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Coding and Quilting the Elements

Chemistry teacher Kathi Smith incorporates chemistry, technology, the arts, and more into a multi-stage classroom project that teaches students discipline, problem solving, and the sense of pride that comes from a difficult job done well. Included: Five teacher-created worksheets to use in your own classroom project.

Chemistry teacher Kathi Smith always has required her freshman and sophomore students to study the periodic table. Through the years, however, the scope of their study has changed and grown. Today, for Smith's students, "studying the periodic table" involves, not just chemistry, but also a little art, speech, drama, language arts, sewing, and technology as well.

Project Resources
Kathi Smith provided the following printable resources for teachers interested in duplicating her project -- or one like it -- in their own classrooms. * Project Directions
* HTML Directions
* PhotoShop/ImageReady Directions
* Web Site Evaluation Rubric
* Oral Presentation Evaluation Form

In the beginning, each of Smith's students at all-girls Marian High School in Omaha, Nebraska, was required to research two elements in the periodic table and report to her classmates the information she learned. Several years ago, however, Smith decided to add a new "element" to her lesson. "I had just learned how to write HTML code," Smith told Education World, "and I decided to let the girls give it a try. So, I had them create Web pages about their elements."

Eventually, though, even the integration of technology wasn't enough to keep the project fresh. "Creating Web pages had become fairly common," Smith pointed out, "so, two years ago, we added another component to the project -- we made a periodic table quilt."

This school year, Smith added yet another high-tech component to the project. She auctioned off the quilt on eBay!

And you thought studying the periodic table was boring!


According to Smith, the entire periodic element project takes about four weeks to complete. Although some work is done in chemistry class, and students spend about 10 additional periods working on it in the computer lab, they are expected to complete their research and much of the other project work on their own time. (Students who don't have access to a home computer can check out a school laptop.)

The goals of the project, says Smith, are for the girls to learn about the periodic table, their individual elements, and to appreciate the wonder of Web pages. So, students begin by researching two assigned elements and creating a Web resource for one of those elements. The Web site must include the element's name, and information about its discovery, characteristics, and structure, as well as links to at least two more online resources about the element. All the pages then are linked to a central Periodic Table of Elements page.

"When I started this project, basic HTML was about the only option for writing a Web page," explained Smith, "and I still require my students to do at least one of their Web pages in raw HTML. Other pages, however, may be done using a Web editor. So, I still teach the girls HTML -- but now I also teach them how to use a Web editor and Photoshop/ImageReady.

"The technology is definitely the hardest part of the project," Smith noted. "Sometimes things work and sometimes they don't. That can become very frustrating for all of us. I've even had some students complain that the technology should be left for a technology class. My contention, however, is that technology needs to be incorporated into the curriculum, otherwise some students might never experience or appreciate all that technology has to offer."

Natasha models the latest in aluminum fashion.

After the Web pages are created, students use the information from their research to prepare a "creative" oral presentation about their assigned elements. The presentation can be a poem or song describing the element's characteristics, a dramatization of the element's discovery, a demonstration of an experiment involving the element, or any other original performance demonstrating the student's knowledge of her assigned element. Students also must hand in "hard copies" of their presentations.

The project culminates with each student creating quilt squares for both her assigned elements. Each square must include the chemical symbol of the element and an image of something related to that element. The completed squares are then combined into a periodic table quilt.

Marian High students work on their periodic table quilt.

"Last year, we raffled off the quilt within our building," Smith said. "The secretary who won it donated it back to the school, and it now hangs in one of our chemistry classrooms. This year, the same secretary won the raffle, and again she donated the quilt back to the school. Thus, the idea of auctioning it off on eBay was born!

"I submitted the quilt to eBay as an item for sale and posted the notice on my chemistry list serve. The quilt was sold to a school in Georgia for $152.50! With the money we earned, we're purchasing a student table for the classroom. Tables allow for better cooperative learning than individual standard student desks, and I wanted to replace my student desks last fall, but we didn't have the funds. We'll still have nine more tables to purchase -- but we are slowly getting to our goal."


The new table will be a welcome addition to Smith's classroom, but the real benefits of the project are to the students, Smith said. "The students live and breathe their element for the entire duration of the project. I've had former students come back to visit and they still remember what element they had and some of the facts about the element. The students also learn to discipline themselves to meet the various due dates of the project, and they learn how to problem solve through the various computer issues. It's an experience they never forget.

"The project also provides the students with a great deal of pride. They marvel at what they are able to accomplish! They often say it is the hardest thing they've ever done -- but once it's over, they realize that hard work really does pay off.

"It is a lot of work," Smith admitted, but it's more than worth it. "I would have discontinued the project years ago if I didn't believe it was worthwhile for both the science that's learned and for the problem solving and perseverance it teaches."

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
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