You taught them metals vs nonmetals. You taught them to name ionic compounds. You taught them to name covalent compounds. But, now when it comes to putting the big picture together everyone just got lost.
A lot of the time we teach all of these concepts separately. But, why not emphasize the differences to help students remember?
In fact, I have a doodle note set that explains this concept side by side.
If the number of protons, neutrons, or electrons changes, it changes the properties of the atom in a major way.
#1 Changing Proton Number
If you change the number of protons, you completely change the element.
Each element has a certain number of protons. If sodium gained a proton it would become magnesium.
Obviously, it’s a little more complicated than that, but you get the picture. Tell students to leave protons alone.
(By the way, if you are looking for a color coded way to teach finding protons from the atomic number, read this blog post.)
#2 Changing Neutron Number
If you change the number of neutrons, you create isotopes. Isotopes are basically just lighter or heavier versions of an average element.
In fact, the way we calculate the mass number of a given element on the periodic table is to average the light, medium, and heavy versions of that element.
#3 Changing Electron Number
If you change the number of electrons you create ions. A loss of electrons is going to lead to an anion. A gain of electrons is going to lead to a cation.
If you are teaching this principle to your students, make sure they know that most elements tend to form either a cation OR an anion. Not both.
Well, unless you are hydrogen, but he’s “special”.
Subatomic Particles Matter
After explaining all this to your students they will see that the smallest change, or mistake as it is likely to be, will change the whole atom.
It also really helps students to see this principle side by side because many times on tests we ask them what the lost of an electron will do to an atom of Na.
One of the options is usually isotope, so this helps clarify the concept so that your students are better prepared for those concepts.
Here is a link for those subatomic particle doodle notes.
I like to say that I teach demographic-based chemistry. When I begin teaching a new set of students I look at the area I live in and assess the demographics of those students. When I first started teaching I was teaching in a RURAL area, where government subsidies where high and the value of education was low.
Because of that experience, I decided I didn’t like the atoms first approach. (If you don’t know what atoms first means, just click here for the atom’s first summary blog post.)
Here’s why I don’t teach atoms first.
#1 It Terrifies Students Who Were Already Scared
Students go into chemistry hearing horror stories about how hard it is. Nothing confirms those nightmares faster than starting them off within the first 2 months by teaching quantum chemistry.
The deep secrets of the atom are fascinating for those of us in chemistry and physics. But remember, we are trying to 1) provide a general education to help that student be a productive member of society and 2) spark an interest in science.
If we start them off with deep intricacies of completely intangible chemical topics, you lose half of your chemistry class without even trying.
Think about it. Electron configuration, spdf, and orbitals have no practical application for students. They see an epic waste of time unless you are going to college or going to be a physical chemist.
#2 It Doesn’t Put the Most Practical Chemistry First
In my opinion, students need to learn the most practical chemistry first. Topics that will be 1) familiar and 2) things they can use. So, teaching them to name compounds is very practical.
I want my students to be able to go home and read the back of the shampoo bottle and say to themselves, “It looked scary before chemistry, but now I know that sodium chloride is just table salt.”
This prevents them from becoming ranting and raving lunatics on the internet about chemicals that really might not be all that bad.
#3 It Hasn’t Been Widely Tested in Non-University Classrooms
The papers I was able to read about why the atom’s first theory became popular was based on implementation at the university level in California.
That was a completely different academic level and demographic than you and I are teaching.
#4 Teach a Demographic First Chemistry
Take a second to think about your students. Think about their background. Are they financially stable? On government subsidies? Did their parents attend college? Does the community value education?
When I started teaching I developed a lot of my resources for students who grew up in low-income areas, who’s parents probably didn’t have a college education, and who’s community didn’t see the value in education.
When you take that type of background into account, it is easy to see why many students give up. They hear about these orbital things that are inside an atom somewhere that you have to put electrons in. Or maybe it was a shell? Subshell? Oh well….The next topic might be easier, they think.
