African American Inventors Study

6, 7, 8

The lesson's purpose is to research various African American inventors who have had a positive influence on society by contributing to the common good.

Lesson Rating 
PrintTwo Fifty-Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • research an African American inventor.
  • reflect on the invention's impact on self and society.
  • A light bulb
  • On-line computers (preferably one computer per two students)
  • Inventors List (Handout One)
  • Student Worksheets entitled African American Inventor Study (Handout Two) enough for each pair of students
  • Assessment Rubric (Handout Three)
  • Miscellaneous resource materials such as encyclopedias, Who's Who in America, biographies,etc.


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Hold up a light bulb and askthe students how this invention benefits those who use it. Ask them toverbally share other inventions that benefit those who use them.Have the students to reflect on this statement, "Inventions are usually intended to benefit the "common good."(The "common good" involves individual citizens having the commitment and motivation to promote the welfare of the community- the students who invented the light bulb.Thomas Edison probably would be the obvious answer but explain to your students that Lewis Howard Latimer, an African American, the only African American member of Edison's research team, developed and patented the process for manufacturing the carbon filaments used in the light bulb. This made the light bulb economicallyfeasible. Go on to explain that between the mid 1800's and early 1900's, over a thousand inventions were patented by African American inventors. Many more were unidentified because they hid their race to avoid discrimination, while others sold their inventions to white men.

    (NOTE: Prior to the lesson, the teacher may choose to bookmark the African American inventor websites for the students as doing so will save valuable instructional time.)

  2. Ask students to reflect back to what they learned about Vivian Thomas and ask how he had to hide his contribution to the Blue Baby surgical procedure.

  3. Explain to students that they are going to have an opportunity to learn about many unknown and unheralded African American inventors who have impacted their lives and society for the common good.

  4. Assignan African American inventor from the Inventors List (Handout One) to each pair of students to research. One student will be given the job to conduct the research and the other the recorder/illustrator.

  5. Give each group a copy of the African American InventorStudy Worksheet (Handout Two) to fill out. On the worksheet will be listed the various web-sites students can use for their research. Also have available a hard copy research materials ( books, encyclopedias, etc.).

  6. Assign the completion of the research and the worksheet.


Students are to write a compare-and-contrast paragraph on Vivian Thomas' experience (Lesson One) and the experience of their assigned inventor using the Assessment Rubric (Handout Three) as their guide.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Define philanthropy as individuals and organizations providing their time, talent, and/or treasures intended for the common good throughout history and around the world. Give examples.
      2. Benchmark MS.4 Give examples of how individuals have helped others.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Describe the characteristics of someone who helps others.
    2. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark MS.2 Describe the importance of hearing all voices in a community and respecting their right to be heard.
      2. Benchmark MS.3 Give an example of how philanthropy can transcend cultures.
      3. Benchmark MS.5 Discuss examples of groups denied their rights in history.
    3. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark MS.12 Identify the dilemma of minority rights in a pure democracy.
      2. Benchmark MS.3 Identify the relationship between individual rights and community responsibilities.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.4 Give an example of how citizens act for the common good.
      2. Benchmark MS.4 Identify and describe the actions of how citizens act for the common good.