Carver: From Nothing to Amazing


The story of George Washington Carver is one of the most well known of all scientists in the United States. His role in developing a school of agriculture and science for African American students in order to improve their lives is a tale of dedication and genius. Starting with no more than an empty building at Tuskeegee Institute, Carver built laboratories, taught a generation of students and discovered important agricultural practices that would impact the southern United States. This unit engages students in scavenging, like Carver, for materials and supplies, and in inventing uses for various agricultural products.  Full STORY here.

It is important to engage students in the story in order to spark their interest in the unit. Prompt students to ask questions and to note interesting information. You can use questions such as: "What do you find interesting about the story?" "What would you like to know more about?" "What questions do you have from reading the story?" For more information about how students can read the story go to Reading LA STEM StoriesStudents should record observations or questions in a notebook. See directions for the STEM Notebook here.

Select any or all of these processes to learn how Carver used agricultural products to form to new materials and applications:

Learn how George Washington Carver got his start as a teacher. Starting with nothing, how would Carver acquire all the materials he needed to teach science and technology to poor students?

Learn how to remove the protein from milk and make glue. Then test the strength of the glue using a process as a chemical engineer might use.

 Learn how to take a protein, tear it apart, and then put it back together as a polymer.  Atoms, molecules, electric charges, attraction. polymerization, synthesis are concepts broached in this exploration.

 Learn how to remove starch from a potato and to recombine fibers.

SAPONIFICATION Learn how to extract lye and to saponify fat to make soap.

DISTILLATION Learn how to extract alcohol from a mash and use it to extract oils and aromas from flowers.

Using the knowledge and skills above, students can take an unknown agricultural product, such as a sweet potato, corn, or squash and determine if there are potential new uses for the plant.