Teach for YOUR Students
Above all, teach to your students. If you are a mainly a physics teacher who got stuck teaching chemistry this year, then yeah, I get why you might teach the atoms first approach with all it’s physics concepts that come first. Just remember, this is chemistry, and though they overlap, students should leave your classrooms at the end of the year knowing chemistry is practical, useful, and not scary.
Play around with the order of what you teach when. Imagine your students understanding chemistry more than ever. Of course, I believe that comes from teaching more traditionally, but I’ll leave the final word up to you.
Want to stay in touch? Sign up here for my email list and learn more about teaching chemistry.
My students like steps for everything. I like steps for things when I’m learning too. Can’t blame them!
Use these steps, or check out this worksheet, for helping students understand how to get the info about protons, neutrons and electrons out of an element.
#1 Know Your Atomic Number
Make sure your students know where the atomic number is and what it is.
It is often confused for the mass number. I like to use this worksheet to clarify the difference, but you can just explain it to them or have them illustrate why they are different.
I tell my students that the atomic number is the smaller number and it is just protons. They like short and sweet definitions.
#2 Know Your Mass Number
Tell them this number is always the bigger number because it has neutrons and protons included in it.
Emphasize to the students that mixing these numbers up is one of the major causes for losing points on the test. That will get their attention.
#3 Define the Calculations
When I have a class of students that gets confused on which number to subtract, that’s when I draw out the difference and show them the difference in atomic number and mass number. Subtracting them backwards wouldn't give any information!
Once they see that the protons are what is canceling out and you are just left with neutrons, it really seems to help those students who need to know why, why, why we need to do that.
#4 Explain the Calculations
I use a cheat sheet like this to color code and lay out how to calculate protons, neutrons, and electrons.
If you have read some of my other blogs, or bought my stuff on TpT, you know I like to color code. Notice on here positive protons are yellow to stay on theme. Plus, it is a nice subtle clue for students.
If your students understand atomic numbers and mass numbers they will be able to figure out protons neutrons and electrons.
As I mentioned earlier, this worksheet is amazing for that. Plus, if you have more advanced students, just use it as a hand out.
If you would like homework or class work for your students to find protons, neutrons, and electrons, try out this worksheet. It is more for practice than the other worksheet I sent you to earlier.
Your students will thank you for giving them a quick reference to remember how to calculate protons, neutrons, and electrons when they are prepping for the midterm exam.
Nothing is more confusing to students than the difference in a shell, subshell, and an orbital. Except for maybe how the brain of the opposite sex works.
But that is a topic for another blogger!
However, I can help you explain the difference in a shell, subshell, and an orbital without breaking a sweat.
Have you heard someone explain polar molecules and not understood it? Yeah, sure, you understand the polar molecule part. But polar in the context of nonpolar starts to get more fuzzy. Then you look at an example problem, and you think, "Well I know that is nonpolar, but I can't tell specifically why, but my gut says 'Nonpolar!'".
Let me explain how I teach this to my students and how I think you should explain it to your students for very easy understanding.
What is Polar?
There are two ways you can talk about polar molecules with your students: through “poles” or through electronegativity.
Most teachers will choose to use the “poles” explanation for beginner chemistry students or college prep courses. For more advanced chemistry students taking honors, AP, or IB chemistry, teachers will probably choose to use the electronegativity explanation.
Both are valid explanations, but the electronegativity explanation is a deeper explanation that allows for more understanding, but can be overwhelming for beginning chemistry students.
When introducing polarity through poles explain that there is one positive end and one negative end. Most teachers start out by drawing out a water molecule because it is very familiar to students. On the oxygen, draw out the electrons and put a minus sign to indicate that it has a partial negative charge. On the hydrogens, put a plus sign to indicate that they have partial positive charges.
It is that "polar opposite", where there is one end positive and one end negative that makes a molecule polar.
What is Nonpolar?
A nonpolar molecule is a molecule that doesn't have two distinct charge sites.
However, when you talk about this through the lens of electronegativity, you can see that there is some difference in charge throughout the molecule, but it is very small. That’s when many teachers use an electronegativity chart to determine degree of polarity.
