You just read that twice to be sure didn’t you? It’s not a lie and it is fun.
It’s crazy. It’s fun. And it is so simple you are going to wonder why you haven’t thought of this before. Get ready to teach quantum numbers with one tangible item that most students have in their kitchen.
...And you already have in your classroom. No need to buy anything.
Sounds too good to be true, but it isn't. Quantum numbers are about to be easy.
Use the Coffee Mug
Let students know that everyone is taking notes today. Have students take out a piece of paper and have them put n, l, ml, and ms along the left side.
Have a big coffee mug and a little coffee mug in your hands. Ask students if anyone has one of these they use at home. You will probably get lots of hands going up or nods of agreement.
Tell students that you want them to think for a second and pick out a coffee mug in their minds that they have at home. Tell students to picture where it is and what it looks like. Also, tell them they must be picturing a coffee mug with a handle.
Now, explain that we are going to describe their coffee mug using quantum numbers.
Teach n With a Coffee Mug
Let them know you are starting on "n".
This quantum number describes the size of the mug or subshell. Tell students to think about their coffee cup at home. Is it big or small? Hold up your two small coffee mugs again. Tell them to write a 0 if it is small and a 7 if it is big.
Students should be writing down what "n" means, but also the characteristics of their mug on their blank notes page.
Have students pick a number in between that feels appropriate if it is medium sized.
Teach l With a Coffee Mug
"l" has to do with the shape of the coffee mug or subshell.
Tell students to write 0 if it is traditional, 1 if it has the shape of an animal, 2 if it is the shape of a person, and 3 if it is the shape of something in nature.
Explain that in quantum numbers we write 0 if the shape is spherical(s subshell), 1 if it is dumbbell shaped (p subshell), 2 if it is clover shaped (d subshell), and 3 if it is one of the complicated f shapes.
Make sure to emphasize to students that they need to have good notes and their own "coffee quantum numbers" after this activity.
Teach ml With a Coffee Mug
Explain that "ml" is the orientation of the coffee mug.
Ask students if the mug is on the counter, in the sink, in the dishwasher, in the cabinets, in their car, or somewhere else.
Tell students to picture the position that their coffee mug is in. Tell them to write -1 if it is upright, 0 if it is laying on its side, 1 if it is sitting upside down.
Explain that this is the same for an electron orbital. We need to know if it is oriented up and down, side to side, or front to back.
Make sure students write that last sentance down.
Teach ms With a Coffee Mug
Last, "ms" has to do with spin and I admit it is a bit of a stretch for coffee mugs to have spin, but tell students to bear with you.
This is why the coffee mug must have a handle. If the handle is to the right it is spin up. If the handle is to the left it is spin down.
Now for the really fun part and the whole point of the activity.
You are going to turn this into a magic trick. Walk around the room and pick up students' papers and describe their mugs to the class. This gets highly entertaining and memorable because you are describing their mug to them through numbers. That's what you are going for, right?
Not only that, but they will completely understand why we use quantum numbers to describe the position of an electron. Because you just described the position of their coffee mug with those same quantum numbers.
Now if you really want bonus points with your students, have them bring in those coffee mugs and you could allow coffee/tea/ hot chocolate for that day. Now that is the most tangible way I can teach you to teach quantum numbers. Doesn’t it seem doable now?
Not only can students actually see this (since you had your coffee mug), but they can relate it to their own lives and understand what all of the quantum numbers mean.
Worksheets that will make teaching this difficult topic easy:
Quantum Numbers Cheat Sheet
Quantum Numbers Digital Activity
Quantum Numbers Teaching Notes
Quantum Numbers Doodle Notes
Quantum Numbers Worksheet
How to Teach Quantum Numbers (FREE)
Hi! I'm CoScine. I write chemistry worksheets for visual learners. They are fun, easy to follow, and most of them are quick to grade. Since I started my teaching career at the college level, these aren't just simple chemistry. These worksheets are hard core science made fun.