Making Molecular Movies: A Sample Lesson

Making Molecular Movies: A Sample Lesson

Making Molecular Movies: A Sample Lesson

One lesson from the 2016-2017 school year that I am particularly proud of is the Napoleon’s Buttons Video Project designed for 10th grade introductory chemistry.


The purpose of this assignment was to build on our understanding of chemical structures by relating the structures of specific molecules to their reactivity, uses, and influence throughout history and society.

We also set out to learn how to critically read scientific literature adapted for classroom use to determine the central ideas or conclusions, and in turn, to communicate the scientific and technical information presented.

Overall, the project was a lesson in Lewis Theory, chemical bonding, and organic chemistry that also takes an interdisciplinary approach and allows students to investigate historical events and filmmaking!


Students were assigned to read a chapter from Napoleon’s Buttons (Le Couteur and Burreson, 2003), a fascinating book that explains how 17 molecules affected human history, health, economics, and geopolitics.

From there, they were required to storyboard, film, and edit an informative video synopsis and explanation of their molecule.

At the end of the project, student videos were posted to our online discussion board for viewing, reflection, and conversation.

Instructional Artifacts

Click the link below to open and view the full assignment handout.

Napoleon’s Buttons Assignment

Student Work Artifacts

Below are some examples of student videos. In each of these examples, the content of the video is accurate and thoroughly supported with evidence based on student research and the provided text. The organization of each is easy to follow with an effective introduction to capture the audience’s attention and a conclusion that clearly summarizes the main points. Finally, the visual quality enhances the information being presented, and immense dedication to excellence and creativity is apparent. These videos all received marks within the range of Excellent Mastery (90%-100%). Enjoy!








I believe the lesson, in general, was a success in meeting the objectives and in student learning.

As with any first-time assignment, there are still some small things to correct that could make the project even more impactful. For example, the original time constraint of the video was set from 2 to 3 minutes. Most student groups, however, needed more than 3 minutes to tell their whole story effectively. Also, one month’s time was estimated for completion of the draft and final video. Again, this turned out to not be enough time since  students were required to demonstrate their understanding of chemical structures before storyboarding and asked to consult with the technical advisor for help in storyboarding, filming, and editing. Next time, I would create a different timeline for completion of the lessons and video project that allows students more time for reflection and editing.

Though traditional literacy skills of reading and writing expository text are still important, students today must master a broader set of literacies consistent with the digital age. The design of this project-based lesson lends itself as a tool for teaching those skills as well as chemistry concepts. It also speaks to my professional growth and ability to branch outside of my comfort zone and try something dynamic and daring!

Photo Credit: Tatisjd Photography Flickr via Compfight cc