Again, many teachers only discuss the electronegativty portion of this topic with their more advanced chemistry students.
Stop Saying "Cancel Out"
The one thing you can do to increase student understanding, is to stop saying "cancel out". When the phrase "cancel out" is used, the image that comes to mind is a left to right cancellation, or a top to bottom cancellation. But, often your students are thinking of the actual shapes of these molecules and it is hard to understand caddy-corner charges canceling each other out.
Instead, simply explain to students that a polar molecules have one single positive end and one single negative end. Anything different should be labeled as nonpolar at the most basic level. Of course, if your students are more advanced, or mathematically inclined, have them use the electronegativity chart.
You may have been handed a textbook, curriculum, or nothing. They said, “You have a science background, right? We need you to teach chemistry”. So, you taught it.
Then, you came across some person who asked you how you taught or how you felt about atoms first versus traditional chemistry. And you sidetracked the question until you could get on Google and stumble on this article.
So here is the low down on atoms first.
It Starts Similar to Traditional
Both the traditional and atoms first approach to teaching begin by teaching some form of measurement, SI units, classification of mater, and significant figures depending on state standards. The last thing taught with both approaches is elements and atoms. Usually, some discussion of protons, neutrons, and electrons happens.
Diverges after Protons, Neutrons, and Electrons
The atoms first approach believes at this point we’ve talked about protons, neutrons, and electrons, so why not take this opportunity to dive into the secret structure of the atom.
Depending on your state standards this may include Lewis dot structures, beta decay, alpha decay, and other nuclear chemistry topics. It may also include quantum numbers and electron configuration.
Begins Periodic Table
After covering the miniscule details of the behavior of the electrons, the atoms first approach goes on to teach the layout of the periodic table, ion formation, naming chemical compounds, writing chemical formulas, balancing chemical equations, and so on.
It boils down to tackling the unseen, deep chemistry earlier rather than later.
Atoms Come First
So, atoms come first in the atoms first approach. The point is to teach the minute intricacies of the atom before you teach even the periodic table.
In short, you dive deeeeep into chemistry going all the way into the secrets of the atom then you go back to surface level topics like the periodic table and how elements combine. Then the topics just keep building like traditional chemistry.
My question to you is, “Is it more important for your high school educated student to go into the workforce knowing how to write an electron configuration or to know what solvents would work best to get a stain out of their shirt?”
I’ll bet you teach your students the layout of the periodic table by having them color code the group names, right?
It is an effortless lesson to teach and grade. Students love it because they remember the content easier. But, why stop there?
There is so much more you can teach students through color coding the periodic table besides the alkali, alkaline, and transition metal groups?
Let me show you deep concepts that you can teach your students about chemistry buried in the periodic table. You can use color-coding to teach bonding principles, electron behavior, and many other foundational chemical principles.
The periodic table was laid out with careful consideration for trends, behaviors, and characteristics. Bring those properties to a vibrant, 3D life with these lessons.
Some of these lessons require specific colors. Others are open to your interpretation. Instruct your students to color-code however you see fit.
#1 Color Code to Learn the General Layout
Have students color alkali, alkaline, transition metals, halogens, nobel gases, metaloids, lanthanides, actinides, all different colors.
Make sure they color AND label the metals. I find that the remember more that way.
Pick up my fun periodic tables for free here to use with this lesson.
#2 Color Code to Learn Cations and Anions
In the CoScine Chemistry World, happy, positive things are sunshine yellow, and since protons are positive, they are obviously yellow.
The opposite is also true.
Sad things are blue, and since anions are negative, they are definitely blue.
Based on that color scheme, have your students color code a periodic table blue and yellow based on each element’s tendency to form a cation or anion.
The best part about this activity is that it subconsciously lays the foundation for writing chemical formulas correctly. For students, subconscious learning is the next best thing to learning by osmosis!
#3 Color Code to Learn Electron Configuration
Students get confused on what to write down for an electron configuration. Have them color code a periodic table for electron configuration and use it as a cheat sheet to simplify the process for them.
