Connecticut Explored Inc.
Connecticut’s industries have had a tremendous influence on America’s story. Our state has a long and impressive history of innovation, including a significant role in textile manufacturing in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In addition, Connecticut became known for precision manufacturing in the mid-19th century, producing tools, clocks, and firearms. In the 20th century, the state continued to excel with the development of submarine technology and early computers. Even today, Connecticut remains a leader in technology with companies such as Pratt & Whitney and General Dynamics Electric Boat at the forefront of aviation and marine engineering. This lesson plan offers students a chance to explore Connecticut’s technological history and its impact on American history and fosters an appreciation for technology’s role in our daily lives.
D1: Potential Compelling Question
D1: POTENTIAL SUPPORTING QUESTIONS
- What is technology and how have different technologies changed over time?
- What were some key technological innovations developed in Connecticut?
- How did these products affect the state and the country?
- What impacts—both positive and negative—has technology had on society?
D2: TOOL KIT
Primary source gallery for small group activity:
D3: INQUIRY ACTIVITY
- Begin by asking students: What is technology? How have different technologies changed over time? Explain that technology means using knowledge to solve a problem or make life easier. Elicit examples of technology from different eras (e.g., stone tools, the wheel, the printing press, the steam engine, etc.) Share that Connecticut has been home to many important technological innovations that have changed the world.
- Share selected clips from Progress of Aviation in Connecticut. (The entire film is 10 minutes long, but the teacher should choose the section(s) that work(s) best for their class.)
- Elicit students’ reactions to the film clips: What was the movie about? How did it make you feel? What questions and wonderings do you have about what you saw?
- Introduce the compelling question: How did the technology industry influence Connecticut’s history and contribute to America’s story? Discuss the question briefly in the context of the video.
- Briefly review key vocabulary related to Connecticut’s technological history.
- Divide students into small groups and assign each group a primary source related to Connecticut’s technological history.
- Introduce students to the National Archives’ source analysis worksheets (Analyze a Photograph or Analyze an Artifact or Object). Explain that they’ll be using these worksheets to help them structure their discussion and to help them explain their object to their classmates.
- Have each group share out: What do you know about this object? What do you want to know? What problem do you think this technological innovation was meant to solve? How would it have made people’s lives easier?
- Encourage students to compare the primary sources and identify common threads or patterns related to Connecticut’s technological history.
- Have students try to sort the objects in chronological order. Why do you think each object was manufactured when it was? What do you notice about how the objects changed over time?
- Ask students to think about the ways these innovations contributed to Connecticut’s history and America’s story. What problems did these Connecticut inventions help solve? How did they make people’s lives easier? Discuss in small groups and share with the class.
- Introduce the concept of “impact” and ask students to consider the impact of the technological innovations they learned about. Encourage them to think about both positive and negative impacts.
D4: COMMUNICATING CONCLUSIONS
- Students can work in pairs or small groups to research another innovation with a Connecticut connection. Some examples include mint toothpaste, the Polaroid camera, the can opener, the first American dictionary, the cotton gin, vulcanized rubber, and Goldfish crackers. Students can create an illustrated poster to share their findings with their classmates.
- Conduct an interview: Students can prepare a list of questions to interview a family member or friend about a technological innovation that has affected them. They can share their findings with the class and discuss how the person’s experience relates to Connecticut’s technological history. Students may also choose to interview someone they know who has worked in a technology-based industry in Connecticut.
- Encourage students to consider how they can use their knowledge of Connecticut’s technological innovations to address current social or environmental issues, such as sustainable energy or healthcare technology. Have them propose an invention that helps tackle one of these challenges.
Place to GO
American Clock & Watch Museum, Bristol
Connecticut River Museum, Essex
Windham Textile and History Museum/The Mill Museum, Willimantic
Things To DO
Climb aboard the USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, at the Submarine Force Library & Museum.
Websites to VISIT
Elizabeth Normen, Melanie Meehan, and Ashley Callan, Where I Live: Connecticut
Articles to READ
Dean Nelson, “A Century of Connecticut Inventions,” Connecticut Explored, Spring 2005.
Sharon L. Cohen, “Electric Boat: From Innovation Trials to WWII Submarine Leadership,” ConnecticutHistory.org, September 4, 2023.
“First Commercial Telephone Exchange – Today in History: January 28,” ConnecticutHistory.org, January 28, 2020.
Adriana Morga, “Connecticut inventions: 20 things that were created or patented in the Nutmeg State.” CT Insider. Aug. 11, 2021. Updated: Dec. 16, 2022.