Lesson Plans

How to Use this Unit

The instructional design of Carbons to Computers reflects the Smithsonian Institution's belief in the power of objects to teach. Use of these materials does not depend on lecturing or on extensive use of valuable preparation and class time. Instead, students use and collect materials in guided, self-teaching activities.

This pedagogical approach introduces students to the historical method: the approach historians use to explore, hypothesize about, and make judgments about the past. Structured activities give students practice in the following:

  • observing
  • distinguishing fact from inference
  • understanding when to use written sources to answer questions
  • setting goals for research projects
  • conducting focused investigative field trips
  • organizing and presenting research results
  • working with other students as a team
  • making reasoned predictions

Recommended teaching plan

These materials have been designed for classroom flexibility. Although the activities have been planned to be used progressively, with activity 2 building on activity 1, and so on, you may adapt them to your schedule and curriculum without diminishing their effectiveness. Possible variations on the four activity steps include using only the in-class activities, using the photographs and essay as the basis for a writing assignment, or employing the handouts in activity 3 as part of activity 4 and not assigning the research aspect of that activity.

If your students have Internet access, they can read the essay online or you can print out the text-only version of the site.

The photographs are ONLY available online; the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies cannot provide print copies.

Lesson Objectives:

Lesson 1
developing observation skills
Lesson 2
organizing and processing observed data; raising questions for further research; ordering elements in historical sequence; making interpretations
Lesson 3
interviewing--information-gathering techniques; logically organizing data; summarizing results
Lesson 4
creating a historical record: collecting, organizing, and analyzing information and making projections and predictions


Birth and Growth of the American Office

Office Equipment

Office Organization

Global Office


Historical Timeline

Lesson Plans


Site Contents

Carbons to Computers Home Page

Smithsonian Institution
Copyright 1998

Smithsonian Education

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