Focusing on innovations of the past is not only informative, but allows students to reflect on the impact through time of that innovation. One interesting example I used with my students is the computerized mail sorting system introduced in Australia in 1966.
This website has a video clip from a 1966 promotional film of The Redfern Mail Exchange’s computerized mail sorting system, which was quite an innovation at the time. The clip describes the process of data entry for the computers, conveyors for moving the letters, and the method of typing the postcodes on each letter.
In addition the website has Teacher’s Notes with “educational value points” as well as Curator’s Notes with extra information.
Australia Post: This is the Mail (1966) (time = 2:59)http://aso.gov.au/titles/sponsored-films/australia-post-mail/clip3/
What the students might find interesting is the 1960s computer, which was extremely large and was operated through keypunch cards. Although it seems quite old-fashioned now, the clip makes clear that at the time it was fast and efficient, and quite an important development in the sorting and distribution of mail.
The video provides listening practice for students, and the information given is a very clear process description (with visual input). In addition to a discussion of the system, the students worked in small groups to write a summary of the process. A follow-up activity involved each group plotting the impact of this innovation to the mail-sorting systems used today. This involved further work on the students’ part to find out how mail is currently sorted in their own country.