place each modern invention card on the photo of the invention from the past that has a similar function.

        5.Once the groups have found all nine matches, lead a discussion about the featured inventions, using the “Inventions of the Past and Present Answer Key” as your guide. Explain to students that creating inventions can take a long time and that even after someone has made a successful invention, that inventor or others might modify that invention over time to meet changing needs. Review the changes that took place from the inventions of the past to the inventions of the present and discuss how they changed, as well as the reasons why some of the inventions were modified. Discuss general trends and specific changes.

        Here are some possible points to include in the discussion:

        General trends: Inventions have become more streamlined, more powerful, lighter and more portable.

        Specific changes:

        • Airplane: Over the years the airplane has become more powerful and has a more streamlined design. The modern day airplane also includes seating, rest rooms and other amenities for passengers, as well as storage space for baggage and other items.
        • Bicycle: The sizes of the wheels have changed. The structure of the bicycle has changed and become more streamlined, with handlebars placed in the front of the bike, two even-sized wheels—one in the front and one in the back.
        • Calculator: The calculator has gotten smaller, lighter and more portable.
        • Camera: The camera has become smaller, more portable and digital and has also been designed to be used in conjunction with other technologies, such as printers and computers.
        • Computer: Over the years, computers have become smaller, more powerful and more portable.
        • Cylinder record: The shape and form of the record has been modified over the years from a cylinder to a flat disk played on a record player to a small portable CD-Rom played in a CD player.
        • Ice Skates: Ice skates have become more comfortable and incorporated a shoe into the design.
        • Phonograph: Modern day devices that play recorded music, such as the iPod are smaller and more portable than the phonograph and produce a clearer sound. Modern day devices such as the iPod have been designed so that they can be used in conjunction with other new technologies (like a computer from which music can be downloaded) and headphones to allow multiple people to listen to different things at the same time without interfering with each other.
        • Television: The shape and design of the television has changed. The quality of the images projected on the screen has also improved. The original televisions only showed images in black and white, while modern TVs project in color.

        Additional points that could be included the discussion:

        • Since people travel more today (due, in part, to advances in transportation and other technologies over the years), there has been an increased need for items that are lightweight and portable, which people can easily carry with them.
        • Advances in technology have made it possible to create items (such as modern day computers) that are more powerful and efficient than in previous years.

        Part II: Learning Activity

        1.Explain that the inventions we just looked at are very well-known inventions, but that there are other inventions and inventors who have helped to make people’s lives easier, which we might not have heard of before.

         2.Let students know that they are now going to watch a video about Charles Kelman, a doctor who was very interested in trying to invent new tools and techniques to help people to see better. Introduce the first video segment by explaining that this segment provides some information about cataracts and what Charlie wanted to do to help patients who had cataracts in their eyes. Provide them with a focus for media interaction, by asking the students to find out what a cataract is and what Charles, also known as Charlie, wanted to try to do.

        3.Play Video Segment #1, “An Introduction to Cataracts and Cataract Surgery.”After the segment, ask your student what a cataract is. (It is when the lens becomes cloudy and is a degenerative condition (not a growth or a disease) that occurs as the eye ages. The cloudy lens blocks light going through the pupil and leads to a decrease in vision.) Ask your students what Charlie wanted to try to do. (He wanted to develop a way to pull a large cataract lens out of the eye through a small incision.)

        4.Introduce the next segment by telling students that now they will be viewing a video segment about how Charlie discovered the perfect tool to use to perform cataract surgeries. Provide students with a focus for media interaction by asking them to observe how Charlie came up with the idea for a tool to perform his cataract surgeries.

        5.Play Video Segment #2, “The Search for a Tool.” After the segment, ask your students how Charlie came up with the idea for a tool to perform his cataract surgeries. (He went to his dentist and, upon seeing a drill that the dentist used, realized that he could make some changes to it and use the tool to perform cataract surgery.)

        6.Introduce the next segment by explaining that Charlie found an ideal person to experiment on, a blind man who was already scheduled to have an eye removed. Explain that in the next segment, we will learn what happened during that surgery. Provide students with a focus for media interaction by asking them to find out what happened during that surgery and how many surgeries it took before Charlie succeeded.

        7.Play Video Segment #3, “Charles Kelman's First Human Surgeries.” After students have viewed the segment, ask them what happened during the first surgery. (The patient’s blind eye was damaged.) Ask students what Charles did after that failed surgery. (He took almost a year working on improving his procedure before working on another human patient.) Ask your students how many times he failed on human cataract patients before he succeeded. (3- He succeeded with the 4th patient.)

