My 11 year old son is fascinated with the periodic table, as are his friends. When they come into my high school chemistry classroom, they’re in awe of the huge poster with the chemical symbols for all the elements and they’re always quizzing me on what they are.
In general, students aren’t expected to learn much about the elements in elementary and middle school, but I recommend finding fun ways to introduce them at younger ages. This removes a little of the fear that can accompany students to high school chemistry classes.
Elementary and younger middle school students don’t necessarily need to know much about the elements. However, they are fascinated with trivia of all kinds — my son will spend hours reading “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” or “Guiness Book of World Record” trivia books, eager to learn random facts about anything and everything. If you teach these age groups, you’ve probably noticed a similar trend.
You can combine students’ love of trivia and fascination with the elements in fun ways to help build their interest in chemistry at an early age. Here are some ideas:
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The Periodic Table by Simon Basher
The Periodic Table by Simon Basher and Adrian Dingle is simply written, and my son loves it. It gives a one page synopsis of each element. Perfect for young learners!
Visual Periodic Table
This is an amazing FREE periodic table in picture form that shows common uses of each element in pictoral form. My son has this hanging in his room and it would be a great addition to any classroom decor!
Creative Research Projects
If you have the time and an internet connection, give students the opportunity to research an element. Many high school physical science classes do this, but physical science is not as common any more as high schools move towards putting students directly in biology, chemistry, and physics.
In high school chemistry classes, there is so much curriculum to cover, there is often no time for stopping to spend some time doing these fun projects, so why not do them in middle school?
I have done this project with 9th graders and it was a huge hit. I hung the completed balls from the ceililng in the classroom. There are videos to demonstrate how to put it together – it is not complicated but it makes for a fun project that looks extra flashy for open house!
Depending on the age level, you could change the expectations for what they need to research to put on the element ball. Any time you have students research online, make sure they only write down information for what they understand, instead of copying pointless information that means nothing to them.
For example, if a middle schooler looks up “Carbon” – they will find things like: compounds it’s found in (great!), melting point or boiling point (great!), meaning of its name (great!), and electron configuration (ummmm, what is that?).
Make sure your students know to skip over the information that they don’t understand yet and focus on the descriptions/properties/etc that make sense to them.
Instead of google searches which can lead students to very advanced websites, I give younger students specific websites that I know will give them information that is more at their level for understanding. Some good websites for elementary and middle school students to research the elements are:
Again, all of these websites will include information that your students may not understand yet, so encourage them to filter through to find the facts that they do understand.
Periodic Table Haiku
And, just for fun… here is a haiku written for every element from sciencemag.org. After your students research an element, have them find the haiku for their element and see if they understand it, or if not, ask them to write their own!
Periodic Table Game
This is a game I created to use for students to practice a few basic concepts having to do with elements. Each question is accompanied by a trivia fact about the element. This is a great option for you to use instead of a worksheet to give students a little more exposure to the elements and repetitive practice on some basic concepts.
There are so many project ideas out there – find one that’s interesting to you, and either use it as is or adapt it for your class. Here is one more great project that I love from Science Spot!
If you have the time in your elementary or middle school curriculum, I really challenge you to find ways to introduce students to the elements – they will love it!