Nutrition - Vitamins - and Science
(middle grades)


The first idea associated with a vitamin was not known until about 1910 and it was after that others were discovered and their importance for a healthy diet was found. Later in the mid 1930's the first idea of a vitamin supplement was sold. Before that vitamins were obtained only in the food people ate.

Big ideas, concepts, facts, and outcomes

Life science - Health and Nutrition

Big ideas: Vitamins are an important for a nutritious and healthy diet and it is only recently humans have known about them and how they support healthy lives.

Related concepts and facts

  • Health problems were related to diet.
  • When the diet was changed in certain ways it caused an effect on health.
  • The body needs sufficient nutrients to maintain its health and growth.


  1. Describe the relationships between vitamins and being healthy.
  2. Describe the importance of vitamins and negative impacts they have had on people who have not been able to get sufficient amounts.

Specific outcomes -

  1. Describe consequences of not enough Vitamin A & eye health, Vitamin B1 & beriberi, Vitamin D & rickets, Vitamin C & scurvy, Vitamin B & pellagra.
  2. Describe how lack of certain kinds of food in a diet might cause health issues.

Practice of science and
Processes of evidence, explanations, & models

(How science inquires for understanding: process, skill, methodology, practice)

Science is the practice of making observations, isolating variables based on those observations to establish cause and effect to create explanations.

Health benefits have been achieved as a result of people's collective scientific investigation. Investigations where people were curious about their observations and worked to isolate specific variables to connect a cause to an effect. Information to guide further investigation that resulted in enough evidence to create scientific explanations and models that are verifiable and have predictive usefulness.

Related concepts and facts

  • Observations were made of health problems.
  • Observations can be associated to events that happen before the observable event.
  • Observation of changes can be used to determine cause and effect to create explanations.
  • Scientists observed unhealthy body conditions and assumed their was a foreign object from the environment (germs, bacteria, food eaten, water) introduced into the body that caused the negative change.
  • Ideas relating to different events can be thought of and classsified as variables that have an effect on the event or do not.
  • Variables that effect an event can be labeled as causes of the event.
  • The event can be thought of as the effect.
  • When a cause and effect is assocated with a variable a controlled experiment might be set up to see if the identified variable will have the same cause and effect, or is repeatable.
  • When a cause and effect is identified it may point to an explanation, but it usually is only part of the explanation or model of what happens during an interaction. It may describe something that is necessary, but maybe not sufficient.
  • Explanations need to go beyond this caused this to happen and explain why.


Describe scientific investigations as based on observations that link cause and effect to variables that are verifiable and lead to explanations as to why the event happens and models with predictive usefulness.

Specific outcomes -

  1. Describe how scientists used observations of a health problem to relate cause of poor health and good health to nutrition and diet.
  2. Describe similarities of certain medical conditions.
  3. Describe how lack of certain kinds of food in a diet are used as variables or causes and linked to health issues as effects.
  4. Identify how adding certain foods to a diet was a change in variable that could be used to identify a cause and effect relationship.
  5. Identify how a cause and effect relationship can lead to explanations and models.
  6. Describe specifically for example the medical problem of rickets, variable that was missing in diet, how variable was changed in diet, related cause and effect, and eventual the discovery of a vitamin, vitamin D led to a generalizable explanation and toward the development of a model for the cause of rickets.
  7. Repeat number 6 for Vitamin A & eye health, Vitamin B1 & beriberi, Vitamin C & scurvy, Vitamin B & pellagra.

Perspectives of science as historical consequences
Scientific ideas are developed over time to improve life

Health benefits have been achieved as a result of people's collective scientific investigation over time and their willingness to share results.

Related concepts and facts

  • Scientific study is a process that develops over time and is aided or hindered by the quality of communication.
  • Studying about the discovery of vitamins can show how science has been practiced through the course of time or history.
  • Sometimes when people make discoveries they share their results.
  • Some results are more widely shared than others.
  • The range of sharing helps or hampers the communication of ideas.

Outcome - processes - evidence, models, & explanation

Describe scientific change or progress as happening over time with investigations and the consequences of sharing results and how those results are communicated.

Specific outcomes -

  1. Describe science as based on a history of discoveries.
  2. Describe how scientists collectively and over time used observations to related unhealthy situations as being caused by lack of certain vitamins.
  3. Describe examples of how scientist commuication were beneficial and were not.
  4. Describe how it took years for scientist to link ideas related to health and sickness to vitamins.

Activity Squence to provide sufficient opportunities for students to achieve the targeted outcomes.

  1. Focus student's attention on vitamins by having them record their vitamin intake for a day.
  2. Historical research. In groups have students read an article about the discovery of a vitamin and report to the class.
  3. Students summarize the importance of knowing about vitamins and healthy diets.

Pedagogical ideas by Justin Boeve and Kerri Penne

Scoring guide suggestion

Low level: Describes vitamins as necessary for healthy lives.

