Category Archives: Class Requirements

What do Rubber, Morphine, Purple Dye, and Nylon all have in common?

This week I wanted to share my book that I read for our book talk papers.  Although the book is on the longer side I really enjoyed that it didn’t require me to read it all in a short period of time (so that I wouldn’t forget the plot).  Each chapter could stand on its own and that made every time I picked up the book feel like a totally new experience.  It’s thorough and interweaving historical accounts of chemistry provided me with a ton of valuable insight into how far chemistry has come since the beginning of modern science.  I don’t want to give away too much more though, so that my presentation isn’t totally ruined before I even start it!


Book: Napoleon’s Buttons: 17 Molecules that Changed History

Authors: Penny Le Couteur and Jay Burreson

Big Idea: Science is tentative, messy, and unexpected.

In Napoleon’s Buttons: 17 Molecules That Changed History by Penny Le Couteur and Jay Burreson, a central idea of the Nature of Science, namely the fact that science is tentative and ever changing is pervasive. The book discusses seventeen molecules that, in the authors’ opinions, changed the path of history significantly with their identification and induction into society. As more molecules are discussed in the book, more overlaps between the molecules become evident. Ties between quinine and picric acid and aspirin, for example, are laced throughout all three of the chapters, which speak directly about those compounds. Furthermore, because many of these compounds were discovered, isolated, and synthesized within a similar range of dates their overlaps must go beyond even the scope of this book.

While there are many similarities between a large number of the compounds on which Napoleon’s Buttons focuses, the book pays special attention to the struggles and obstacles that scientists encountered while trying to isolate, determine the structure of, and stereo-selectively synthesize the molecules in question. This point is one that I think is significant for my future students, and would provide real-life Nature of Science into my future classroom. These struggles highlight the facts that science is messy, and indeed even some of the molecules spoken about in this book were discovered accidentally, while a researcher was looking for an entirely different compound, or even as a result of tiny differences in molecules’ structures.

In addition, significant time is spent in the book discussing how the development and use of some of these “miracle” compounds turned out to be “nightmare” compounds. For example, at the time of DDT’s (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) initial use for eradicating malaria and slowing the spread of typhus it seemed to be a positive, life changing molecule; but, DDT ended up having serious environmental impacts despite its efficiency at doing its main job and whose use has since been significantly reduced.

Overall, Napoleon’s Buttons speaks directly to the Nature of Science in a multitude of ways including its messiness and tentative natures. By reading even only individual chapters of this book my future students would get valuable insight into how sloppy, unexpected, and uncertain science can be. The connections between chapters, and thus reading the entire book, would provide students with an insiders’ look into science research and discovery; which would really uncover the collaborative and mysterious underpinnings of the development of our society, through the lens of science. In my own classroom, I could use this book in segments or as a whole, for the end results I stated prior, but could focus on the connections between seemingly unique compounds. Given the time to do so, a concept map of significant words in Napoleon’s Buttons would be cognitively challenging and profound for students to create, either for individual chapters or for the book as a whole, for which students could be responsible for individual chapters. For this task, the words in the concept map would go beyond just the compound names, by also include locations, dates, routes to discovery, origins, and so on. Through this exercise the interconnectedness of all corners of our current society could be made visible for learners.

This book is one that I would recommend to science geeks, learners, and all people in between in addition to anyone with an interest in history and the progression of modern advancements. In all, Napoleon’s Buttons is a book that can be enjoyed in single chapter segments or as a whole, but either way gives an insightful and descriptive account on seventeen history-changing molecules, many of which are very unexpected choices.



Le Couteur, P., Burreson, J. (2003). Napoleon’s buttons: 17 molecules that changed history. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Harambee and Purple Stained Fingers

This week in my latest series of teacher events I found myself at the Freedom School experiencing Harambee for the first, but hopefully not last, time.  Harambee was incredible, and for those of you that know how intensely I feel emotions, it almost choked me up.  After hearing for the past two months how disadvantaged urban students tend to be and how they are often disengaged as well, getting to see (my estimate of over a hundred) urban youth dancing, singing, cheering, supporting each other, and getting excited for another fun, educational, and friendly day at the Freedom School was really overwhelming.

Jill and I then went to battle the gusts of wind to set up our APK station which Jo Ann aptly named “Can you picture this?”

APK Station Sign

The experience felt like mayhem, in a good way.  Ten minutes FLY by when you have campers in front of you, so we were constantly collecting papers, erasing whiteboards, taking pictures, moving Warner paper, etc. just to keep our heads above the water that was APK stations.

APK Station Group Talk

APK Station JandJ

APK Station Graph APK Station Making Graph








Overall, seeing the excitement in the Freedom School was actually a little intimidating, especially knowing we’re all going to have to get ourselves up to that level for camp.  I can already feel the exhaustion!!!  Unfortunately I never played any sport that had cheers of any sort so I’m hoping someone else has or that we’re all willing to get creative and a tiny bit weird.  On the other hand, I am SO pumped for ice breakers and team building.  I have to admit, I HATED this stuff when I was a freshman at college but now that I’ve come out of my shell I can’t wait to do them again from a more outgoing perspective.  I think the fun we have at camp will easily make all the work of Warner Lesson Plans and Unit Planning worth it; although I can already see my sleep calendar getting severely diminished.


