It all started with a shower curtain.
Bingham High chemistry teacher Deborah Brown fielded a question last year from a student, asking if she had seen the latest episode of "The Big Bang Theory." Why? Because the televised comedy featured an oddly decorated shower curtain belonging to the character Sheldon containing the periodic table of elements.
"I would've been more impressed if it were a quilt," Brown told the student.
The idea was born. After Brown's Advanced Placement chemistry students completed their end-of-term tests, they celebrated by assembling a periodic quilt with the elements in the correct order. Students contributed their own squares, and each learned about a particular element.
Brown isn't a quilter. But with some advice from fellow Bingham teachers, she and her mother sewed it together.
"As a teacher whether or not you have the skills you run with it to keep kids interested and excited," she said.
In her 19th year in education, Brown has won the prestigious Excellence in Teaching award, a statewide honor given each year to 10 outstanding educators by the Utah Education Association. Brown won $1,500 from the UEA and partner Arch Coal Foundation.
"I'm a little embarrassed," Brown said of receiving attention, "and just pleased to be recognized with all these teachers."
A self-described Army brat who attended high school in Germany, Brown decided to become a teacher when she realized how much she enjoyed helping the girls in her dorm with homework while a student at Brigham Young University.
"I like basically seeing a light turn on in people's eyes when they finally grasp a concept," said Brown, who also teaches biology.
Dawn Kelly, a fellow science teacher at Bingham, said the award was well-deserved.
"She is one of the hardest-working teachers I know," Kelly said. "She's a very tough teacher. When [her students] get up to the University of Utah or BYU or any of these other universities, they're ready for those freshman classes."
Kelly was impressed with the finished quilt.
"I'm jealous. I want her to make one for my classroom," she said. "It was so much fun. Her AP kids had a blast doing that."
The quilt will be permanently displayed at Bingham High.
"Hopefully it will intrigue kids in years to come," Brown said, "and motivate them to take a chemistry course."
Sharon Pitcher, an English teacher at Riverton High, nominated Brown for the award. Pitcher thought Brown would be an excellent representative of Utah's teachers. She holds extra labs after school and is dedicated to keeping her students engaged.
"She's not one who toots her own horn or says 'Look at me,' " Pitcher said. "That's why I think she typifies a lot of teachers: They don't tell people how wonderful they are all the time."
So colleagues toot Brown's horn for her.
"She would never tell you this," began Pitcher, who then revealed that Brown sent money each month for four years to a former student to help him pay for college.
"I thought, 'That's going above and beyond,' " Pitcher said.