Middle level: Describes vitamins as necessary for healthy lives and can identify three or more and the positive impact they have on health. For example: vitamin D strong bones, vitamin C fights infection, ...

Upper level: Describes vitamins as necessary for healthy lives and can identify three or more and the positive and negative impacts they have on health. Described how humans had to discover how vitamins were isolated from certain foods and found to have positive effects on health.

Top level: Describes vitamins as necessary for healthy lives and can identify three or more and the positive and negative impacts they have on health. Described how humans discovered how vitamins were isolated from certain foods and found to have positive effects on health and described at least two examples of diseases that can be prevented by vitamins and how that information was discovered. For example: Vitamin D rickets, Vitamin A night blindness & eye health, Vitamin B1 beriberi, Vitamin C scurvy, Vitamin B pellagra.


Exploration Activities:

Focus question - Who discovered or invented vitamins?

MaterialsThe great vitamin mystery. by Martin, M. (1974). National Dairy Council and information on Vitamins and Food sources

Materials: List of questions for history reading Objective:

Suggested procedure:

  1. Ask question, "Do the foods that you eat provide all the vitamins you need?"
  2. Lead the discussion to the conclusion they might be able to tell if they are getting an appropriate amount of vitamins for healthy diet by comparing what they eat to information for recommended daily allowances found in food charts.
  3. Pass out the information or use electronic sources that have different foods with recommended daily allowances for different groups of food and nutrients.
  4. Have students list everything they ate the day before.
  5. Use charts to record the nutritional value of each food item students ate on a running percentage chart for at least one vitamin. Or enter the data in a nutritional data base that will calculate this information.
  6. When the information is recorded have students review their chart to determine whether or not they are receiving the required amounts for the vitamin and any other category they might have charted, based on what they ate.
  7. Have students share their results with a neighbor.
  8. Discuss if they are maintaining a healthy diet for that vitamin...
  9. Explain one day probably doesn't provide an accurate representation and it would be better if they would keep track of what they eat in a week's amount of time.
  10. Ask if they would like to do this.
  11. In addition or instead students may want to keep track of their calorie intake per day and throughout the week. Students will take their data and will determine whether or not they are consuming a healthy diet.

Transition to history of vitamins part of the investigation.

  1. Tell students that people haven't always known about vitamins. Therefore, the didn't know that a lack of a particular vitamin might cause serious consequences. In fact before the mid 1930's no one knew vitamins existed.
  2. Ask them if they think you made that up to see if they were listening or if it is actually true.
  3. Ask if any on knows about the origin of vitamins or how vitamins were discovered.
  4. Explain to the class that today they are going to look into the history of 5 different vitamins and how they were discovered.
  5. Divide the class into at least five groups.
  6. Assign each group a different vitamin to research.
  7. Pass out the list of questions to find in their history reading.
  8. Students research the history of their particular vitamin.
  9. Students will explain the history of their vitamin briefly by explaining to the class the answers to the questions on the lab notes below. Allow each group to share and possibly write responses so everyone can see them.
  10. Have the class summarize the importance of how we understand ideas today are related to what people have done in the past.
  11. Discuss the idea that many things are created and invented years before our time and things continue to change, scientists find new and more interesting information about certain things and they evolve into bigger and better ideas or understanding.



Focus question - What are other discoveries that have the same kind of pattern as what was discovered in about the discovery of vitamins?

Suggested procedure: Discussion and research


Lab Notes

Vitamins in my diet

Investigation question
What percentage of vitamin _________ did I get yesterday?


Set up

  1. Select a vitamin to determine if you had the recommended 100% yesterday in your diet.
  2. List all the foods eaten in a day.
  3. Use food labels or a database that has the percentage of the vitamin you are targeting.


Selected vitamin in my diet:


List of foods eaten yesterday and write the percentage of the vitamin in each as you determine from labels or database:

Possible databases:


For each percent shade or color one square for each percent or one row for each 10%. If you fill the entire chart, that means you had 100% of the vitamin.


What did you discover?


What conclusions can you make?


Vitamin discoveries across time...

Investigation question
How was the vitamin _________ discovered?
What is the story about ___________?


Set up

Read about a vitamin, find and write about the following information to prepare for a class presentation.

  1. Describe the observed unhealthy conditions of the people.
  2. Describe the diet of the unhealthy people.
  3. Describe the addition to the diet of the more healthy people.
  4. Describe how the idea of vitamin was related to what was missing.
  5. Write a cause and effect explanation for the disease.
  6. Describe an explanation or model of what happens in a human body related to this vitamin.
  7. Explain how the combination of several investigations lead to an explanation of what was happening in the body that could be verifiable and have predictive value.
  8. Explain how the combination of several of these discoveries was historically important and lead to the idea of vitamins as something that was beyond one plant or specific food and related to multiple possible unhealthy conditions.
  9. Describe how communication affected the rate of these discoveries.



Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes &