Connecting Organic Chemistry to the Food We Eat (Day 1 of 5)

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Students will be able to research, discuss, and present information about current food topics and connect them to our organic chemistry unit

Big Idea

Dig into food science topics with this project to connect student experiences to organic chemistry and the world!

Notes for the Teacher

Today is a first day of a five day lesson series connecting our organic chemistry unit to current topics in food science.  I created this unit last Fall in the hopes of increasing the relevance of our biology content to my students by utilizing interesting topics and outside texts such as Scientific American.  At first I was worried that the academic reading level would be a challenge, but students shared that they were highly interested in and engaged with our topics and project creation process and that this helped them to unpack the readings in a meaningful way.  It was important to me to include relevant, topical articles from a current outside reading source other than the textbook.  I felt I could better address our CCSS implementation goals that way while engaging students to explore organic chemistry from a fresh perspective connected to their daily lives.

During Day 1, students choose an organic chemistry topic and begin to explore their article.

When I first piloted this lesson last year, it was a revelation for me as a teacher.  Even though I was working with primarily freshman students at the start of the school year when everything feels scary, unfamiliar, and difficult, my students were engaged in every aspect of the classroom work from reading to evaluating their peers.  My initial idea was to do the close read together to make sure that I had not misjudged the academic reading level of the articles I had chosen.  It became very clear that no matter where individual students fell on the continuum of reading skills, that reading together in our classroom space gave them to the opportunity to have the collaborative conversations they wanted and needed in order to participate fully in the project.  If I had assigned the reading for homework, I may not have been able to observe quite so easily which students needed specific supports like a read-along/aloud partner, quiet space away from the other students, or the use of their personal device to access a virtual dictionary.  My high level readers also expressed gratitude for the time to devote to this crucial step in our project creation--many of them live incredibly busy lives outside of their tough academic course load and they simply would not have had the time at home to dig into their subject area in a substantive way.  I am interested to hear how you navigate the twin needs for more time and more content.    


During Day 2, student groups meet together to create concept maps about the information contained in their article.

Throughout the school year, we have explored a number of ways to approach concept mapping as more than just an outline with bubbles around each word or phrase.  Students reported that this exposure to a diverse array of concept maps helped them think differently and more broadly, to see concepts in a more connected and integrated way.  Concept mapping strategies are something new for me to work with as well and I have been surprised and impressed at the number of ways I can use them in my adult life. I have added them to this lesson series to help expose my students to as many strategies they might be able to use in science class and beyond!   

Standards: W.9-10.2dSL.9-10.1SL.9-10.1aSL.9-10.4RST.9-10.2RST.9-10.4HS-ETS1-1XC-SC-HS-1

On Day 3, students brainstorm and document their visual display ideas.

For me, today is a very different experience than the group work of the previous session where students collaborated to confirm and solidify their knowledge of their topic.  Today, the goal is for students to consider an audience and how their group can help others learn what they now know in depth.  I find that this idea of considering their audience to be a critical skill for students to gain experience with through this project.  Learning to strategize and focus on what the audience member sees and understands increases engagement and performance for students at a deep level.  Our experience together piloting this lesson series just reinforced for me just how eager students are to learn lessons that carry through into many aspects of their lives.  Here, the topics themselves as well as the structure of the project serve this purpose.

Standards: W.9-10.2dSL.9-10.1SL.9-10.1aSL.9-10.4SL.9-10.5RST.9-10.2RST.9-10.4HS-ETS1-1XC-SC-HS-1

Day 4 provides students a studio time class session so that they can work on their displays.

Although I initially considered having students create their displays on their own time, I rejected that option and am very happy I did.  I found that being in the room with them as they worked provided me with a formative assessment opportunity as I observed and checked in with student groups as needed.  It allowed me to see which students needed assistance with content, directions clarifications, or simply a timeline check-in to help with time management.  I believe that if I had chosen my first option, there would have been a larger range of quality in the final projects on the turn in date.  

