In my 5th-grade science class, we are digging into chemistry. I start the unit by teaching students about the “secrets of the physical universe.” This phrase gets them interested. The next step is to teach them how to use it. It seems complicated, but students are able to accurately find and identify most aspects of elements within one class period. First, we draw a basic diagram of an atom with the nucleus, protons, neutrons, and electrons. Then we label the charges (or lack thereof) and make note of the locations relative to the nucleus (inside or outside). Next, students copy down the following image into their notebooks.
Then we go over those terms, focusing on atomic number (equals # of protons) and how atomic mass is the average mass of protons and neutrons. At this point, there tends to be 10-15 minutes left in class and I pass out the periodic table and tell them that everything in the entire universe is on this piece of paper. Another phrase to pique their interest.
I tell students to find the element with the atomic number 1. Then I ask the whole class to respond to my next question.
Me: “What is Hydrogen’s chemical symbol?”
Me: “Good! How many protons does Hydrogen have?”
Me: “Excellent. What element has the atomic number of 118?”
Me: “Yes! It’s tough to pronounce right? Ok, how many protons does element 118 have?
I would do a few more examples in class, but for this is enough for a blog. I would next talk about how you can read the periodic table like a book from left to right, top to bottom. I talk about how the atomic number and the atomic weight increase from left to right, top to bottom. Then we use the last 5 minutes or so on a no-stakes pop-quiz.
- What is the chemical symbol for Helium? _______
- Copper’s atomic number is 29. How many protons does it have? ______
- What is copper’s atomic mass? _____
- This element has the atomic mass of 118.710. What is its name? _____
- My atomic mass is an odd number between 10 and 20. I have an even number of protons. I am not carbon. What element am I? _____
Then we go over the answers to end class. I tell the students that they will start every class with a periodic table quiz and that I guarantee they will be able to find any element from any clue by the end of the unit. And they do.