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Atomic Evolution

Subject: Physical Science, Chemistry

Grade Level: 9-12

Materials: Computers with Internet access, PowerPoint and Shockwave software, a computer with projector and speakers (though individual computers can be used), markers/colored pencils, paper, and the book Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder.

About: Using PowerPoint presentations, online games, interactive experiment simulations, debate/discussion, online audio recordings, and more, students learn how the concept of the atom has evolved over time

Students complete a portfolio of work, including a drawing/cartoon of atomic models, a lab report about Rutherford's alpha-scattering experiment, and a creative writing piece, as well as other work chosen by the student.

Students learn how scientific knowledge changes and grows over time. They learn through online interactives, classroom and small-group discussions, drawings, creative writing, computer games, PowerPoint lectures, and excerpts of literature. Students become engaged in the material because the ideas are big and every day brings something new to learn and a new way to learn.

This unit is very thought-provoking for students. For example, if atoms are conserved, then the atoms in my body must be as old as the universe itself. I am 13.5 billion years old! And if I am 99.9999% empty space, why can't I walk through walls? Students see that scientific knowledge changes with history and research, and realize that scientific discovery is a process, not an end result. Teachers can simplify or expand many of the lessons for their classroom. Many activities can be used for middle school classrooms, as well as high school chemistry classes. To make things easier, I established a webpage where all materials are links.


Students learn that scientific knowledge evolves over time.
Students learn the basic atomic models: Dalton's model, Thomson's Plum Pudding model, Rutherford's model, and the Wave-Mechanical model.
Students learn to work in small groups to debate, discuss, problem-solve, observe, analyze data, conduct reseach, and develop presentations.
Students demonstrate their knowledge of atomic theory through a variety of activities including drawing, discussion, note-taking, hands-on acitivites, online interactives, and writing.

This link is part of my classroom/course website, and is the main page for all other links. This page includes the PowerPoint lectures, interactive lab simulations, audio recordings of famous atomic scientists, online games (Fling The Teacher, Atom Builder) and more.
This is an optional part of the lesson. This link leads to An Elegant Universe with many clips about atoms and the quantum world. A Strange New World and The Quantum Cafe clips are very good at showing students the complexity of the atom and quantum laws. Students are engaged by these clips and have MANY questions afterwards.
Teachers may want to use a stopwatch for the debate on Day One or other activities.

Students demonstrate an understanding of the structure of atoms.
Students demonstrate an understanding of big ideas and unifying concepts.
Students demonstrate an understanding of the impact of science and the impact of technology.
Students use concepts from Standards 1 to 4 to explain a variety of observations and phenomena.
Students use evidence from reliable sources to develop descriptions, explanations, and models.
Students acquire information from multiple sources.
Students argue from evidence.
Students explain a scientific concept or procedure to other students, and communicate in a form suited to the purpose and the audience.
Students demonstrate scientific competence by completing secondary research.

Day 1: In the beginning...
Students learn about the different Greek philosophies regarding fundamental matter.
Students learn about the atomists, specifically, Democritus.
Students read excerpts from the novel Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder.
Students work in small groups to read and synthesize a particular philosophy, and share their ideas with the class in the form of mini-debates.
Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder (excerpts from pages 30-45) and The Natural Philosophers and Democritus.
Markers/colored pencils and paper
stopwatch or go to http://online-stopwatch.com/
computer with projector and PowerPoint software
Go over Homework 3 about the Greek Natural Philosophers with students reading and giving responses, or have students create a T-chart about Ancient Greek Life vs Modern Life.
Remind students that life in ancient Greece was very different than today (optional - show students pictures of ancient Greek life). Have students discuss some of the differences and how this might change how people viewed their world.
Let the class know about the many Greek philosophies regarding fundamental matter. Give each group of three or four a different excerpt from the novel Sophie's World about a different philosophy. Have all students quietly read and highlight important parts of their excerpt. Next, the groups choose roles and create mini-presentations for their debate. During their presentations, everyone participates: reading and explaining a key quote from the excerpt, summarizing the passage and overall philosophy, presenting a drawing and explaining its connection to their assigend philosophy, and making a final statement as to why their philosophy is the best one.
Have groups present and debate their ideas. Discuss the different viewpoints.
Brief PowerPoint presentation about Natural Philosophers. Go to www.nylearns.org/tredican (Atomic Evolution) and then to Lesson 4: The Natural Philosophers.
Students begin homework.
Students imagine that they are philosophers in ancient Greece, and write a paragraph about their own philosophy regarding matter (or Homework 4: The Alchemists).

Day 2: What is Plum Pudding and what does it have to do with the atom?
Students learn about charges and the discovery of the electron.
Students learn about the Plum Pudding model of the atom.
Students learn how to interpret an experiment/interactive diagram.
Computer with projector (or individual computers), speakers
[optional] Plum pudding or fruit cake or chocolate chip cookies
What does the phrase "opposites attract" mean to you? Give an example.
Talk about Benjamin Franklin and charges.
Look at the interactive site about JJ Thomson's experiment. Go to www.nylearns.org/tredican, then to Atomic Evolution for the Thomson electron experiment. Have students relate their knowledge of how charges behave to this experiment. Guide them to the understanding that the charge of Thomson's experiment must be negative. This charge was named the electron.
Brief PowerPoint presentation about the discovery of the electron. Go to www.nylearns.org/tredican, and then to Atomic Evolution to Lesson 10: The Story of the Electron. Discuss the idea of Plum Pudding (maybe compare it to a chocolate chip cookie). Optional: Bring in plum puddding, fruit cake, or chocolate chip cookies to help students visualize this atomic model. I like to discuss how scienctists frequently use everyday objects as a way to understand new information. I ask students what they think the JJ Thomson model would have be called in modern American times.
Listen to a recording of JJ Thomson talking about his discovery. Go to www.nylearns.org/tredican (Atomic Evolution).
Students write one specific scientific fact that they learned today on a Post-It note; this is their ticket to leave.
Students begin the next homework assignment.
As students leave, they place their Post-it on a posterboard about The Story of the Electron.
Students research and write a paragraph, or research and create an advertisement, about how cathode ray tubes are still used today.
Read and assess their discussion and interpretation of the interactive presentation. Read over their tickets to leave.

