In the winter of 2017, PPG Industries partnered with an AACT team of chemistry teachers to create a set of themed chemistry lessons. The team developed the lessons to support the general theme of “The Chemistry of Color.” PPG lent the expertise of four employees with specialties in the chemistry and engineering of various paints and coatings. These professionals were a constant source of information and inspiration, and they helped to ensure the accuracy of both the chemistry and its applications within the lessons.

For several months, the Chemistry of Color team studied the composition, manufacture, and use of different types of paints and coatings while developing unique ways to connect these products to what is taught in typical chemistry classrooms. When used for aesthetic purposes, paints and coatings are engineered to have a specific color, sheen, and texture. When used to protect a surface, features such as water resistance, durability, and adhesion may take priority in the formulation. With the range of chemistry and engineering involved in this industry, the team had a variety of ideas for bringing this real-world application to the chemistry classroom.

The writing team was composed of ten teachers with experiences ranging from middle school science to college chemistry instruction. Nine are current high school chemistry teachers, and one teaches middle school science. Some of the lessons, like Laura Celik’s Exploring the Chemistry of Oil and Acrylic Paints and Michelle Winesett’s Fading Away, specifically focus on paint in order to teach chemistry concepts. In Celik’s lesson, middle school students make their own acrylic and oil paint and use these to make both qualitative and quantitative observations to compare chemical and physical properties. In Winesett’s lesson, high school students learn about chemical processes involved in the fading of paint, and then research how paint companies use chemistry and engineering to create products that resist fading.

Other lessons, like Heather Wages Zimmer’s Introduction to Color and Lauri McDonald’s Let It Glow, focus on the nature of color, and explore how these concepts are used in an industrial setting. In Introduction to Color, high school students use a spectrophotometer to analyze intensive and extensive properties of colored dyes before using these ideas to explain how paint companies can use color matching to make an exact match to any paint color. In Let It Glow, high school or middle school students explore the basic properties of light waves and learn about the difference between fluorescence and phosphorescence. Students then research how the aerospace industry is making use of fluorescent and phosphorescent paints to coat their tools for use in dark, enclosed spaces.

A screenshot from a video in the Chemistry of Color resource collection.

All lessons are written using the 5E instructional model (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate), with references to NGSS. The 5E model leads a teacher to engage the students with an interesting story, phenomenon, or experience before guiding them toward a desired conceptual understanding through a series of carefully planned learning stages. For example, Maria Tolentino’s lesson, Rustbusters! A Lab Activity on Corrosion, engages students with a simple demonstration of how fast the temperature rises in a handwarmer when exposed to air. This leads to a discussion of the redox processes behind the reaction and a mini-lesson on the problem of corrosion. The lesson then continues with an investigation of corrosion rates and the effect of different types of coatings on those rates.

The lesson development process

In developing the collection of lessons, each teacher field-tested the activities he or she was writing before sending the final version to be reviewed by others on the team. A peer-review process helped to ensure the usefulness of each teacher and student resource. Every lesson includes extensive teacher notes and background details. Information about safety and materials provides guidance on how to obtain and prepare any necessary chemicals and equipment for the given lesson. Guidelines for delivering each lesson are accompanied by sample answers or rubrics for all student responses. All resources are available as Word files for the teacher’s convenience.

Throughout the writing process, the team maintained communication with each other through an online collaboration site. This allowed the writers to get feedback on their ideas throughout the development process and helped to avoid duplication of lessons. Though some of the lessons address similar chemistry concepts, efforts were made to approach these topics in very different ways. For example, Bill Hoffman’s Single Displacement Reactions with Test Tube Diagrams, Kevin Willis’s Do it Yourself Color, and Michele Thomas’s Transition Metals Color the World all address chemical reactions and equations. Hoffman’s lesson introduces students to a particle-level model while they carefully observe single replacement reactions through the lens of oxidation-reduction reactions. Throughout the lesson, color observations are used to help students make sense of the oxidation changes.