        8.Explain that even though Charlie had successfully invented the technique of phacoemulsificationto remove cataracts, there were many people who did not approve of this technique. Provide students with a focus for media interaction by asking themto discover three reasons why people were opposed to his methods.

        9.Play Video Segment #4, “The Critics.” After viewing the segment, ask students why critics opposed his methods. (There were high risks to his operation—the back of the cornea was damaged in many of Charlie’s early patients. Surgeons were used to doing it one way successfully and didn’t want to try something new. An artificial lens was invented that could improve vision. Even if surgeons used phacoemulsification to make a small incision to remove the cloudy lens from the eye, they still needed to make a large incision to insert the new lens. The American Academy of Ophthalmology concluded in 1974 that phacoemulsification was as effective as but not better than the current method at restoring vision after cataracts and that the current method was the method that should be used.)

        10.Ask students what they would have done if they were Charlie and had received so much criticism for their work. Ask them to make a prediction about what they think happened to Charlie’s discoveries. Do they think Charlie’s methods were ever accepted? Do they think that anything that Charlie invented is still used today? Explain that they are now going to watch a final segment about Charlie. Provide a focus for media interaction by asking students to observe what Charlie is remembered for today.

        11.Show Video Segment #5, "Acceptance." After the segment, ask students what Charlie is remembered for today. (He is remembered for developing phacoemulsification and being the “grandfather” of small incision surgery. He is known for creating his own intraocular lens and refining a variety of surgical procedures and instruments for ophthalmology and other fields. In November 2003, the Academy for Ophthalmology awarded Charlie its highest honor, the Laureate Award. After he died he was awarded the Lasker award, the nation’s highest award for medical science.)

        12.Ask the students what discovery helped make Charlie’s technique more useful. (The invention of the “Mazzocco Taco” a lens which could be folded in half prior to insertion into the eye, which was approved by the FDA in 1984.)

        13.Lead a discussion about the contributions that Charlie made to science.

         Possible things to include in the discussion:

        • Phacoemulsification is the most common surgical procedure in the developed world.
        • Almost 100% of all cataract surgeries in the US (nearly 3,000,000 per year) and nearly 10 million worldwide are done using the techniques and tools developed by Charles Kelman.
        • Charles Kelman’s techniques are now used in surgeries on other parts of the body including gall bladder surgery, brain surgery and spinal cord surgery.

        14.Ask students about what we can learn from Charles Kelman’s story. (If you keep trying, you can succeed. Even if you encounter obstacles and failures along the way, that doesn’t mean that youdon’t have a good idea or that you can’t succeed in the future.)

        Part III: Culminating Activity

        1.Remind students that Charles Kelman took an existing tool- a dental tool—and modified it to do something new in order to develop his cataract surgery technique. Ask students to work alone or in small groups to think of an invention they could make by modifying one or several common objects or by using the objects in a different way to create something new or perform a new task. Display a variety of common objects that the students can use, such as paper clips, rubber bands, paper, plastic or Styrofoam cups, plates and/or utensils, water bottles, pieces of paper, popsicle sticks, toilet paper and/or paper towel rolls, shoe boxes and other cardboard boxes, pencils, pens, crayons, a compass, a protractor, rulers, string, ribbon, small balls, marbles, etc. Tell students that this is the “invention station,” from which they can select items with which to create their inventions.

        2.Before each group begins developing its invention, ask the students to think about the following:

        • What do they want the invention to do?
        • What object(s) would they like to use to create their invention?
        • What would they like their invention to look like?

        3.Ask students to draw a sketch of what they would like their invention to look like.

        4.Ask students to create their inventions using the materials they had originally planned to use and/or other materials, as needed from the “invention station.”

        5.Once they have finished creating their inventions, ask the students to evaluate their creations and see how effective they are at performing the task they were designed to do. Ask students to try to modify and improve upon their inventions, as needed.

        Tip: Give students about 45 to 60 minutes to create, test and modify their inventions.

        6.After the students have completed their inventions, ask them to present their creations to the class. Ask the students to describe their process, including how they modified common objects to create their inventions and any changes they made to their inventions to improve performance. Ask students to demonstrate, if possible, how the inventions work.

        7.Lead a brief discussion with students about what they learned from the lesson.


        You must be logged in to use this feature

        Need an account?
        Register Now