1 Akibar

Reading Assignments On Atomic Structure

Having some experience in using and creating inquiry activities, I am getting questions from teachers looking for ways to add inquiry to their curriculum. My first tip is to take baby steps. I will continue to blog about ideas to help outline some of those steps. First, I am sharing some inquiry ideas from the last unit I taught in my high school general chemistry course along with providing some ideas for using the resources provided with a subscription to ChemEdX.

My students have already been introduced to the history of atomic theory before they see it in my high school’s general chemistry course. I almost wish they hadn’t been. If you teach high school chemistry, you probably know that middle school texts often encourage a misconception that when we write electron configurations or draw atomic models, every energy level must be completely filled with electrons before we may add electrons to the next level. When my daughter studied atomic theory in her eighth grade science course, she was instructed to create large models of several elements. She showed me a model of copper she had made. It had two electrons in the first energy level, eight in the second, eighteen in the third and then one in the fourth level. I pointed out her error and then taught her about sublevels and the fact that we don’t generally see more than eight valence electrons. She understood and adjusted her models. Then, she came home with a poor homework grade along with a poor test grade. Her teacher followed the letter of the text and refused to adjust his thinking because he relied on the text for his information. I couldn’t make him understand that Amber’s models were actually correct. For this same reason, many of my students try to argue over the idea of filling sublevel 4s before adding electrons to 3d. It takes some convincing to get the students to trust me that in the course of a week, they will have enough information to understand why we can do that.

I start my discussion of atomic theory by assigning individual postulates of Dalton’s theory to groups of students. They read about the history of atomic theory in their texts, discuss amongst their groups and then the groups report if their assigned postulate is valid, invalid or partially valid along with explanations to support their ideas. We discuss the modern electron cloud model, but like most teachers I know, we use the Bohr model in our lessons.

Like many teachers, we review Rutherford’s model and the questions surrounding it. We then see how Bohr used flame tests to support the idea of energy levels. I give my students a chance to perform some flame tests on their own, but I show them more by directing them to Chemistry Comes Alive Volume 7 (subscriber only content, subscription required for access).

We also look at tubes of gas lit up by a power source using a hand held spectroscope. I have found it helpful to direct my students to ChemPages Laboratory Resources that review the background of these tools. In our discussions about “why” the flame tests led to the idea of energy levels, I often refer to the Wintergreen lifesaver demo. Add some inquiry by requiring students to come up with an explanation relating to atomic theory after biting into the Lifesaver. It is worth the effort to find a dark place to take your students to see this for themselves. I provide every student with a lifesaver and take them to the auditorium. I stand with the door ajar to provide light for students to prepare. They face a partner and then I close the door. I wait a few moments for our eyes to adjust and then I tell them to bite down with their mouths open or use a pair of pliers (the latter method requires finding all those pliers and it is much messier).

During this unit, we also use spectrophotometers to expand on the idea of light waves and perform an inquiry activity testing food dyes (to be linked here soon). I direct students again to the ChemPages Laboratory Resources that review the background of the Spectronic 20TM. Using ChemPages has helped me with preparing my students to use both the hand held spectroscope and the Spec20 with less effort than I had devoted before using that resource.

As I alluded to in the first paragraph, I teach my general chemistry students the order of filling the sublevels by providing a list of the order. However, once my students are somewhat proficient at writing the configurations, I incorporate another inquiry activity by providing them with a blank periodic table and instructing them to write the noble gas shortcut configuration for every element in the boxes on the table. I then provide a series of questions to help them discover the patterns that can be seen. I do continue to provide the list of the order of filling the sublevels during the general chemistry course, however I point out to those considering enrolling in Advance Placement Chemistry that they should be able to write the configuration without that list and most can before we are done with the unit. Depending on the level of your students, this may be the perfect time to take away the list of the order. This activity also lends itself to a discussion introducing our next topic, the Periodic Table.

I am looking forward to discussing my unit covering the Periodic Table. I used to consider it one of the dullest topics within my course, but I also thought it deserved more. Considering that the table sums up everything else that I teach, I decided that I had to make learning the material more exciting.

Master of Science in Education student Eric Garay offers a lesson plan for a "people search" as a before-reading activity for a chemistry textbook chapter on atomic structure. He maintains that this activity encourages students to activate and make connections to any prior knowledge they may have on the topic. It also provides social and physical engagement.

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Activity: People Search

I have chosen a People Search as a Before Reading Activity for the chapter on Atomic Structure for several reasons. The first is that this encourages students to activate and make connections to any prior knowledge they may have on the topic. Students will not only be asked to tap into their own prior knowledge but also will be introduced to a variety other students’. This activity also introduces the students to the key vocabulary, people, and topics within the chapter. This will help students locate where this chapter is headed and will help them to better focus and have a stronger sense of purpose as they read the chapter, which are important precursors to truly engage with a text.