Standards: W.9-10.2W.9-10.2dSL.9-10.1SL.9-10.1aSL.9-10.4SL.9-10.5RST.9-10.2RST.9-10.4HS-ETS1-1XC-SC-HS-1

On Day 5 students bring in their presentations and participate in a gallery walk and peer feedback activity.

This activity gives students the opportunity to step into the role of an evaluator, to look at work from a position of neutral objectivism and to check their impressions and ideas with their team members.  I find that peer feedback work builds my students' abilities to identify their own strengths and areas for growth.

Standards:  W.9-10.2dSL.9-10.1RST.9-10.2RST.9-10.4HS-ETS1-1XC-SC-HS-1


 This set of classroom activities has so many important skills throughout the lesson series:  reading primary texts for understanding, annotation skills, written personal reflections, small group collaboration, visual mapping strategies, creative display brainstorming and documentation, display creation, and self/peer evaluation.  When we finished this series last year, students told me that it was one of the highlights of our year together.  I can't wait to hear about your experiences with this interesting set of topics and learning strategies! 

The Classroom Flow: Introducing the Activity and Choosing Topics

15 minutes

1. Announce to students that we will begin to learn more about a variety of food related topics and that they will be determining which area of food science that they would like to explore.

2.  Hand out the list of article titles.  Read each one out loud and tell students to take a minute or two to decide upon their top 3 list of subjects to read more about.  

3.  After that time has passed, ask students to get up and sign up for their preferred topic area on the sign up sheet located in a designated area of your classroom.  Mention that each topic is limited to four students each, so topics will be assigned in a first come, first served format.  

4.  Students can also pick up their article from the counter.  All articles are from the Scientific American Food issue from August 2013.

5.  Once students have sat down, you can ask them to turn their article title list paper over to see the project guidelines.  Tell them that this is a multi-day/phase project and that for now, all they need to think about is Day 1, which is today and that for each day of the project you will carefully review the procedure and expected outcomes.

  • Note:  I find this to be a necessary announcement!  Students tend to rush through steps to get to the end of something and so as often as I can slow them down and stay present in whatever learning experience we have going on that day, the better the eventual outcome turns out to be.  Students for whom this is a challenge report feeling happy with the detailed written directions I give out and students who would be overwhelmed by the many steps of the project are reassured by our turn in checklist and the scaffolding of skills and organization our day to day sequential goals can provide

The Classroom Flow: Time to Read and Annotate

35 minutes

1.  Post the following prompts on the board:

While you were reading, what jumped out at you as interesting and why?  What questions came to mind?

After you finished reading, what did you see as the most interesting and/or impactful part of your topic?  What do you think would be important to share with others about your topic?

 Tell students to keep these two questions in mind as they read and that tomorrow, they will have the opportunity to write out their responses to each prompt.

2.  Allow students time and a quiet space so that they can read, annotate, and reflect upon their chosen article.  

  • Note:  For support, students have the option of reading on their own or with a partner.  For specific groups, we may read out loud together or the group may choose to lead that activity on their own without my facilitation.  Our classroom is large and has two side office spaces and an outdoor space with multiple benches to allow for this additional support. Depending upon your set up, you may want to move to the library or another space to allow for multiple student groupings and interventions.   
  • To support students with their annotations, I always have post it notes, highlighters, and other classroom supplies available for students to use.  I often put on classical music while they are reading and annotating and I allow students to work together, alone, or with me in various areas of the classroom as needed. 
  • For  a more in depth look at annotation strategies, check out this example resource.  

 3.  I do not collect student annotation notes; my philosophy is that those are for them to have and refer to as needed.  However, students do turn in their reading reflection prompt index cards.  Each member of the project team organizes them on their process poster where they show me the work (writing like prompt responses and notes along with sketches/diagram).  A student work sample of this process poster work shows this group had an interesting set of  prompt responses to their article from which to start an in depth learning conversation as they created their concept maps in Day 2.

And now on to Day 2!