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Clever minds

To appreciate the amazing creative powers of the human mind.

by Gordon and Ronni Lamont

Suitable for Key Stage 2

Aims

To appreciate the amazing creative powers of the human mind.

Preparation and materials

  • Familiarize yourself with the story.

Assembly

  1. Explain that you're going to start with a true story from the 1840s (you could ask if anyone can work out how long ago this is). Explain that the story features 'cannibals' and that today we don't really think of people as 'cannibals' in the same way as they did back then.

    It's a story about a man called Elias Howe who was one of several people working to invent the world's first sewing machine. He's tried all sorts of things but he just can't get the design right so the machine won't work. He's worried that someone else will beat him to it and become rich as the inventor of the sewing machine.

    The story of Elias Howe

    Elias has been working hard all day because he knows that there's a lot of money to be made from the first practical sewing machine. But he can't get it quite right: either the material snags or the needles snap. Exhausted, he finally gives up for the night and goes to bed, but his mind is still working on the problem and he begins to dream.

    In the dream he is running for his life. A gang of cannibals is chasing him and he can't escape. He runs but he knows that it is hopeless; the more he runs, the less he is able to get away. The next moment he is in the cooking pot, in very hot water.

    He tries to climb out of the pot but the fierce men, moving as one, lean over and their pointed wooden spears push him back in with a jabbing action. Again he tries to climb out and again he is kept back – their spears pushing down, then pulling back. Desperate now, he attempts to climb out one more time; again the spears jab down at him.

    It's too much; he wakes up. It is over, but his heart is racing, and he says again and again to himself, 'It was a dream, Elias, it was a dream.' The fear is mixed with a joyous relief – an escape, thank God. And then, as he gets his breath back, it strikes him – he sees the spears in his mind’s eye and realizes that their movement is like the needle of his prototype sewing machine, jabbing down and up. But he also sees a new detail – every spear has a hole in the sharp end. It is the breakthrough he has been looking for.
  2. Explain that all previous attempts at making a sewing machine had been based on using a needle like that used for hand sewing, with the eyehole at the far end, away from the point. Elias Howe suddenly realized that he could devise a mechanism that would allow the thread to be poked through the material by a needle with an eyehole at the sharp end, and then anchored by thread from underneath. And so the sewing machine was born.
  3. Ask the children why Elias Howe dreamed the answer to his problem – why couldn't he just think it out in his workshop? Because he was trying too hard, concentrating so much on using ordinary needles that he didn’t have the ‘insight’ or understanding to see the solution.

    It took a dream with lots of imaginative ideas and an exciting story to help him to see the problem in a new way. What an amazing, creative and clever thing the human mind is!
  4. Do you sometimes get too close to things and get stuck, because you’re always thinking in the same way? What can you do to learn how to see things differently? Here are a few ideas: Talk to and listen to other people; do something different for ten minutes and then go back to the problem; write it down so that you put it clearly into a short phrase; stop and think, 'Have I come across this kind of problem before – how did I sort it out then?'

Time for reflection

Reflection

What sort of problems do I find hard: numbers, words, memory, people?

What can I do when I seem to get stuck?

Talk to and listen to other people;

do something different for ten minutes and then go back to the problem;

write it down so that I put it clearly into a short phrase;

stop and think, ‘Have I come across this kind of problem before – how did I sort it out then?’

Prayer

Dear God,

Thank you that we have such amazing minds that can create so many exciting ideas.

Amen.

Song/music

'I planted a seed' (Come and Praise, 134)

Publication date: November 2006   (Vol.8 No.11)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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