What I really love about this activity, though, is that not only does it have educational merit it also provides social and physical engagement. This asks students to get up, move around, and socialize with other students. And since the students are only allowed to use one other student per question, they must talk to a variety of people, hopefully including other students they may not often talk to. Given that this chapter on atomic structure is one of the first in the textbook, it will likely be taught very early on in a chemistry class. Thus, using the people search for this chapter will provide a way early on for students to better get to know each other and help to form a cohesive and close class group, which is so important to creating a safe space in which students can learn and grow.

In practice, after working on the People Search for 10 to 15 minutes, I will ask students to share what they have found and what they were unable to find. This worksheet will not be collected or graded as we have not yet covered the material and this really serves to help the students and myself gauge where they are coming from and where potentially the greatest difficulties in the chapter might be. I will ask students to hold on to these worksheets, as we will come back to them later.


People Search

Identifying Prior Knowledge Topic: Atomic Structure

Instructions: You are to find other classmates who can each answer one of the questions on this sheet. When someone answers your question, have them sign your sheet.

Download worksheets "Atomic Structure" Lesson Plan and worksheets


During Reading

Activity: Read-Aloud / Structured-Summarization Note-Taking

One of the key aspects for success in content area reading is engaging with the text in discipline specific ways. And one way to help students obtain these skills is through teacher read-alouds. I would take a section of the chapter, create an overhead, and while reading it, walk the students through the mental processes I use to make sense of what I’m reading. This would also include showing them how I would use a structured-summarization note-taking sheet. This sheet is heavily based on one created by Shanahan and Shanahan at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In an article on disciplinary literacy, they specifically worked with chemistry teachers and literacy coaches to create a during-reading note taking strategy that, when followed, would help students engage in chemistry-focused reading. This includes focusing on properties of substances and their interactions and reactions. Using this sheet during my read-aloud would not only introduce them to the style of notes, but also help students to notice the nuances of chemistry reading. A read-aloud also provides a more accessible way for struggling readers to interact with the text and content information.

In practice, I would do the read-aloud of a section of the chapter marking notes on the overhead text and verbalizing my thought processes. In addition, I would pass out the chemistry note-taking worksheet and do an example aloud with the students. I would then ask them to finish the chapter for homework and to use the note-sheet to help guide them. I would inform them that for next class, I would be checking for completion of the note-sheet. The students would be encouraged to edit them as we discussed material in class and asked to keep each chapter’s notes to help them to prepare for the larger unit test.


Chemistry Note-Taking

Topic: Atomic Structure

Instructions: As you read the chapter, use the following worksheet to keep track of important people/concepts/terms, their ideas/properties, and their impacts/interactions. One example has been done.

Download worksheets "Atomic Structure" Lesson Plan and worksheets


After Reading Activity

Activity: ‘People Search’ Follow-Up / RAFT

An effective after reading strategy clarifies and elaborates on students readings and asks them to extend and to reflect on this reading. One way to clarify is to look back at their prereading ‘People Search’ activity to see what they were unable to find an answer to and identify any misinformation on it by comparing their answers to what they found in their textbook chapter. An excellent way to extend and reflect on students readings is by doing a RAFT. A RAFT helps to situate the students in their own writing and gives them a chance to look at chemistry in a new way and extend on what they read. In order to do this, students must truly understand what they read in their textbook in order to apply some of this knowledge to a more creative scenario. In this specific RAFT, the prompt situates role and topic already for the students. The audience and form is left for them to determine. Perhaps as students became more comfortable with the strategy I would be able to provide less and less structure, giving them more freedom and creativity. This type of activity provides students a creative outlet in a subject that too often can be considered as solely technically and analytically minded.

In practice, I would ask students to take back out their ‘People Search’ that they had completed the other day in class. I would then ask them to get together with someone next to them and go over and compare their original answers or any they could not find to what they read in their textbook chapter. We would then get together as a group and share some of this newly edited information. After this, I would pass out to students the RAFT worksheet for them to complete. I would inform students that this RAFT would be collected and graded and that the grading would be focused primarily on the accuracy of the incorporated chemical concepts we read and discussed in the chapter. I would also check to make sure they are able to correctly identify their role, audience, form, and topic. After writing, I would ask some students to share their stories or plays with the class.


Chemistry RAFT

Topic: Atomic Structure

Imagine that you are a subatomic particle in a nuclear reaction. Write a short story or play about your experiences. How do you react to the different forces you encounter? What is your opinion of other particles?

Download worksheets "Atomic Structure" Lesson Plan and worksheets

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