First Day of Class

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Students will be able to make observations and come up with questions by doing a Lava Lamp activity.

Big Idea

In order to understand the world around us it is important to make careful observations and ask meaningful questions.


This lesson serves as an introduction to my chemistry class where students are placed into groups, discover what a group is on the Periodic Table, learn about classroom logistics, and perform a Lava Lamp questioning activity.

Because students are preforming an experiment they use Science and Engineering Practice 3: Planning and Carrying out Investigations.

Students are also working on coming up with scientific questions so they are using Science and Engineering Practice 1: Asking Questions and Defining Problems

There are several resources used in this lesson:

  1. For the group activity I use The Elements - The Photographic card deck of the elements.  This resource can be found at many locations including Walmart.
  2. For the lab activity I provide each group:
  • 1 25mL graduated cylinder
  • 1 25mL plus test tube
  • 1 test tube rack
  • Vegetable oil in a dropper bottle
  • bottle of food coloring
  • 1 container with salt
  • 1 scoopula
  • bottle of water


10 minutes

The engage portion of the lesson is found on the first two slides of the PowerPoint.

This video explains how I set up groups.

To engage students in the lesson and get them prepared for the school year I assign them to seats related to the groups of the periodic table.  These names include...

  1. Alkali Metals
  2. Alkaline Earth Metals
  3. Boron Group
  4. Carbon Group
  5. Pnictogens
  6. Chalcogens
  7. Halogens
  8. Noble Gases

This image of my classroom and seating chart spreadsheet shows how the groups are set up.

Once they are in their groups I have them figure out what their group name means using cards at their tables.  I give each group the cards from my Periodic Table of Element Cards Deck related to their group.  For example the Carbon Group gets Carbon, Silicon, Germanium, Tin, and Lead as can be seen in this picture.

The resource The Periodic Table of Element cards can be purchased multiple places including walmart.

In order to make sure that my students are understanding what a "group" is I have students share out their ideas.  I do this by asking for any volunteers who think that they might have what a group is figured out and have them share out.  Some examples of students responses are "A group is one of the columns" or "our cards are all together in the same vertical line". I then give a brief explanation of the idea that a group is a vertical column of elements with similar properties, and tell them that we will learn a lot more about the periodic table, elements, and groups throughout the school year. 

Finally, to get my students pumped for chemistry and elements I play for them the Tom Lehrer's flash animation of the elements which is a great song/flash animation incorporating all of the elements.


20 minutes

After students understand the basics of the periodic table I spend some time going over the expectations for my course.  I do this in several steps:

  1. I give student several minutes to look over the syllabus.
  2. I then highlight a few important parts of the syllabus including the textbook that they need from the library, the binder that they need for my class, and the option to buy a calculator to keep at home. 
  3. I then review some important expectation for my class on slides 3 - 10 of the PowerPoint.  While doing this I point out some of the features of my classroom including where I keep the class binder, where students can get papers when absent, and how to check their grades.



20 minutes

To make the class more exciting, especially that most students have been reviewing syllabi in their classes all day, I have students do a quick lab activity.

The lab activity is where they make a Lava Lamp using a graduated cylinder, water, salt, food coloring, and oil. 

  • The instructions for the activity are found on the last slide of the PowerPoint.
  • I hand out a Lava Lamp Activity paper to each group.
  • The goal of the activity is to get students to begin to work with their groups, perform a simple experiment, record observations, and ask questions.
  • As students work I walk around to ensure that they are making careful observations and coming up with questions that they have about the activity.  This video shows how I do this with my students.
  • This is a copy of two groups papers from the activity.  Notice that they have come up with observations from each step of the procedure and then questions that they have about the scientific phenomenon that is occurring.