WIDGET PRODUCTION: Producing More, Using Less
This lesson printed from:
Posted February 19, 2004
Grades: 3-5, 6-8
Author: Council for Economic Education
Posted: February 19, 2004
Updated: October 18, 2007
In the first part of the lesson students take a quiz to review the major concepts taught in Lesson 7, "Widget Production," from Master Curriculum Guide in Economics: Teaching Strategies 5-6. Students then search the web for examples of the many ways in which productivity has been increased over the years. Finally, they identify a situation where an increase in productivity could alleviate a problem and create a way to solve this problem. They also analyze the costs and benefits of implementing their solutions.
- List different strategies for increasing productivity.
- Explain how increases in productivity have improved the production process.
- Explain the impact of increasing productivity on consumers and producers.
- Identify a situation where an increase in productivity could alleviate a problem.
- Identify various industries that have emerged due to a new invention.
Introduce the lesson with an explanation addressed to these points: Productivity is a measurement of output resulting from the use of an input. Today, we frequently hear about the productivity of American labor compared to the productivity of workers in other countries. How is productivity measured? The most commonly reported statistic is average product-a ratio of total output to the units of input (in this case, labor) for a specified time period.
Producers are continually interested in increasing the productivity of labor and other inputs. An increase in productivity occurs when a given amount of inputs can produce more output. An increase in productivity also occurs when fewer inputs produce the same output. Three methods of increasing productivity are specialization and division of labor, investment in capital resources, and investment in human capital (education and training). Throughout history individuals have identified problems and created inventions that would increase productivity and ultimately benefit consumers and producers.
Widget Production: Master Curriculum Guide in Economics: This lesson teaches students about the effects of new technology, labor, and specialization.
Productivity Quiz: Students review the major concepts they learned regarding making widgets during the widget production lesson.
Inventor of the Week Archive: The Lemelson-MIT Program is dedicated to honoring the acclaimed and unsung heroes who have helped improve our lives through invention. Students will use this site to read about their assigned inventor.
Wacky Patent of the Month: Students visit this site to see the patent and drawing of the self-waiting table as invented by W. L. Lance.
Rube Goldberg: Through his wacky cartoons which depict the most elaborate and ridiculous devices to accomplish the most mundane tasks, Rube Goldberg's "Inventions" have become synonymous with any maximum effort to achieve minimal results.
Teach Lesson 7, 'Widget Production,' from Master Curriculum Guide in Economics: Teaching Strategies 5-6.
Point out to students that in 'Widget Production,' they participated in a simulation to learn about different ways to increase productivity. Now they will learn about some actual methods and inventions used to increase productivity throughout the 1800's and 1900's.
Divide students into groups of three. Assign each group one of the following inventors:
Alexander Graham Bell
Chester F. Carlson
Grace Murray Hopper
Bette Nesmith Graham
Direct students to the Inventor of the Week Archive
Instruct groups to use the Internet to locate answers to the following questions for their assigned inventor.
What did your inventor invent?
What problem did this invention solve?
How did this invention increase productivity?
What was the impact of increasing productivity?
- What new industries or businesses evolved as a result of this invention?
Allow time for groups to share information about their inventors and the answers to the discussion questions.
Have students write a generalization about the impact these inventions had on productivity and the impact on consumers and producers.
[All the inventions increased productivity which decreased cost of production of additional units of output. When costs are decreased in this way, the result is usually larger profits for producers, higher wages for workers, and lower prices for consumers.]
Help students see that sometimes inventions never become marketable products. To learn about one of these inventions, The Self-Waiting Table, direct students to the web site called Wacky Patent of the Month for a picture and description.
Discuss the following questions in class or have students answer them using the open ended question:
What was the purpose of the self-waiting table? [The purpose was so that individuals could serve themselves and food would be kept hot by a lamp. Dirty dishes would be carried off into the kitchen.]
How would this invention increase productivity? [Only two servants were required to serve 150 people, so more people could be served with fewer workers.]
What would be a cost of using the self-waiting table in your home or a restaurant today? [A cost of using it today is the table was large and dinner guests would find it hard to talk with each other.]
What would be a benefit of using the self-waiting table in your home or a restaurant today? [A benefit of using the self-waiting table today is fewer workers would be needed and guests could select the food they wanted.]
- Restaurants today do not use the self-waiting table. What do they do that is similar to increase productivity? [Instead of using the self-waiting table, some restaurants provide self-serving buffets, take-out food.]
Instruct students to identify a situation where an increase in productivity could alleviate a problem in their school, home, or community, thus creating a solution to this problem.
If students need guidance, suggest the following productivity problems:
- How to make your bed faster in the morning.
- How to speed up the long lines of students waiting to buy lunch in the cafeteria.
- How to wash dinner dishes in less time.
- How to eliminate traffic jams on the highways during morning rush hour traffic.
Tell students that they are to prepare a final written report that includes the following information:
- A statement of the problem.
- An explanation of how their inventions solves the problem and increases productivity.
- A model or drawing of their inventions and descriptions of how it works.
- A list the costs and benefits of implementing their invention to solve the problem.
At the end of this lesson, students should have learned that producers are continually interested in increasing the productivity of labor and other inputs. An increase in productivity occurs when a given amount of inputs can produce more output. An increase in productivity also occurs when fewer inputs produce the same output. Students should realize, even today, individuals and businesses are looking for a ways to increase their productivity.
Rube Goldberg Inventions
Tell students that Rube Goldberg was a Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist, sculptor, and author. Through his 'inventions', Rube Goldberg discovered harder ways to achieve easy results. He believed that there were two ways to do things, the simple and the hard way, and that many people preferred doing things the hard way.
Direct students to the Rube Goldberg
web site click on Art Gallery.
Tell students to look at examples of Rube Goldberg's inventions. Challenge students to select one of Rube Goldberg's inventions and create a more efficient solution for the problem.
Go to the Rube Goldberg
website and click on the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest to see past problems and information on the machine contest.
Homer Price, a Literature Connection
- Have students read the chapter, 'The Doughnuts,' in Homer Price by Robert McCloskey.
Discuss the following:
- What machines did Uncle Homer buy for his luncheonette? [(automatic toasters, automatic coffee maker, automatic dish washer, and an automatic doughnut maker) Point out to students that these inventions are commonplace today but when the book was first published in 1943, they were not products used in homes or businesses.]
- Why was he interested in all these machines? [These machines saved him time.]
- How did these machines increase productivity in the luncheonette? [He and his workers were able to serve more customers in less time using the labor saving devices.]
- Teach the lesson on "The Doughnuts" in Economics and Children's Literature (SPEC Publishers, Inc., St. Louis, MO, 1993).