Color all checkpoints (aka. filled subshells like 1s2, 2p6, etc) checkered because it tells the students to keep reading the periodic table. Color all locations red because it means stop and write the complete electron configuration.
Color code an electron configuration sample so that students know how to use this electron configuration periodic table.
For example, in this picture we would have 1s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p6 4s2 3d10 4p6 5s2 4d10 5p6 6s2 5d10 6p3. The last space would be a location and it is colored red. The other spaces would be colored checkered.
#4 Color Code to Learn spdf Blocks
Have students color the s block, p block, d block, and f block. Anytime my students and I color, I also have them label as well. Explain to the students that the reason we color is to trigger memory recall later of the labels and information. We aren't coloring for the sake of coloring. That really helps them see the purpose of these activities.
For the orbitals, I have them draw the associated orbital shape, how many electrons each orbital can hold, and label each color with an orbital letter.
Just because you are coloring doesn't mean you can't raise the bar.
#5 Color Code to Learn Bonding
Once students have color coded metals, metalloids, and non metals, they can use the color coding system to quickly decide if a compound has an ionic or covalent bond(<---Great blog post on hacking this).
Have students draw a gray square next to a gray square and label it a metallic bond. A red square next to a gold square and label that a covalent bond. Draw two red squares and label it a covalent bond. Last, I have them draw a gray square next to a red square and write ionic bond.
They love to use this as a cheat sheet throughout the year.
#6 Color Code to Learn Periodic Trends
This one is really fun and very visual. Students pick one color per trend and color the periodic table according to that trend.
I like this because one corner will be very dark and the opposing corner much lighter. You can differentiate this and make it more challenging by requiring students to color in exceptions.
#7 Color Code to Learn Charges
When beginning to learn the periodic table, students need a visual reminder on which groups have which charge.
Here I've given positive and negative 1, the color red. Positive and negative 2, the color orange. Positive and negative 3, the color yellow. Positive and negative 4, the color green.
So as long as you have your students label the left side of the periodic table positive, and the right side negative, your students will be good to go.
Now that is a lot of periodic table coloring ideas! Try them out.
Imagine how much fun your students will have coloring the periodic table these different ways. Not only are these lessons very memorable, but they are very low prep and easy to assess. They will make learning these lessons so much easier for your students and we all know when learning is easy on students, it is easy on us teachers!
Plus, now your students will have a whole booklet of periodic table references they can use at any time.
Go sign up for my free resource library and get those periodic tables for free. Of course, these lessons work with any periodic table so feel free to use your own.
If your students just aren’t getting the more mathematical approach (aka, crossing charges), maybe try a different tactic.
Illustrate for them WHY we balance charges.
Everyone loves a good hack. Especially students and teachers. Imagine your student’s delight when you teach them these two shortcuts.
They will know that your purpose is to make learning chemistry easier on them.
Read on for the sanity saving tricks.
You can teach them through lecture and PowerPoint. But, maybe you want to mix it up? Maybe you want to put a little spice in your classroom? Maybe make the polyatomic ion list a little easier to memorize?
After all you gave them the list and asked them to learn it before the quiz-and then nothing happened.
Do I have a plan for you!
Yeah, sure. You can teach quantum chemistry like you always have. I did.
You can stand at the front of the classroom and explain about the location of an electron, how it is oriented in space, and the probability of finding it at a given time.
You can explain with no diagrams or some of the traditional, hard to understand diagrams.
You can say, "If you are in the s orbital there is only one option for l and also for ml. That should be obvious based on it being in the s orbital."
Or you could really break the topic down into tangible, bite size pieces for your students. You could make students SEE quantum chemistry easily. (#DoodleNotes are awesome for this)
Imagine quantum chemistry with bright colors, simplified instructions, and specific illustrations that inspire understanding.
Now, that sounds amazing!
In our slide drenched classrooms where we post our PowerPoints and Prezis to our Google classrooms, students always have access to our notes. So, students think that they do not need to take notes since they have constant access to information. Some of my students have even said they have teachers that say not to take notes because they can get it online later.
