Timeline of Medical Innovations and Breakthroughs

Author: Sara Patricia Chavarria

Time: 2 days
Obtain a set of encyclopedias or medical books from the library.
Make copies of a blank world map.
Materials: Handout 1 – World map.


In this activity, students will compile information on a variety of innovations/inventions in order to create a timeline. As part of their information gathering, they will also need to be able to locate on a world map where the innovation/invention originated. When the timeline is complete students will be challenged to use the timeline to make inferences about episodes of medical innovations and why they occurred when they occurred.

Students will be able to:
i. Identify on a timeline and a world map where medical innovation/inventions line-up and originated after collecting information on various medical innovations/inventions using encyclopedias and medical research texts.

National Council for History in the Schools:
Historical Thinking Standards

  • Standard 1C: Establish temporal order in constructing historical narratives of their own.
  • Standard 1D: Measure and calculate calendar time.
  • Standard 1E: Interpret data presented in time lines.
  • Standard 1F: Reconstruct patterns of historical succession and duration.World History

World History Standards

  • World History across the Eras, Standard 1A: Long-term changes and recurring patterns in world history.

Teacher Background
It is up to the teacher to decide how they want the timeline to appear. A string across the room is one option. Non-adhesive flagging tape (which comes in various bright colors can also be stapled or thumb-tacked against one wall) or adhesive painters masking tape can be taped on the wall (it comes in various colors and thicknesses).

Related and Resource Websites
Blank World Map



Day 1
1. Have sets of books from the library (Ex. encyclopedias) that have information about medical innovations/inventions.

2. As a class, students will determine what innovation/invention each is to research. No student is to have the same innovation to investigate.

3. Each student is to investigate their medical innovation, identify where it was developed and be able to locate the place of origin on a map. Final information sheets should not need to exceed more than one page. The student will also have an image of the innovation available (preferably a line drawing). (Ex: microscope picture).

4. Prepare a large world map for display. Students will be given an individual copy of the world map for their notes. (Handout 1)

5. When their research is done, they are to point out the locale where the innovation/invention was developed on the map using their image.

6. All students are to locate the innovation on their map.

7. When all students are done sharing their information, students must gauge how long a time period is being worked with in order to determine how to divide the intervals on the class timeline. In order to know this, they must identify the oldest and the most recent innovation. Time increments might be in decades, centuries, or something in between (every 2 or 5 decades).

Day 2 – Creating the timeline
8. Each student will now locate their innovation/invention on the class timeline using the images of the invention to represent the item (Ex: a microscope picture).

9. In addition to the innovations/inventions the students investigated, they are to include the innovations/inventions from the Explore lesson that have not been investigated individually. These must also be identified on the map. (I suggest having sheets with the name of the invention/innovation ready to put up.)

10. When done, students answer the following questions using their maps and the timeline. (This can also be effectively used as a review quiz demonstrating how well students can synthesize and analyze timeline data.)

a. Are there periods of time in which one region or country seemed to be the hotbed of medical innovation? List those periods and regions/countries.
b. Are there specific areas of study identifiable in one or more region/country: ex: nervous system, organs, heart research, microbiology, etc.
c. What could have been a factor to explain why some regions show more medical innovation taking place at specific time periods? In other words, what else was going on in those countries or regions at the time? (War, global colonialism, intellectual renaissance, exploration, trade competition, etc.)
d. Making connections: What innovations or discoveries were dependent on things that occurred prior to their investigated invention? (Find 3 inter-related occurrences.)

Finish the activity by posing the following question: Did medical innovations/inventions stop diseases from spreading? What does this imply about how we should look at medical research today? Should we be supportive of medical research or limit the funds that go into this type of research?


Embedded Assessment
The individual student data compilation based on their research activity can be assessed. Their answers to the final questions can also be assessed.

PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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