Element Scavenger Hunts

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SWBAT make general observations about how the elements of the periodic table are named.

Big Idea

Do I have to memorize the elements of the periodic table?

The Need for this Lesson

Students need to be able to recognize the atomic symbols of the Periodic Table of Elements. But are flash cards really necessary? If students have multiple opportunities to use chemicals in the table or work with the table itself, than they should not have to memorize the table.

This lesson was inspired by a now archived website, Armchair Chemistry by Eric Streitberger. I have formatted the lab to fit in a journal and modified the text as needed to support the learning of my students.

Investigation Preparation & Summary

5 minutes

This lesson is a foundation piece needed for (MS-PS1-1 Develop models to describe the atomic composition of simple molecules and extended structures.) Students can make better sense of the molecules if they can attach a chemical name to an atomic symbol. Students will critically read through summaries of element name origins to discover patterns in naming conventions. (SP8 Obtaining Evaluating, and Communicating Information).

This lesson is a step towards preparing students for: 

  • Identification an atom as the building block of every “thing”.

  • Understanding that when atoms combine we call the resulting form molecules.

  • Exploring how atoms combine in many many ways to create all of the different “things”.

  • Understanding the structure of atom.

  • How we organize atoms using a periodic table.

  • Modeling of atom using stick and ball.

  • Changing an atoms number of electrons, protons, neutrons.

  • Making connections to the stick and ball model as a pathway to read an element on the periodic table.

  • Learning how to read simple elements on table, and to model with stick and ball structure.

  • Learning a few more complex atoms (not too complex) built off of simple by changing proton, electron, neutron numbers.

Students in Action

45 minutes

As we embark on our journey into chemistry, students are concerned about learning the atomic symbol for the elements in the periodic table. At first glance, very few elements are recognizable and the names appear to be random.

Since many of my students are Harry Potter fans, I share with them this short video of Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) singing the Element Song written by Tom Lehrer.

Students work on this lesson with their elbow partner. 

When students finish the scavenger hunt, we compare answers as a class. We find that there are some variations in the possible answers. As long as students can provide an explanation for their selection we agree as a class to accept their answers.  For instance, you can drive a Mercury and a Neon.

So why am I requiring my students to learn the chemical symbols for elements in the periodic table? In the following video, I explain the rationale for this lesson as well as how students will use the knowledge in my decomposition lessons: Decomposing Sucrose, Decomposing Copper Sulfate Pentahydrate and Decomposing Hydrogen Peroxide.

Connecting the Learning

5 minutes

Students are given the Periodic Table of Element Puns about various elements in the Periodic Table for homework. It is another fun way to get to know the elements without using flashcards.

I tell students that in future labs, we will be working with chemicals and examine the elements in each. Using chemicals, examining chemical equations and referencing the periodic table will help them learn the chemical symbols for many of the most common elements.