Time for another week of science. This week, building on the week before, we’re looking at the elements and the periodic table. From this week, I wanted the kids to understand that the structure of the atom (how many protons it has) determines how it behaves and that the periodic table organizes the elements. Some of the things we read and watched talked about the number of electrons helping determine which elements were more reactive and which ones combine, but I thought it was a little over their heads. Mostly, I wanted them to understand that most things around us are made of combinations of elements.
This week offered better book options than last week. First up, there’s a beautiful book, intended for adults, called simply The Elements by Theodore Gray. In case you can’t find the book, this website will give you the gist of it, though the book is worth seeing as well for more depth. I pretty much never buy posters, but I thought the one based on the book was so cool, that I sprung for it from Home Science Tools. Another great take on elements is the Basher Science book The Periodic Table: Elements with Style. The Basher books all come with posters, so this one has the periodic table illustrated with the cartoony element characters from the book. I like the writing style from this one a great deal. Each element brags about their properties. If you’re a flashcard sort of family (we’re not, but maybe you are!) the Basher books are also available as flashcards.
There were several other sets of books for the elements and the periodic table at our library, but these were the best by far. However, we also made use of The Elements: What You Really Want to Know by Ron Miller. As I looked for an image to grab of that one, I discovered a new one that’s not out yet that looked like a promising resource as well called Scholastic Discover More: The Elements.
The elements offers up another week of some wonderful online videos. There’s not a Bill Nye, Eureka or Magic School Bus episode for this topic specifically, but a number of musical options abound. I have to tell you that I was a bit shocked to find out just how many chemistry songs there are out there. Do chemistry students secretly wish they were music majors? I’m not linking most of them, so if you’re interested, I’ll let you go crazy finding them. But a few were worthwhile. First of all, I have no idea why one would want to memorize all the elements, but if you did, this song, which abounds in versions all over Youtube, would probably be pretty valuable. You can even see Daniel Radcliffe sing it… for some reason. And, if you prefer your elements in rap, you can find that too (it’s in the second half of the video). Of course, nothing is as awesome as They Might Be Giants. Honestly, Here Comes Science might now be above Flood and Apollo 18 in the hierarchy of TMBG albums for me now. And this song might be the best one on it.
Of course, if you’re dying for a video about every element, you can find that unmusically as well. The Periodic Table of Videos is a neat resource and each little video tells a story. The host has a hairdo that screams “mad scientist,” which hopefully someone’s kids will appreciate. For our best, most basic introduction, we watched another BrainPop offering on the periodic table. You’ll need a subscription to see that one.
We started with some review, looking at various materials and thinking about how they’re made of molecules. I did the activity I meant to do last week, spraying some icky smelly stuff and thinking about how the molecules disperse through the air. Then we touched oil and soap and thought about what makes the molecules slippery.
Before I can talk about the elements, I have to start by suggesting a number of sites for printables. By far the best printable periodic tables for elementary school are the two found here. One has cute cartoon pictures with a one or two word explanation of where to find the element. The other has a list of uses and materials made with the element. These were so well done in bringing the material to a young audience, I was willing to ignore the blatant use of comic sans. For more general periodic tables, this site has a huge number of options appropriate to little elementary chemists through college students.
We used a very simple periodic table to then do some coloring. I had them color in the different sections – nonmetals, metal and semi-metals (keeping it simple). We took a couple of notes and taped that into our journals.
Then we did the main activity for the day. I made a big, blank periodic table by folding paper into four rectangles and labeling each then arranging them on the table. It did take a little more paper than I probably should have used. Still, it paid off. The kids made a goal of finding 20 things to represent 20 elements. I gave them the books mentioned above for research and let them run all over the house. It took them quite awhile (more than half an hour!) but they kept at it and found things like calcium vitamins, copper cookie cutters, zinc pennies, and other things like a CD, which according to one of the books contains tellurium (who knew?) and some brand new Thinking Putty, which contains boron.
There were also some good discussions, like about the balloon they found. Someone suggested it be put on helium, but it wasn’t a helium balloon, which they figured out pretty quickly. Then there was a lightbulb moment when they realized that if someone blew it up, it contained carbon dioxide, and that must include carbon, right? So they put it on carbon (though it was later replaced with baking soda that didn’t keep getting blown away by drafts). There they are below with the widest picture I could manage of the items representing the elements they found. You can probably notice the can (tin), the pie server (silver), the onion (it has sulfur!), and the bleach spray (chlorine).