To end on a purely fun note; last night the cohort all met at Jo Ann’s house for the most fun tie dye session I’ve ever been a part of. (And just so you all realize how big of a deal that is I have tie dyed at least once or twice a year since high school).  Everyone brought some food or drink and we took out to tie dye a grand total of 34 shirts! My biggest tie dye task yet, so I’m glad I had so much help!  Spirals and accordion style rubber banding dominated Jo Ann’s patio table (and then basement floor) which all came out looking incredible.  Ryan turned out to be our resident spiral-pro and was quickly recruited to spiral at least one of everyones shirts,  Jill quickly realized she could be successful at tie dying, Eric and Angie became our professional wring-out-the-t-shirt-ers, Tiarra and Alanna were nature rubber-band-taker-outers which made easy work out of retying 34 shirts.  I actually found myself being pretty useless! But, I guess that means I instructed well, since several of our instructors have said that when you feel useless you’ve scaffolded and planned the “activity” well.  I just think I have very helpful and clever friends.  We missed Kaitlin and Ceb (following a earlier visit) but I’m sure both of you will be happy with the shirts we’ve made for you; but, on a positive note you guys are probably the only two people who don’t have purple stained fingers today (despite my make-shift plastic bag gloves)!

Overall, a great night with great friends.  Looking forward to camp with everyone, but specifically with (temporarily) named Team Jerica.

11pm and still smiling!

11pm and still smiling!

One of our best spirals

One of our best spirals



Professional Learning: iPads

Check out Kaitlin’s blog for all the information from our Mini Professional Learning Seminar!

Blogging about Blogging (and other things)

Summer A. Where do I even start?

These six weeks have been the fastest of my life and I’m torn whether that was good or bad.  Probably both.  Good in that I’m looking forward to my first weekend with no immediate deadlines hanging over my head but bad in that we’re six weeks closer to graduation and I am already obsessed with our cohort.  I never expected to be thrown into such a diverse group but still feel so connected with all of you and I can already feel myself dreading graduation.  Good thing we all have to keep in touch with Warner, hopefully that will spill over into our friendships outside of school.

Blogging has been surprisingly therapeutic for me.  At first it definitely wasn’t that way.  I really struggled figuring out what I was going to write and it ended up stressing me out for the latter part of every week; but, now the weekends are my favorite part of the week, not because of the obvious, but because I get to read everyone’s blogs and learn a little more about each of you.  Also, I can’t imagine I’m the only one that loves reading comments on their own blog about the similarities we share.  Blogging, as I’ve said in my “Science, Science everywhere!” post, has definitely made me more aware of how much of my life is surrounded by science which will hopefully help me to scaffold my own authentic inquiry in my future classroom!

I also think blogging has really facilitate me breaking out of my shell.  I’m sure at this point very few of you will believe me but, in that pre-class homework we had to do one of my two questions in the “3-2-1” exercise was how I would have my voice heard because the blogs gave the impression that everyone in GRS was very outgoing while I’ve always considered myself pretty shy. So, now that I’m out of my shell I don’t plan on going back in.  I feel as though being pushed to engage and contribute in class has definitely made me get more out of it than I would have otherwise.  Good food for thought in the future.

On that thread I decided to organize my favorite of my implications conclusion from class, which I took liberties and have entitled “Future Work” in my notebook, here.  First, so that I have a consolidated list and second, so (hopefully) you guys can help to add whatever I may have forgotten.

“Future Work”

“Making Thinking Visible” Making lists of big ideas help to solidify concepts during open discussion as opposed to letting ideas “float away”
Fishbowl Desks like |_|Facilitates better discussionEasier to demonstrate things in the middle
Everyday things as Science things Introducing students to something that doesn’t feel science-y to them and then showing the science to them can make a foreign idea (science) more relatable 
Bring science into the classroom Bringing authentic inquiry into the classroom can help to overcome obstacles with getting students out of the classroom to experience scienceLake water for platingLake plants for microscope slides

Bring experts into talk

Museum Walk & Talk Class wide discussion/critique of projects can provide positive reinforcement, provide possible pit-falls to look out for (if critiquing a plan)
Reading Over Shoulders Use pieces of what each student wrote to guide conversation at quiet points
Debate Kids love to argue! Form teams and debate (make it a class project perhaps)
Scaffold Vocab Scaffolding complex/new words can help to not discourage a studentLearning vocal and concepts concurrently is overwhelming!
The Elusive Sweet Spot All kids struggle to learn; there exists a “sweet spot” where content is challenging enough to engage a student but not so challenge that it discourages them (Vygotsky’s “Zone of Proximal Development”)
“Pass-Read-Steal-Talk” Have students answer the same questions on a paper and pass around the circle, steal the ideas you want and pass againConversation at the end to compare understandings and take-aways

It’s incredible the amount of practices we’ve been introduced to and I can’t wait to see even more.  Clearly we’re entering an uphill battle but I have a feeling the view from the top is going to be extraordinary.

Class Blog!

Check out our class blog this week written by yours truly!