I haven't investigated, but I hope that isn't the case.
I was helping a student this week and I said, "Let me see your notes and I'll show you..." What I was saw was a bunch of scattered words on a piece of paper with no cohesion and thought process behind them. We harp about taking good notes, but let me ask you, have you ever taught a class how to take notes?
I haven't until now. Do you want to know what I learned?
Do your students look at you like you’re speaking gibberish when explaining a new topic in chemistry?
Do you get no response when you say, “Any questions?” at the end of class? If is your classroom some days, it’s time to grab your uninterested student’s attention.
It is so frustrating when you have spent 50 minutes explaining a topic and get crickets. I know.
You think, “Did I explain it right? Did they just not listen? Should I have done more practice problems?”
No, they are bored.
Have you thought about how far out of their world some topics in chemistry are? For some students, we might as well be explaining rocket science.
Rock their world by trying one of these fun tactics and see your students become sponges in your classroom.
Yes, you may have occasional rowdiness (especially with #7), but they will be engaged.
And that involvement is what we all dream of seeing in our classrooms.
When you teach molar mass, do you just throw up example problems? Or, is there a strategy behind the examples you choose?
There isn't a right way to teach students how to calculate molar mass, but there is definitely a wrong way! When you are choosing your examples, make sure that there is a reason behind that example.
Start with a simple example and then build ideas onto that example. Don't just jump in with a polyatomic ion containing compound and think that students will instantly understand molar mass if you just explain it really well. (Pssst....I did that!!!)
So, if you can't start with a polyatomic ion, what type of problem is good to start with?
Students don't know the basic "chemistry language" when they start the class.
When you teach biology or anatomy or physics student already have a basic working knowledge of plants, and bones, and gravity. But chemistry is built on a table that they don't know and a lot of concepts they've never heard of that they need to master fairly quickly. This is why I color code as much as I can.
Many high school courses don't have time to go over formal charge, so you may need a refresher.
This is a complimentary post in order for you to understand more about the azide ion. To check out the ionic/covalent worksheet where this ion was introduced click here, or read the blog post of frequently asked questions here.
The problem: Sometimes an azide compound might look like a nitride compound at first glance!
I have a coloring worksheet that many middle school and high school teachers use to introduce or review ionic and covalent compounds. It's great because students color metals gray, nonmetals red, and polyatomic ions blue. This gives them a visual reinforcement that ionic and covalent compounds aren't just randomly established. There are rules. Using colors just makes it a little more fun! However, I get a few questions that come up on a regular basis that I'd like to clear up here.
I think the nitride ion has the wrong charge...
The Problem: Students can't tell the difference in superscripts and subscripts when they learn to balance equations.
My solution is to teach this topic visually!
When I first started teaching, I'd look at the book that I was teaching out of and cut out several examples. My thought was that I would save time because once I had shown them the concept they should be fine, right?
Not so right.
Each of the examples in a book or lesson plan is usually teaching a different nuance of the topic. Once I realized that, I tried to accentuate that to my student by saying, "This example is an example of when you have this situation."
So, when I teach balancing chemical equations, I start by showing them a simple balanced equation. Then, we go though and count each atom type.
Then I show them an unbalanced equation.
We go through and count up each type of atom and they see that it is not balanced. Then I ask them how would we go about fixing this.
Usually a student suggests changing the subscript and at that point I draw this out to the side. I explain how the 2 subscript is explaining that the hydrogens come as a pair.
Next I ask what would happen if we had two of the NH3 Molecules instead of 1. First, I draw it. THEN I write it.
They usually see that the Nitrogens are now balanced and the hydrogens are not. I ask them how we could use math to turn 2 hydrogens into 6.
We usually get to an answer of 3 sets of 2 pairs of hydrogens. At this point I have them count on their papers and tell me if it is balanced.
The last thing I do is I write out the equation again with subscripts one color and superscripts another color. This leads us into the point that superscripts and subscripts are different and you can't just change superscripts into whatever you want.