Day 3: Why we should walk through walls, and why we can't! [1-3 periods, depending on your class needs]
Students learn about Rutherford's alpha-scattering experiment.
Students use an interactive to "collect observations/data" for their Rutherford lab report.
Students learn important features of the atom: empty space and the nucleus. The proton is also mentioned.
Computers with Internet access and PowerPoint Microsoft Word software, a projector, and speakers
Colored pencils (optional)
Why do you think we cannot walk through walls? What do you think can travel through walls?
Discuss some of the problems with the Plum Pudding model.
Have students work in lab groups to use the interactive lab simulation and to collect observations/data. Go to www.nylearns.org/tredican (Atomic Evolution) for Rutherford Lab Part II. (Part I is for more advanced students or can be discussed with the class as a whole group.) Students can use colored pencils to draw diagrams/observations.
Students work in lab groups to interpret the observations/data.
Discuss as a class some of their observations/results.
Students download lab report template and complete individual (you can do group reports or pairs) lab reports. They begin typing lab reports. They finish for homework or next class.
Next class: Students finsih typing lab reports, if necessary, and turn in lab reports.
Brief PowerPoint presentation about the Story of the Nucleus. Go to www.nylearns.org/tredican (Atomic Evolution) to Lesson 11: The Story of the Nucleus.
Go to www.nylearns.org/tredican (Atomic Evolution) to listen to Ernest Rutherford recording.
Talk about why we cannot walk through walls, yet we are 99.99% empty space! Optional: Watch an excerpt from An Elegant Universe. Go to http://pbs.org/wgbh/nova/elegant/program.html A Strange New World and The Quantum Cafe clips are very good.
Finish Rutherford's Alpha-Scattering Experiment lab report.
Classroom/lab group discussions, lab report

Day 4: Quarks!
Students learn about nucleons [protons and neutrons].
Students learn about quarks, specifically up quarks and down quarks.
Students learn what quarks make up protons and neutrons.
Students use Atom Builder online interactive game to build a carbon atom.
paper circles with +2/3 [quarks] -1/3 [quarks]. I usually color code them, and make three of each kind for each group.
Computers with Internet access and Shockwave software
Go over homework.
Review parts of the atom, particularly nucleons.
Students learn that protons and neutrons are made from up and down quarks. Tell them about quarks.
Hand out the paper quarks. Have students use the paper quarks to make a proton +1 using the circles [two ups and one down]. Have students make a neutron 0 charge [two downs and one up].
Have the class talk about how to draw a model of an atom.
Have students go to the Atom Builder interactive game. Have them build a carbon atom. They love this game, even though it can be challenging!
Have students talk about the game experience and what they learned.
Have students choose another element from the Periodic Table. Have them draw a model of this element, as their ticket to leave.
Students can begin next homework.
Students draw pictures of all four atomic models and explain the features of each model.
Drawings of atomic models.

Day 5: Putting it all together [3-4 periods, depending on your class]
Students choose an atomic scientist for further study. They work in small groups to create a brief presentation [2-3 minutes] about their scientist. Presentations can take the form of an interview, news report, skit, poem/rap, or a PowerPoint presentation, and should include a visual component.
Students review their work to create a piece of artwork and an artist's statement that reflects one of the themes we have studied: Progress, Discovery, Change, or Evolution.
Computers with Internet access, art materials
Have students share and discuss their atomic model drawings. Students discuss the evolution of the atom and chemistry. The sharing of their atomic model drawings can be done gallery-style or a more traditional manner.
Students work in small groups. First, they choose an atomic scientist they would like to study further. They write five questions they want answered. Each student goes online to find their answer. Students come back together with their information, and create a presentation based on the class notes and their online research. They create a script and a visual component. The brief presentation [2-3 minutes] to the class can take the form of an interview, news report, skit, poem/rap, PowerPoint presentation, etc.
Students share their presentations.
Students work individually to create a piece of art that reflects one the themes: Progress, Discovery, Change, and Evolution. Students may use PowerPoint or Inspiration or other software to complete their artwork, or use more traditional art media. After students complete their artwork, they write an artist's statement. The first paragraph explains how their art reflects their chosen theme. The second paragraph explains how the theme relates to the ideas studied in class.
Students play online review games to prepare for the quiz on atomic evolution. Go to www.nylearns.org/tredican to Atomic Evolution to Fling the Teacher Game. Other review games can be found at www.nylearns.org/tredican.
Complete script and visual aide for presentations, practice presentations, and complete artwork and artist statement.
Presentations, artwork, artist statements, and quiz

Tara Redican


Manhattan Village Academy
43 W. 22nd Street
New York, NY 10010

Tara Redican began her teaching career in early childhood education. After attending Bank Street College, she decided to make the transition to the high school classroom. Applying her background in chemical engineering, she has taught mathematics and science at Manhattan Village Academy for the last seven years. She strives to engage her students through an everchanging variety of activities. One important part of the chemistry course she teaches is the classroom website. All PowerPoint lectures, review games, lab report templates, and other resources are stored online for students, parents, and other educators to use.


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