What are some interesting ways to teach the periodic table to 10th and 11th grade students?
January 25, 2009 5:54 AM   Subscribe

What are some interesting ways to teach the periodic table to 10th and 11th grade students?

I am about to start a 2 month student teaching placement in a high school chem class, in an alternative high school. The school does not use standardized testing or exams, but relies on projects and portfolios to assess students. (This is NOT a posh suburban school, but part of a city school system.)

I need to do a big unit on the history and structure and utility of the periodic table - and so I am looking for interesting ways to present the material and interesting projects to give to the students.

[This question up for an hour or so and then was lost in Metafilter's recent reboot, but I did see a suggestion to use Tom Lehrer's Element Song in the brief time it was up. Thanks to whoever suggested that!]
posted by chr1sb0y to Education (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You might have them listen to an excerpt from this Radiolab podcast, which has a fun interview with neurologist Oliver Sacks that talks a lot about his childhood fascination with the periodic table, and delves into its history and utility.

of course, that's not going to teach them the periodic table, but it might help with motivation
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 6:47 AM on January 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

You could play a version of BINGO to reinforce the symbols for the names of the elements. Make up cards with the symbols on them and call out the names. Call out "gold" and they'd have to mark the box with "Au" in it.

I was in a chemistry class many years ago and one assignment we had was that we were each given an element to research. There was a basic guide that told us what we needed to find out about it (atomic weight, symbol, occurrences in nature, etc.) and creativity was encouraged. Each day the class began by one or two students doing a quick 5 minute oral report on their element, so by the end of the class we had learned most of the major elements and usually something fun about each one. The instructor had set up the calender in a way that we learned the elements together and in sync with their plans, like all the noble gasses gave their presentations in the same week. I really liked that we each got involved in teaching the class.

There are also tons of great ideas here.

Good luck and have fun!
posted by NoraCharles at 6:50 AM on January 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

How about a periodic table rap? It's on a simple level but fun.

Maybe show a couple and challenge the students to make their own?

More raps here

Or just a song?

This one looks a little pathetic...
posted by kdern at 7:09 AM on January 25, 2009

To demonstrate the structure, rename all the elements and give the students lists of some of their properties and have them organize them into their own table. Maybe leave out or modify a few so they can't work from the shape they already know. Discuss afterwards how their tables compared to each other and to the real one.
You could teach the history by making a timeline as a class. Give each proposed model to a group of students and have them research the key parts of the model and the experiments that supported it and disproved it and what aspects of it are incorporated into our current model. You could even go through the current model and point out when we discovered each aspect of it to show how our model has evolved over time.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 7:31 AM on January 25, 2009

As I recall, my problem with the periodic table (and high school chemistry in general) is that I just didn't get it. All of my teachers attempts to make Chemistry fun were thus frustrating and ineffective. Since then, I've tried to learn something about Chemistry on my own, through wikipedia, etc. So from a student's perspective, I think it would be worthwhile to emphasize the following:

- The electron and the atom are attracted by the EM force.
- They form a stable configuration, which minimizes the energy.
- The Pauli exclusion principle bounds the number of electrons in each shell.
- One can read off the shell configuration from an elements location in the Periodic table.

The key word in the last line is "One", meaning, "not me". So perhaps you could focus on that with the students. Have them do worksheets, write essays, draw pictures of shells, etc. The ultimate goal being that each student can say something specific about the shell configuration of an atom based off its location in the table. I don't know, just a thought.
posted by metastability at 7:33 AM on January 25, 2009


I'd go with a version of Jeopardy, Memory, or Bingo. You win elements as prizes, which you can combine with other student's elements for better prizes.
posted by iamkimiam at 8:17 AM on January 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

I can't believe nobody's mentioned Tom Lehrer's elements song; the linked YouTube video seems to actually be showing pictures of the various elements as they are sung (note: cheesy (& acknowledged inaccurate) "silicon" image may not be the most appropriate thing you'll ever show high school boys).
posted by amtho at 8:57 AM on January 25, 2009

It depends on what your school wants them to know but i would say don't worry about trying to make them memorize the names, weights, ..., focus on the properties and what the table actually means, what makes each row or column special what those properties mean you can do with those elements.

you could give groups of people a column and have them figure out what all the elements have in common and what you can do with something that has that property. than have them present to everyone else and hopefully there will be some demonstration that you can help each group do.
posted by humanawho at 10:09 AM on January 25, 2009

Depending on the size of the class, you could get them to write micro-stories based on each element, a la Michael Swanwick's Periodic Table of Science Fiction. Maybe more Writing Workshop than Physics 101, but it would be a fun, creative way to have them work with the names, properties, and histories of each element in a project more personal (and thus memorable) than a simple song.
posted by Rhaomi at 1:30 PM on January 25, 2009

Another thought: my old high school physics teacher sometimes liked to compare the periodic table to a map. Each element, like a town, was unique, but they also shared basic attributes across regions of the chart. So you've got hydrogen ("boring, cookie-cutter, everyone's the same"), the noble gases ("the rich side of town"), the newly-discovered elements towards the bottom ("the undiscovered country at the end of the world"), etc., etc.
posted by Rhaomi at 1:34 PM on January 25, 2009

Thanks folks - there are some great suggestions here so far. I forgot to also add - a friend of mine in high school memorized most of the periodic table as a big long word (a la big bird in the ab-c-def-ghi... song) - all I remember is something like "huh-hee-li-bee-bik-nof-nee-na-mugh-alsi-pis-co-larr... I may try to recreate that and pull it out one day casually.
posted by chr1sb0y at 3:23 PM on January 25, 2009

Another game could be "which element am I?", reading out a list of properties that slowly identify the element. Things like when it was discovered and by whom, valence, heavier than such and such, lighter than x, more reactive that b, colour as an ion, colour when burnt, atom diameter smaller than y, etc.

Also like the idea of a partially filled periodic table and using the properties of the leftovers to put them in.

Short history of nearly everything by bill bryson and uncle tungston by oliver sacks would both be good for interesting background info.

Websites: videos, periodic table table, stuff.
posted by kjs4 at 9:24 PM on January 25, 2009

Seconding qxntpqbbbqxl...I heard a fascinating interview on CBC with Sacks the other night, which delved into the history of the table and how it was this giant puzzle with missing pieces that chemists puzzled over for years. Very absorbing stuff, even for the non-scientifically-minded.

Maybe you could walk them through those same discoveries, blanking out some information about sections on the table and having them deduce what the properties of the missing element(s) should be, based on the ones around them.
posted by Pomo at 11:28 AM on January 26, 2009

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