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Create paper using the process the political official Cai Lun invented while embodying a the life of a Chinese civilian in 100BCE.

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The Ancient Inventions curriculum explores the creation and spread of eight inventions across eight ancient cultures. Each invention/culture is a module composed of five lessons.

The inventions and corresponding cultures are:

  1. The wheeled vehicle in Ancient Mesopotamia (1700 BCE)
  2. The shaduf in Ancient Egypt (1470 BCE)
  3. The crane in Ancient Greece (465 BCE)
  4. Paper in Ancient China (105 CE)
  5. The arch in Ancient Rome (117 CE)
  6. The game Chaturanga in Ancient India (450 CE)
  7. The windmill in the Early Muslim Civilization (705 CE)
  8. The camera obscura in the Golden Age of Muslim Civilization (1000 CE)

The Ancient Inventions curriculum is designed to be an interdisciplinary STEAM experience. Within one module students are engaging in the disciplines of history, science, engineering, math, and English language arts. Using the Ancient Invention Kit materials, students learn about the ancient world, its key figures and histories, the engineering process, the physics and science behind the invention, math concepts behind the invention, different social roles, geography, and the importance of the invention for that civilization. The backbone of the experience has students engaging in the engineering design process. This is done by presenting students with a problem that a given culture faced. In order to solve that problem, they must build an invention. Students use common materials to fabricate simplified but functional versions of renowned inventions from these historical periods.

In each module, students:

  1. Immerse themselves in the historical culture through role­playing characters of the past
  2. Build a working model of an invention, and test and improve it
  3. Learn the scientific and mathematical principles behind the invention
  4. Exercise their knowledge of both the civilization and the invention through a board game
  5. Learn about the Engineering Method
  6. Apply engineering principles to a new, personal context
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Experience breakdown

Module Overview

In the China module, students learn about the Chinese civilization at the time of the Han Dynasty. They are introduced to the papermaking process. They learn how to break down cellulose and lignin in a plant to produce pulp. They create their own paper based on the recipe and process of Cai Lun. Students learn that paper hastened the spread of knowledge not only in China but throughout the world.


  • Identify the benefits and challenges associated with early writing materials.
  • Apply and understand the Engineering Method.
  • Understand the importance of the invention of paper.
  • Create paper from pulp.
  • Appreciate the complexity underlying the processing of paper.
  • Give examples about daily life in Ancient China by taking on the character of a person in that society.

Module Breakdown

Lesson 1: Who Were the Ancient Chinese? (1-2 hours)

The class is broken into six different social groups from the ancient civilization. Each student will receive the role of a different character.
Lesson 2: What Did They Invent? (2-3 hours, conducted over several days)
Students are introduced to an invention that is associated with the ancient Chinese civilization. In their character groups, proceed through the engineering process and craft paper from pulp.
Lesson 3: How Did They Do It? (1-2 hours)
Students learn the mechanics of the invention, covering chemistry, mathematics, and engineering principles. Students make observations and measurements about their models. They use this data to improve the performance of their invention.
Lesson 4: Civilization Game (1-6 hours)
Students synthesize information about the ancient Chinese culture through a game. Students answer questions, perform challenges, provide other groups with knowledge, and judge the quality of each other’s responses. Progress (and knowledge) is tracked through a game board, which offers the additional possibility of strategic play.
Lesson 5: Processing and Application (1 hour)
Students reflect on their experiences during the module. They apply their engineering and historical knowledge to solve a new problem.


Paper Making Video

CHINA_GAME_BOARD.pdf | 32021Kb
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