Technology & Space History Timeline Activity -- Perfect for U.S. History Class

I'm teaching a U.S. History class for middle-schoolers in our co-op this year, and I have a bunch of activities to share with you that we've done! One of them is this Technology & Space Timeline Activity!

One of the challenges in covering all of U.S. History in one hour a week for just one year is that every week I feel like I am condensing a whole year's worth of study into one 1-hour lesson! That is VERY much the case when the topic was Modern Technology and Space in United States History!

Our middle schoolers are familiar with a lot of events--they knew that phones were a relatively recent invention, for example--but there were a lot that they were a lot of every-day technologies that they never bothered to consider when they were invented. Bar codes at the grocery store, for example, became a thing shortly before I was born!

Unfortunately, there are waaaaaay more inventions and important discoveries than I could possibly cover in one meaningful activity! I would encourage you to expand on the topic by having your middle schoolers research something in tech and space history that interests them!

As a brief overview, and to get the conversations rolling, I would love to share this timeline activity with you! It has 34 pivotal (in my opinion!) inventions that fit the Technology and Space theme. Again, even 34 are not exhaustive! I didn't include, for example, the microscope or penicillin, and those are both huge! The simple fact is that I could not possibly include everything. Still, I think the ones I chose are excellent!

I had the kids first line up the date cards to create a timeline. I threw in a couple from antiquity just for reference...and because I like to keep a little math in as many activities as I can! Then I gave the kids the event cards and let them match them as best as they could. There are a couple dates that overlap--see the Key in the printable file.  ;)  

The kids worked together and made a guess for everything. It took them about 10-15 minutes. Then we started at the oldest dates, and moved through each event. As we identified cards they had wrong, they'd rearrange a few, and we'd discuss each event.

Some events we only discussed for a moment, and others had stories I love that I had to tell!  Here are a few of the stories:

1- Galileo invented a telescope after hearing stories of such an invention that travelers told.

2- Thomas Edison was not pleased with Nicola Tesla's AC electricity. Edison wanted to keep DC (his invention), but it turns out that AC is more efficient, travels farther and lasts longer. Most of our currents today are AC.

3- We discussed the Cold War, Space Race, and the cooperative nature of the ISS.

4- I told stories about commercials for the first personal computers when I was a kid.

5- We talked about Dr. Bath and the prejudices she had to fight against.

By the way, I LOVE this picture book about her. It's a rhyming picture book that tells the story of her life--even my "older" kids enjoy it! (image is an Amazon affiliate link):

6- We talked about the Space Shuttle Columbia, what caused the accident, and how NASA shutdown the space program to investigate.

7- We discussed modern smart phones, how they are essentially the same age as the kids in the class, and how they have changed life.

8- We VERY briefly discussed the patent system, and how the FDA only approved the light-sensitive contacts last year.

To wrap things up, we did a few "space exercises" with the kids. These are super fun and remind your kiddos that astronauts are just people, like them, who have spent a lot of time preparing and training physically for their job.

Here are the exercises:

1- We ran 40 yards. We discussed how your bone density changes in space because you don't have gravity forcing your bones to exercise. Weight-bearing exercise strengthens your bones, both in space and on Earth. Did you know that many football linemen can run 40 yards in under 5.5 seconds?!! We timed the kids, and the fastest one took 6.3 seconds! They were all impressed with out football players!

2- We tested their reflexes by having them "catch" a ruler. I got this activity from NASA (click HERE)!  Then I told them to imagine they're doing it with astronaut gloves on! They were impressed with our astronauts!

3- Finally, we discussed "space height," or the idea that in the absence of gravity your spine relaxes and you end up being taller in space than on Earth! According to NASA, most astronauts' space height is about 3% taller than their Earth height, so we did some quick math and found out that most of our kiddos would gain just over an inch in space!

I hope you have fun discussing technology and space history!

And if you're looking for more homeschool unit studies, be sure to check out our growing collection here!

Happy Educating,
Carla & the kids who don't sit still!