Landmark Lesson Plans

High School Lesson Plans Based on ACS National Historic Chemical Landmark Subjects

The following inquiry-based student activities are designed for use in high school chemistry and history lesson planning. Based on material from the ACS National Historic Chemical Landmarks program, the lessons, reading materials, videos and student activities are designed as ready-to-go lessons, easily implemented by a chemistry teacher or his/her substitute, to supplement a unit of study.

Climate Change and the Keeling Curve

Grades: 9-12
Subject Areas: Atmospheric chemistry, chemical reactions and history

The handout and activities will help students learn how scientists came to understand global warming using evidence collected over decades.

The activities are designed as a ready-to-go lesson, easily implemented by a teacher or his/her substitute to supplement a unit of study. Students will practice critical reading and writing skills as they develop a deeper understanding of how scientists found evidence for climate change.  The final activity in particular integrates writing as students are asked to explain our current understanding of climate change and relate what they have learned to their lives.


The Keeling Curve shows the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels over time.
The Keeling Curve shows the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels over time.
Scripps and NOAA
carbon cycle
The carbon cycle maps carbon distribution among the atmosphere, plants, land and oceans.
Adapted from NASA graphic

Chlorofluorocarbons and Ozone Depletion

Grades: 9-12
Subject Areas: Atmospheric chemistry, chemical reactions and history

The handout, activities and videos will help students understand the timeline and reasons for the initial development and use of chlorofluorocarbons as refrigerants, but also their eventual banning due to their damaging effect on stratospheric ozone. Students will also explore the chemical reactions related to this damage and the challenges faced by atmospheric researchers.

The activities are designed as a ready-to-go lesson, easily implemented by a teacher or his/her substitute to supplement a unit of study. In atmospheric chemistry, the activities relate to the different regions of the atmosphere and the different roles that the same chemical can play depending on its location, and the work of atmospheric chemistry researchers to educate others about the harmful effects of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). In chemical reactions, the activities relate to CFCs and stratospheric ozone. In history, the activities highlight the process of change connected with the use of refrigerants throughout history. An additional science-related concept is the perception of chemicals as positive or negative.

NASA began measuring Earth’s stratospheric ozone layer by satellite in 1979. By the time the Montreal Protocol went into effect in 1989, ozone concentrations (in Dobson units) had declined significantly over the Antarctic, enlarging the ozone hole. Ozone levels have since stabilized, but recovery is still decades away, according to NASA.
NASA began measuring Earth’s stratospheric ozone layer by satellite in 1979.
Courtesy Jesse Allen
Mario J. Molina (left) and F. Sherwood Rowland
Mario J. Molina (left) and F. Sherwood Rowland showed that CFCs can destroy ozone.
University of California, Irvine

The Legacy of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring

Grades: 9-12
Subject Areas: Chemistry, biology and environmental science

The handout, activities and video will help students understand the reasons for the widespread use of the insecticide DDT earlier in history as well as its subsequent banning. They will be able to see the lasting effect Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring has had on chemistry itself, our view of the environment and how we weigh the benefits and drawbacks of new materials and technology.

The activities are designed as a ready-to-go lesson, easily implemented by a teacher or his/her substitute to supplement a unit of study. In chemistry, the activities relate to concentration, with units as small as parts per million; solubility of compounds in water versus fat; and decision-making based on green chemistry principles. In biology, the activities relate to the effect of a contaminant on a food chain and bioaccumulation of a fat-soluble contaminant. In environmental science, the activities highlight the weighing of benefits versus drawbacks in the use of a material or technology, and the effect of Silent Spring on our views of humans and nature. Other science-related concepts include the types of information that can support a rigorously researched scientific argument.

Rachel Carson
Rachel Carson
Courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Setting the Standards of Excellence

Grades: 9-12
Subject Areas: Chemistry and history

The handout and activities will help students understand the need for standards in all areas of science as well as how standards have evolved during the past two centuries. The last activity in the lesson plan invites students to reflect in writing on how standards relate to their lives.

The activities are designed as a ready-to-go lesson, easily implemented by a teacher or his/her substitute to supplement a unit of study. The chemistry activities relate to physical and chemical properties of substances. The history activities connect the chronology of standards development with the need for standards. Students also practice critical reading and writing skills in the lesson.

building on fire
Experiments such as this one in 1928 led to fire standards for buildings.
NIST

Isolation of Phytochrome

Grades: 9-12
Subject Areas: Chemistry, botany and physics 

The handout, activities and videos will help students understand the progression of several decades of research leading to the discovery and isolation of phytochrome. The phytochrome system in plants serves as a control mechanism for plant development such as germination and flowering. It is triggered by specific wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation.

In chemistry and botany, the activities relate to making chemical predictions based on observations of plant physiology, then analyzing the accuracy of those predictions. In physics, the activities relate to the electromagnetic spectrum. Other science-related concepts are the importance of collaboration in the scientific process, and how research builds knowledge over long periods of time.

USDA scientists study the effect of light wavelengths on plant development.
Jack Fletcher/National Geographic Creative.

Norbert Rillieux, Thermodynamics and Chemical Engineering

Grades: 9-12
Subject Areas: Chemistry, Engineering, Thermodynamics and History

The handout and activities will help students understand the chemical engineering advances of Norbert Rillieux (1806-1894). Rillieux, an African American inventor and one of the earliest chemical engineers, had a major impact on how sugar was produced on Southern plantations during the time of slavery. The basic design of his multiple-effect evaporator is still being used today.

In chemistry, the activities relate to engineering practices and thermodynamics. In history, the themes are the Industrial Revolution, the status of African Americans during slavery and the American Civil War.

Portrait of Norbert Rillieux (undated).

Man and Materials Through History

Grades: 9-12
Subject Areas: Chemistry, Materials Science, Polymers and History

The handout, video and activities will help students gain insight into the connection between materials science and cultural and technological developments, specifically relating to the development of the world's first synthetic plastic, Bakelite.

In chemistry, the activities relate to the definition of polymers and polymerization reactions. In history, the themes are the periods of human history and the chronology of technological and materials science developments.

Buttons made from Bakelite.
Courtesy Gregory Tobias/Chemical Heritage Foundation.

Development of Baking Powder

Grades: 9-12
Subject Areas: Chemistry and History

The video and handout will help students understand the chemistry and gain insight into the history featured in the development of baking powder.

In chemistry, the activities relate to nomenclature, formula writing, reactions and organic functional groups; in history, the theme is the interdependence of science and industrialization.

Portrait of Eben Horsford (undated).

Discovery of Fullerenes

Grades: 9-12
Subject Area: Chemistry and Nanotechnology

The video and handout will help students understand the chemistry of fullerenes and to appreciate the events that led to their discovery.

In chemistry, the activities relate to measurement, diatomic molecules and allotropes, nanoparticles, the relationship of molecular structure to properties of substances, and scientific discovery through collaboration and serendipity.

Buckminsterfullerene model.

Joseph Priestley, Discoverer of Oxygen

Grades: 9-12
Subject Area: Chemistry and History

The handout will help students understand the historical context and how chemistry was practiced during Joseph Priestley’s time (1733-1804).

In chemistry, the activities relate to identifying physical and chemical properties, nomenclature, and the scientific process. In history, the activities relate to chronology of scientific discoveries and the relationships between England, France and America in the late 1700s.

Portrait of Joseph Priestley, 1873.