About Atoms and Mole Hills

One of the classes I was subbing last week is just starting its chemistry unit and learning the periodic table.



Moles? And … atomic peas?

Moles and atom size are abstract concepts, due to their extremes in quantity and size, that students have difficulty getting their heads around. A few years ago, I had created a page on my Teaching Resource site that helps with visualization of these concepts. My hope is that my page represents atoms and moles in friendlier terms — peas, a more concrete perspective students can sink their teeth into.

Yesterday I shared this page on Twitter, thinking that other teachers would also be studying the periodic table and molar chemistry.

And was I correct. It turns out yesterday, October 23, was Mole Day in North America.



I admit, I never heard of Mole Day before yesterday. Similar to Pi Day, March 14 (3/14) in North America or July 22 (22/7) in the rest of the world, Mole Day celebrates a milestone in human knowledge by matching that milestone to a calendar date (10/23). In this case, the celebration recognizes Avogadro’s Number, 6.02×10^23, the number of unit-entities (atoms or molecules) in a mole. There were even tweets yesterday that Mole Day should be celebrated from 6:02 am to 6:02 pm, only half a day, just like April Fools’ Day in many countries of the world. I like that.

Getting Smart

Last year, I created a Notebook page with Web links to help my students understand the elements in the Periodic Table. It was a simple page; the links were the emphasis. It grabbed my students’ attentions and provided them with dynamic resources from outside of the classroom for either basic or enriched learning.

Update: I had many of the links below, and quite a few more, on the same pages as my Green Pea Analogy when I first published this post. However, I have since moved these periodic table links to their own page to give them the presence they deserve. Visit these pages to learn more about moles and the periodic table, and enjoy.

1. Periodic Table

    In particular, the most useful site is Michael Dayah’s dynamic Ptable in which almost anything periodic and elemental can be learned. I can not recommend this site enough. Similar sites, with less information, are Chemicool’s and Spectrum’s periodic tables.

    For further information on elements, a Periodic Table of Videos offers videos illustrating the elements and their behaviours through empirical experiments. And to show students that no this is not the only periodic table that ever existed, The Internet Database of Periodic Tables shows all the periodic tables ever made from Ancient times to today (literally).

2. Energy States and Orbitals



3. Electron Filling and Configuration

4. Periodic Table Puzzles

5. Music Videos

6. Miscellanea



I thank tweetpmo, who spotted a few errors with my Green Pea Analogy page, most of which I made while trying to simplify explanations or iterate presentation. I have worked to fix these.

Update: Visit my Green Pea Analogy and Periodic Table pages to learn more about moles and the periodic table, and for more information and links on these concepts. I used to have these materials on the same page, but since separated and expanded them. Among other things, they now have student and teacher versions for ready classroom or home use. Enjoy.

This post was inspired by a small group activity I created for the class I was subbing last Friday. My students just did not understand how to balance ions when creating salts, so I abandoned the lesson I was asked to teach on Friday and created a salt creating exercise so I could help student groups as they worked on their puzzles (salt names). I found on Thursday that the one on one attention helped the kids, but there were too many of them to help individually for the time they needed. The students were unanimous in stating that the exercise was helpful. I am glad; I took a risk abandoning my assigned lesson in the slight hope that in the end my students would benefit more by doing this.


3 thoughts on “About Atoms and Mole Hills

  1. I just read a thought provoking post from astronaut Douglas Wheelock about the aurora seen from space.

    I wanted to share this quote from Wheelock.

    [In Space you] … can’t see motion, even in the ‘eye wall’ of a hurricane. But the Aurora is something so fantastically unique. It moves and changes color and shape and form. It literally can look like our planet is a ball of fire in a very dark, empty, and vast sea.

    Your students ask you when is this used in the real world when introducing the elements and periodic table, show them this quote and this post. This is where atoms and ions become beautiful.

  2. Pingback: Atoms scale | Mummyslim

  3. Pingback: Periodic Troubles and Screencasting « Digital Substitute

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