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Chemicals, the Environment, and You
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Introduction to the Module

What Are the Objectives of the Module?

Chemicals, the Environment, and You has several objectives. The first is to help students understand major concepts that describe the relationship between chemicals in the environment and human health. By focusing on the science of toxicology, the module seeks to introduce students to the ways scientists learn about and measure how chemicals can both help and harm human health.

The second objective is to convey to students the ever-changing nature of our understanding of the influence of chemicals on the health of living organisms. For example, with each introduction of a new synthetic chemical, researchers must learn at what dose and by what route of exposure the chemical might be hazardous to human health. New data have informed people of the dangers of lead in paint and the disease implications of breathing secondhand smoke. Our increasing knowledge about the effects chemicals can have on the human body enables us to make choices to limit our exposure to some chemicals while using other chemicals in ways that improve the quality of our lives.

Science plays an important role in assisting individuals as they make choices about enhancing personal and public welfare. In this module, students see that science provides evidence that can be used to support ways of understanding and treating human disease. Because the mission of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences is to reduce human illness from environmental causes, the Institute believes that education provides one context in which it can fulfill its mission. The lessons in this module encourage students to think about the relationships among knowledge, choice, behavior, and enhanced human health in this way:

knowledge (what is known and not known) + choice = power

power + behavior = enhanced human health

An additional objective of this module is to encourage students to think in terms of these relationships now and as they grow older.

Why Teach the Module?

Middle school science classes offer the perfect opportunity to integrate many areas of student interest. In this module, students participate in activities that integrate inquiry science, environmental studies, human health, history, decision-making concepts, and mathematics. The real-life context of the module's lessons is engaging for students, and the knowledge gained by participating in the module can be applied immediately to students' lives.

"The activities provided actual real-life occurrences that students could relate to."
—Field-test Teacher

"The lab made me think about medicines and what dose I should take."
—Field-test Student

What’s in It for the Teacher?

Chemicals, the Environment, and You meets many of the criteria used to assess teachers and their programs.

In addition, the module provides a means for professional development. Teachers can engage in new and different teaching practices like those described in this module without completely overhauling their entire yearlong program. In Designing Professional Development for Teachers of Science and Mathematics1, Susan Loucks-Horsley et al. write that replacement modules such as Chemicals, the Environment, and You can "offer a window through which teachers can get a glimpse of what new teaching strategies look like in action." By experiencing a short-term unit like this one, teachers can "change how they think about teaching and embrace new approaches that stimulate students to problem solve, reason, investigate, and construct their own meaning for the content." The use of a replacement unit like this one can encourage reflection and discussion and stimulate teachers to improve their practices by focusing on student learning through inquiry.

The following table correlates topics often included in the middle school curriculum with the lessons in this module. This information is presented to help teachers make decisions about incorporating this material into the curriculum.

Correlation of Chemicals, the Environment, and You to Middle School Topics
Topics Lesson 1 Lesson 2 Lesson 3 Lesson 4 Lesson 5 Lesson 6

Chemical composition of all matter

checkmark for Lesson 1          

Chemicals in the environment

checkmark for Lesson 1 checkmark for Lesson 2     checkmark for Lesson 5 checkmark for Lesson 6

Human health and medicine

checkmark for Lesson 1     checkmark for Lesson 4 checkmark for Lesson 5 checkmark for Lesson 6

Individual variation/susceptibility

    checkmark for Lesson 3 checkmark for Lesson 4 checkmark for Lesson 5 checkmark for Lesson 6

Risk assessment and management

  checkmark for Lesson 2     checkmark for Lesson 5 checkmark for Lesson 6

Scientific methods

  checkmark for Lesson 2 checkmark for Lesson 3 checkmark for Lesson 4    

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