Adopt an Element Research Project (Part 1/3)

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SWBAT demonstrate knowledge of elements and the periodic table by obtaining, evaluating and communicating information.

Big Idea

Students "adopt" an element, learn about their element and create a “baby block” cube to display their research.


You are now the proud parent of an element baby! Congratulations on your new responsibility. Being a parent can be really need to understand your element baby, so that you know how to take care of it. Is your baby radioactive? Should you be wearing a protective suit? Is your baby a gas at room temperature? Maybe it needs to be kept in a special container, so it doesn't get away! Maybe your baby is highly reactive! If you know, you can find out what other elements to keep your baby away from.

This lesson is packed full with opportunities to practice science skills such as developing models to describe unobservable mechanisms (SP2) and communication of scientific and technical information in writing and through oral presentations after critically reading scientific texts to obtain scientific information to describe evidence about the natural and designed worlds (SP8).

As students research an element of their choice, they synthesize information related to three performance expectations within the Matter and Its Interactions Core Disciplinary Idea:

MS-PS1-1: Develop models to describe the atomic composition of simple molecules and extended structures.  

MS-PS1-2:Analyze and interpret data on the properties of substances before and after the substances interact to determine if a chemical reaction has occurred.

MS-PS1-3:Gather and make sense of information to describe that synthetic materials come from natural resources and impact society.

Through the practice of obtaining, evaluating and communicating information about an element, students also meet several Common Core English Language Arts Standards for Writing:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-8.2 Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-8.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas clearly and efficiently.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-8.7 Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-8.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.

This project is a research-based inquiry investigation including multiple lessons taught over the span of 1 to 2 weeks. To help manage the magnitude of this project, you will find the project split into 3 parts.

  • Part 1 (this lesson) includes the ENGAGE and EXPLORE components of the lesson; Time: 4 or more 50-minute lessons or equivalent block periods.
  • Part 2 includes the EXPLAIN components of this lesson; Time: 3-5 50-minute lessons or equivalent block periods.
  • Part 3 includes the EXTEND and EVALUATE components of the lesson; Time: 1-2 50-minute lessons or equivalent block periods.


50 minutes

In order to ENGAGE students in this lesson, start with a big "Congratulations!" announcement like this:

After a cryptic announcement like this one, students' curiosity is stirred up. To provide a hint, they watch either (or both) of these videos:

Tom Lehrer's "The Elements" animated

The NEW Periodic Table Song (In Order)

Students share what they think the surprise is. After a few guesses, announce that they are about to become the proud parent of an Element Baby! After the "eews" and "icks" die down, pass out the Adopt an Element Project Birth Certificate and project this photo: Student with Element Baby. Depending on the level of prior exposure to different elements, students may need an experience to explore which element they are interested in. Students view this video with the instructions to watch for an element they would be interested in "adopting" and getting to know better through future research:

118 elements - Periodic Table of Videos

Often, students may want to think about their big adoption decision overnight. When ready, students complete the birth certificate and participate in an "adoption ceremony". Each student receives a small puffball (Available Here) to act as their adopted element and promises to take care of their element baby through better and worse while learning as much as they can about their new bundle of joy.

In the meantime, students are given the Adopt an Element Project Student Instructions (on paper or digitally). Using the Adopt an Element Web-Site, students are introduced to the research project. For more on using web-sites or learning management systems (like Edmodo, Schoology or Google Classroom), this section's reflection is useful: Using Web-Sites to Organize Long-Term Projects. Showing students examples of the final product help them visualize the form their research will take: a "baby block" with research topics on each side:

Completed Element Baby Block - Example 1

Completed Element Baby Block - Example 2

Adopt an Element Teacher Exemplar

By reviewing the Adopt an Element Project Student Instructions together while showing them the exemplars, students will be prepared to start the EXPLORE stage of this lesson.


100 minutes

The EXPLORE stage of the lesson is to get students involved in the topic so that they start to build their own understanding. To help students explore, students use the Adopt an Element Project Note Taking Graphic Organizer to conduct research about their element of choice. This note taking organizer provides students with appropriate structure for sifting through multitudes of sources. In addition to this structure, provision of a curated resource list helps students access useful and relevant sources. Here is a resource list:

Chemicool Periodic Table
Web Elements Periodic Table
Jefferson Lab: It’s Elemental Periodic Table Periodic Table of Elements
Mad Science Interactive Periodic Table
Info Please Periodic Table
Royal Society of Chemistry: Periodic Table
University of South Carolina (won’t work on all browsers)
University of Colorado: David’s Wizzy Periodic Table (won’t work on all browsers)
The Wooden Periodic Table
Periodic Table

As students research, it is important to provide other supports as well:

1) Expectations for technology use. Remind students of norms for digital citizenship (safe searching, access only the assigned sites, refrain from social media).

2) Expectations regarding academic honesty. Cutting and pasting is a rampant form of plagiarism. Students see it as a smart and efficient short cut when doing online research and do not realize it is a form of stealing someone's work. By requiring students to cite sources and type paraphrased research, cutting and pasting can be cut out.

3) Check points for work completion. Monitor progress and/or build in timed checkpoints. Students can easily "get lost" in the research process by "surfing" rather than "scuba diving" on the internet. Remind students about the difference between superficially sifting through sites versus going deeper into the research questions.

With these supports, students complete the research and note taking portion of the project as seen here:

Adopt an Element Notes-Student Work Example 1

Adopt an Element Notes-Student Work Example 2

Adopt an Element Notes-Student Work Example 3