Chemistry Quilt: Meeting the Scientists Behind the Scenes

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SWBAT describe the key elements of an influential scientists life and work.

Big Idea

Science is a human endeavor - help students meet the humans behind the science by making a Chemistry Quilt!


10 minutes

When polling middle school students about what they like to do most, sleep makes the top ten. When further probed about what makes comfortable sleep, a warm blanket also makes the top ten. When asked if they would like to incorporate sleep and warm blankets into science class, they can't resist! Enter, the Chemistry Quilt Project - a lesson about getting to know the scientists that have contributed to our body of knowledge.

In this lesson, students access Common Core Language Arts Standards as they gather, read, and synthesize information from multiple appropriate sources (SP8) about a scientist of their choice. Students research a question (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.6.7).; use technology to produce and publish writing (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.6.6); and present claims and findings (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.6.4).

In order to ENGAGE students in this lesson, introduce them to some of the wacky scientists and their outlandish, unsafe and "out there" antics to show the humanity of scientists. A story such as this one: Einstein's Brain Unlocks Some of the Mysteries of the Mind, can generate interesting and non-traditional connections about cause and effect (CCC) in terms of how scientists' decisions can lead to interesting, unexpected and even illegal outcomes. These stories create three-dimensional personalities of scientists and get students imaginations unlocked (in an entirely different way that Einstein's Brain).

Teacher's Note: While looking for good, slightly-shocking, high-interest stories about scientists, I came across many sites inappropriate for a middle school audience. Be sure to preview any Web-site, article or video you may want to use to engage students.


50 minutes

The EXPLORE stage of the lesson is to get students involved in the topic so that they start to build their own understanding. To help students explore, they receive the Chemistry Quilt Extension Student Handout. Together, we review the instructions and look at an example of a Complete Full Quilt Square Student Scientist Close Up. Student instructions:

1) Visit the WikiList of Scientists.

2) Choose a famous (or not so famous) chemist.

3) Research interesting facts about the life and research of your chemist.

4) Create a colorful, creative, neat, graphic, informational quilt square using Word. The square should be 8 inches x 8 inches. The square needs to have:

       - Name

       - Dates of birth and death

       - Picture

       - Facts about scientific study

5) Once your quilt square is ready, email it to: (Fill in your email).

6) Make an appointment to print, transfer and create our Chemistry Quilt!

We also review what the final product will be: students will create a quilt square on a digital document that will become a part of the final quilt. By showing them photos of the final quilt, students can visualize how their square will become part of the whole:

Completed Full Quilt #1

Completed Full Quilt With View of Backing

At this point, students use online resources to choose and research a chemist. Review this section's Reflection: Supporting Online Research for additional support strategies.


Teacher Note:

I taught this lesson as an extension project for interested students. We met during lunch time to manipulate the quilt square documents (Printing Mirror Images and Flipped Quilt Square Examples); cut fabric squares; iron the documents onto fabric (Laser Printer Transfer Paper); and sew the quilt (we had old sewing machines at school). I also found adult volunteers to help piece the quilt together. This project could just as easily be completed as a paper quilt, which would save time and materials. Additionally, the project could be completed as part of a regular class activity.

Also, I asked students to research chemists because we were studying chemistry at the time (and "Chemistry Quilt" had a nice ring to it). This project can be modified to include any or all scientific disciplines.

Explain and Evaluate

50 minutes

The EXPLAIN stage of the lesson is for students to communicate what they have learned; the EVALUATION stage is for both students and teachers to determine how much learning and understanding has taken place. For the Chemistry Quilt Lesson, students present their complete quilt squares to the class. 

Completed Full Quilt #2

Completed Full Quilt #2 Backing

As students present, the rest of the class uses an active listening strategy called "Top Three Notes" where they write down the three most important "take aways" presented by their classmates. For an explanation, view this video:

These notes can be used to play "Guess Who?", which is a party game where students are assigned a scientist (posted on a name tag on their backs). They can ask other students questions, using their notes, to find out who they are.

A final fun way to celebrate the final quilt is to take pictures of the student scientists wrapped in it - all scientists want comfortable sleep in the Chemistry Quilt!