This year we are studying chemistry in our science co-op. I’m excited to be teaching this subject to our middle school kids because there are a ton of ways to bring it to life through interactive lessons.
Our first class was all about the periodic table, elements and atoms. To help the kids firmly grasp these concepts, we completed a variety of activities. We started by making our own periodic table (so they could see for themselves how it’s designed) and ended by learning how to show electrons in electron configuration notation.
Understand the Periodic Table by Building Atoms with Candy
One of our favorite exercises was building atoms with M&Ms. Of course the kids loved it because it involved candy, but it also gave them a chance to really dive into the periodic table. I was amazed at how much they learned while working through this exercise. They figured out how to use the table to determine the number of shells an atom has, as well as the placement of the electrons.
Want to build your own candy atom?
- Printed copy of Building an Atom with Candy.
- Access to the periodic table for reference.
- Small round candy divided by color (M&Ms or Skittles work well)
- Pens or pencils to fill out the Electron Worksheet (part of Building an Atom with Candy).
- Pair children up or have them work independently. Each group or student will need a printed copy of Building an Atom with Candy.
- Have them begin by choosing some elements they want to create from the included list. Our students were in groups and they each chose four elements to begin.
- Students should fill out an Electron Worksheet for each atom they build, using the periodic table for reference.
- Give each child or group the Candy Atom Model and three colors of candy. Referring to the periodic table, they should put the electrons (candy) into the correct shells, building a stable atom. For example, Carbon has two electrons in its first shell (K) and four electrons in its second shell (L).
Write out the answers before you begin so you can quickly check everyone’s work. Some atoms are tricky to build.
There are times when there is enough room for all of the electrons in a shell, but you have to move out one to fill the S sub-shell. Why? Again it’s back to the periodic table. Look for what row the element is in to see how many shells you have to fill.
Remind the students that all sub-shells must be filled with one electron before you can pair them up with a second one. No more than two electrons to a room. If they have three, they must go to the next shell.
Don’t forget to download your copy of Building an Atom with Candy.
Have you studied chemistry yet? What did you do to make learning the periodic table fun?