Landmark Lesson Plan: Man and Materials Through History

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

The following inquiry-based student activities are designed for use in high school lesson planning. 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.

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 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.

Download the complete lesson plan (PDF).

Resources include:

  • Teacher’s guide: Includes the handout, student activities and answer guide
  • Handout: “Man and Materials Through History”
  • Video supplement: Plastics go Green (an ACS ChemMatters/Bytesize Science video)
  • Student activities: Includes the three activities described below.

Student activities:

While these activities are thematically linked, each is designed to stand alone as an accompaniment for the handout and video. Teachers may choose activities based on curricular needs and time considerations.

  • Recognizing Polymers: Classifying Everyday Materials Students explore their beliefs about what polymers are using familiar examples. Students learn that polymers, both natural and man-made, are all around us. (10-20 min.)
  • Technology Timeline: Chronology of Materials Using the handout, students place the various material developments on a timeline to give them some perspective of how long ago various technologies came into existence. (10-15 min.)
  • Polymer Structures Students gain an idea of what some of the monomer subunits actually look like and how they bond together chemically. (25-30 min.)

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