Superscripts do not have Superpowers!
Hope that helps. If you'd like the free worksheet that goes along with this click here. There is a more involved($3) worksheet that is 3 pages and differentiated in levels here.
The Problem: All science teachers have a budget, and chemistry doesn't taste good.
Yup. I said it. We all have no money for labs. We often spend our own money for labs. But, what if we spent less and everyone got something out of it? So, even if you have to spend your own money you and the students get something tangible AND practical out of the lab. I'm talking about cooking with chemistry.
The Problem: Students can't see chemistry
I’ve been working with color memory techniques for seven years in the classroom and the question that I see come up over and over is, “What is color memory?" and "How do you use color effectively in your high school classroom?” I’m going to answer that question today.
When I got my first job out of college working as a lab tech I kept messing up the order of clear solvents that went into a process. I fixed my problem by color coding the labels on the solutions. Then, when I moved further into teaching and students would have a problem understanding a concept, I would use highlighters or color pencils to diagram concepts. I began to notice that I solved problems through color coding. I decided to further apply some of these techniques to my teaching, and it really helps students grasp concepts easier.
The Problem: Sometimes you get a class that will not behave.
If you are reading this, you have been there, or maybe you are right in the middle of it right now. If so, I'm sorry and I completely understand! At the beginning of my 3rd semester teaching, I was assigned this new curriculum that was going to change the world of math and solve all student problems with learning math. It was going to be a miracle.
It was a disaster.
But, it wasn't a total loss. I learned about the red folder trick.
There will be a lot of people who disagree with me-and that is okay. Different things work for different teachers. This is how I establish authority and style in my classroom. The number one way to catch and maintain authority in the classroom-is to prank the students on the first day of class.
Now, hear me out. I've tried it your way.
"Hi, I'm your teacher for Intermediate Algebra this semester. Please take a syllabus and pass the rest back. I expect you to read this in your own time. Lesson 1...."
Three minutes into it and they start asking if I really am the teacher.
"Are you old enough to teach this class?"
Nope. I'm not doing it that way again. I let 'em sit there.
It's 8:55 and the teacher isn't here yet.
It's 8:59 and the teacher isn't here yet.
When building a tutoring center from scratch you need to consider a lot of things. First, what population are you serving? Who is your audience? How will you market this tutoring center to students and teachers(yes, you need to market to teachers.)? What is your space? What records should be kept? What forms need to be created? What metrics should be tracked? What curriculum needs will the students need? What social activities should we promote? The list can go on and on...
I’ve been hired to develop a tutoring center for a two-year college. Two year colleges have much different needs than four year colleges and universities. In this post I'd like to discuss 5 things you need to consider when starting a tutoring center.
The Problem: You've never been to college so you don't know what to expect from orientation.
I'm one of the instructors at our college who helps students with their schedules at orientation. I'm always SO EXCITED when a student brings me a list of their classes. I'm like "Eeeeee! This one knows what they are doing!"
But, I've been thinking. These students who are getting ready for orientation don't know that we expect them to have looked over our plan of studies, our course catalogues, and the semester schedules to have already picked out their classes. and this is a problem.
So here is the ONE thing I want you to do before you go to college orientation. First go find the "plan of study", "major map", or your college's version of your roadmap to your 2 or 4 year degree. Go to the college's website and find the link that lays out the classes you must have to get a degree. This is what we call a plan of study.
There is an example of what this looks like here, here, and here.
Now that you know what you have to take, schedule out your next THREE semesters at the very least. This will help you fix any scheduling conflicts now. Pay close attention to courses that are ONLY OFFERED IN SPRING, FALL, ODD, or EVEN years.
That is a thing. I'm not making this up!
In doing that last step you might have needed to go through the course catalogue because you might have seen that you could take MATH 2245 or MATH 1200. Go into the course catalogue and see what you are qualified for or what level of torture you would like to take on. :)
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 are just simple chemistry. These worksheets are hard core science.