A periodic table lesson can be boring because it focuses on facts. We should focus on the application – it’s much more exciting! So, what’s the most amazing application with regards to the periodic table? It’s that it allowed Mendeleev (who first proposed a version of the periodic table that led to development of the modern periodic table) to predict unknown, yet-to-be discovered elements. It was a powerful tool that helped scientists discover new elements (like Germanium). So, how do we teach students to recognize how amazing this aspect of the periodic table is?
Unfortunately, most worksheets and videos used in a periodic table lesson tend to focus on the facts and structure of the periodic table (arranged by increasing atomic number and grouped by similar properties). Projects that require students to research an element aren’t much better. Students can simply regurgitate what Wikipedia tells them. My question when it comes to worksheets, videos, and projects is in the application, namely, where’s the application in all that information? Where’s the excitement that comes from “doing” science and not just learning about science?
Have Students Use What They Already Know
Today, in my first periodic table lesson, I have students develop their own periodic table. Not of known elements. Instead, students make a periodic table of chocolate. Then, they use their crude periodic tables to discover “new” chocolate combinations. It’s a tribute to what early scientists like Mendeleev were tasked with (ie. create an order to known elements) and allows them to apply their tables in the way Mendeleev did. Near the end of this post, you can enter your email to receive a free copy of my instructions and templates (which includes 24 cut outs of chocolate bars and their descriptions) to this activity.
Our Set Up and Notes from the Field
Our activity is simple in its objective and open ended in its execution. Given a set of 24 different chocolate bars (ex. Kit Kat, Toblerone, Caramilk, Aero), students work in small groups to create a single periodic table that must group chocolate bars with similar properties on both horizontal rows and vertical columns. They must also indicate what properties they used to group similar chocolates in specific rows and columns. Refer to sample periodic table of chocolate using 8 chocolate bars as an example of what’s supposed to happen.
The activity is simple because most students at least know the characteristics of each chocolate bar (if not, a description on the templates have been provided). Thus, grouping like chocolate bars together is not difficult for students. And, surprisingly, I’ve never seen two periodic tables to ever be alike because every student uses different characteristics to group and organize their tables. This is where the activity is open ended.
When students are finished organizing their chocolate bars onto their periodic tables, they look to the blanks in their tables. Such blanks can be used to predict new chocolate bar combinations by looking at the groups they are organized alongside (similar to Mendeleev discovering new elements by looking at elements with similar characteristics found in the same group).
Here are some tips if you plan on running the Periodic Table of Chocolate activity with your class:
- encourage students to be creative when it comes to grouping together chocolate bars. This will help classify outliers and bring more critical thinking into their table. For example, we can group Dairy Milk and Aero Bars together because both are pure milk chocolate. But, we can also group them together because they are “breakable” bars (and so are Kit Kats and Toblerones).
- encourage students to leave blanks if they feel no chocolate bar in the set fits the space provided. The 24 bars do not need to make a perfect shape (ie. rectangle or square) with no blanks. Not all the chocolate bars will group perfectly. And, that’s fine. Blanks are opportunities for students to create their own bars.
- there is no size limit to the periodic tables. The only limit is student’s ideas for grouping.
Putting it All Together
The Periodic Table is not just a chart that hangs in a science classroom but an amazing tool as well. Remember, a periodic table lesson doesn’t need to be boring. We just need to teach how amazing its development was. By applying its principles to the simple task of organizing and predicting chocolate bars, we can recreate just how Mendeleev must have felt when he was trying to organize his elements at the time. Click the link below to grab the handouts. You’ll need to enter your email in the box below to get the instructions and 24 cut-outs of the chocolate bars we use in our activity. You’ll also be signing up to get our newsletter as well where you’ll receive other resources we develop in the future.
Until next time, keep it REAL.