Meanwhile, Willis and Thomas both focus on precipitation reactions. Willis’s lesson uses inorganic pigments as an anchor for colorful precipitation reactions. Within that context, the lesson guides students through an understanding of net ionic equations while they work out the solubility rules from their own data. Thomas’s lesson uses precipitation reactions to highlight the colorful compounds formed by transition metals and relates this to their unique electron configurations. This lesson ends with the students creating a paint using their own prepared precipitate as a pigment.

The variety of instructional approaches within this collection gives interested teachers the opportunity to choose lessons that will best suit their classroom needs. The lessons are not designed to be a continuous set, though some will naturally connect to others, due to the nature of the content and application. Please refer to Table 1 for a complete list of the lessons, with links to the actual resources. Nine of these are now available on the AACT website as the “PPG Chemistry of Color Resource Collection.” The remaining lessons will be added to the site in September 2017. Each lesson was designed to target a specific level of instruction; however, teachers are encouraged to consider all lessons, as they may be able to adapt them for their need.

Table 1: Activities in the PPG Chemistry of Color Resource Collection

Middle School Chemistry
Major Chemistry Topics Lesson Author
Atomic Emission, Color Wheel and Additive Color Mixing Understanding Light & Color Laura Celik
Physical and Chemical Properties, and Mixtures Exploring the Chemistry of Oil and Acrylic Paints Laura Celik
Physical Properties, Viscosity How Fast Does It Flow? Heather Wages Zimmer
High School Chemistry
Major Chemistry Topics Lesson Author
Measurements, Metric System, and Accuracy vs. Precision Nanotechnology: It’s a Really Small World Michele Thomas
Physical and Chemical Properties What is Paint? A Paint Investigation Kevin Willis
Properties of Mixtures: Solutions, Colloids, and Suspensions What Type of Mixture is Paint? Dusty Carroll
Ionic Compound Nomenclature What’s in a Name? What’s in a Glaze? Lauri McDonald
Electromagnetic Spectrum, Light Equations, and Fluorescence vs. Phosphorescence Let It Glow! Lauri McDonald
Oxidation/Reduction with Single Replacement Reactions Single Displacement Reactions with Test Tube Diagrams Bill Hoffman
Net Ionic Equations for Precipitation Reactions, Solubility Rules Do-It-Yourself Color! Kevin Willis
Transition Metals and their Colorful Precipitates Transition Metals Color the World Michele Thomas
Oxidation and Reduction Reactions, Electromagnetic Radiation Fading Away Michelle Winesett
Intermolecular Forces The Great Race: A Study of van der Waals Forces Bill Hoffman
AP Chemistry
Major Chemistry Topics Lesson Author
Spectrophotometry, and Introduction to Beer’s Law Principles Introduction to Color Heather Wages Zimmer
Interactions of Light and Matter; Beer’s Law Using Color to Identify an Unknown Michelle Winesett
Chemical Reactions Removing Copper Stains from Masonry Renuka Rajasekaran
Reaction Rates Rustbusters! A Lab Activity on Corrosion Maria Tolentino
Electrochemical Cells and Photovoltaic Effect Color Solar Power! Maria Tolentino

As the lead content writer for The Chemistry of Color project, my hope is that teachers will find these resources convenient and effective ways to introduce students to new chemistry topics through applications that are both familiar and interesting. The teacher team learned a great deal about the paints and coatings industry, and found the chemistry to be both relevant and accessible for our assortment of students. Each lesson was reviewed by at least three other teachers before the author’s final revision based on team suggestions. This process allowed for a high-quality set of resources that we hope will be useful to others.

In addition to the written resources, AACT has produced four short (3–6 minute) videos within the Chemistry of Color Resource Collection. These general videos are meant to provide a simple introduction to some of the science and technology of paints. They can be used on their own as a way to introduce students to some basic principles of paint, or they can be used in combination with a lesson from the collection. Two of these videos are available now on the AACT website, while the others will be posted in September 2017. The videos that will be available on the Chemistry of Color Resource Collection page are:

The writing team, including this author, found this project to be both educational and rewarding, and we hope that our written activities will act as a model for others who would like to find ways to connect chemistry to interesting real-world applications. If you are interested in participating in a future AACT content-writing project, be sure to watch out for announcements through the AACT monthly newsletter and on the website, to find out when applications will be accepted.

Thanks for reading! We hope you enjoy these resources.