Updated Atom Builder

September 5, 2014

A couple of my students asked for worksheets to practice drawing atoms and electron shells. I updated the Atom Builder app to make sure it works and to make the app embedable.

So now I can ask a student to draw 23Na+ then show the what they should get:

Worksheet

Draw diagrams of the following atoms, showing the number of neutrons, protons, and electrons in shells. See the example above.

  1. 14C: answer.
  2. 32K+: answer.
  3. 18O2-: answer.
  4. 4He2+: answer.
  5. 32P: answer.

I guess the next step is to adapt the app so you can hide the element symbol so student have to figure what element based on the diagram.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2014. Updated Atom Builder, Retrieved June 24th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Introducing Covalent Bonding

February 21, 2013

Covalent bonding happens when atoms share electrons, unlike with ionic bonding where one atom gives electrons to another.

Why do some combinations of atoms make ionic bonds and others covalent bonds? The answer has to do with electronegativity, which is the ability of atoms to attract electrons to themselves. Atoms that have similar abilities to attract electrons to themselves will likely form covalent bonds.

Sodium and chloride bond ionically when sodium donates an electron to chlorine.

For either type of bond, the atoms have the same objective. All atoms “want” filled outer electron shells. When sodium reacts with chlorine for example, sodium has one electron in its outer shell and chlorine is one short of a filled outer shell so it’s “easiest” for sodium to just donate its electron to chlorine to make them both happy.

However, when two similar atoms bond it’s often easier to share electrons.

Consider two hydrogens bonding covalently to form hydrogen gas (note: help on drawing atoms).

An hydrogen atom.

Each hydrogen has only one electron, and they both pull equally at the electrons so neither can give their electron away or take the other’s electron. Instead they share.

Two hydrogen atoms bond covalently by sharing electrons.

By sharing, they now each have two electrons in their outer shell, which is now full (since it’s the first shell), and both atoms are happy. This is covalent bonding.

The chemical reaction could be written as:

H + H –> H2

H2O

Now consider what happens when hydrogen atoms bond with oxygens. Oxygen atoms have 6 electrons in their outer shells, but they would like to have 8.

An oxygen atom.

Oxygen atoms aren’t strong enough to take away the hydrogen electrons, so they share with covalent bonds. Each oxygen has to react with two hydrogens to get the two extra electrons it needs to end up with 8 electrons in its outer shell.

Bonding to form a water molecule.

Thus we create water, which has the chemical formula H2O, and the chemical reaction can be written:

2 H + O –> H2O

Drawing covalent molecules

Covalent molecules can be large and complex, in fact, one strand of your DNA will have somewhere around a billion atoms.

To make these easier to draw, you can represent each element by its symbol and each bond by a line. Remember, each covalent bond represents a pair of electrons that are shared.

So our water molecule would be drawn like this:

Drawing a water molecule. The lower drawing is called a Lewis-Dot structure.

This is called a Lewis Dot structure. In addition to the lines showing the bonds, you’ll notice the dots that show the unbonded electrons: these dots are usually paired up.

Double Bonds

The last thing I’ll point out here is that atoms can share more than just one pair of electrons. When they share four electrons that means there are two bonds, which is referred to as a double bond.
Oxygen atoms bond with each other like this to make the oxygen gas we breathe.

Oxygen gas.

Practice

Now you can try drawing these covalent molecules:

  1. A molecule with one nitrogen atom and some hydrogen atoms (can you figure out how many hydrogens)
  2. A molecule with the chemical formula: CH4
  3. A molecule with the chemical formula: C2H6
  4. A molecule with the chemical formula: C3H8
  5. A molecule with the chemical formula: C2H4 (hint there’s a double bond)
  6. A carbon dioxide molecule, which has the chemical formula: CO2
  7. An ozone molecule, which has the chemical formula: O3
  8. An alcohol molecule, which has the chemical formula: CH3OH

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. Introducing Covalent Bonding, Retrieved June 24th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

An Introduction to Ionic Bonding

February 21, 2013

Now that we’ve learned how to draw individual atoms (and have an online reference for the first 20 elements), let’s consider ionic bonding.

The key thing to remember is that atoms all “want” to have their outer electron shells filled. So while a sodium (symbol: Na) atom is happy* enough that it has the same number of protons and electrons (11 each) it could be happier if it got rid of the extra electron in it’s outer shell.

This sodium atom has one electron in its outer shell. It could be happier without it.

It can get rid of the electron by donating it to another atom that would be happier with an extra eletron. Something like chlorine (symbol: Cl) that only has 7 electrons in its outer shell, but wants to have 8.

Chlorine needs one more electron in its outer shell to be happy.

When one atom donates electrons to other atoms this creates a bond called an ionic bond. The molecule created is called an ionic molecule. In this case, sodium and chloride react to produce sodium chloride (chemical formula: NaCl).

Sodium and chloride bond ionically when sodium donates an electron to chlorine. This produces the ionic compound, sodium chloride (NaCl).

The chemical reaction can be written as:

Na + Cl –> NaCl

MgCl2

Now consider what happens when magnesium (symbol: Mg) reacts with chlorine.

Magnesium has two electrons in its outer shell that it wants to get rid of.

A magnesium (Mg) atom, which has two electrons in its outer shell that it would like to, if possible, get rid of by bonding.

A single chlorine atom can’t take both, since chlorine only needs one electron to fill its outer electron shell. However, magnesium can give one electron to two different chlorine atoms to create a molecule with three atoms total.

Magnesium gives one electron to each of the two chlorines to create magnesium chlorine.

The resulting compound is called magnesium chloride, and is written as MgCl2. The subscripted 2 indicates that there are two chlorine atoms in each magnesium chloride molecule.

The chemical reaction can be written as:

Mg + 2 Cl –> MgCl2

Notice that each magnesium atom reacts with two chlorine atoms (Mg + 2 Cl) to produce a compound with one magnesium and two chlorines bonded together (chemical formula: MgCl2).

Practice

Now, for homework, you can try figuring out what is the chemical formula for the following ionic compounds:

  1. Potassium and Florine
  2. Beryllium and Chlorine
  3. Sodium and Oxygen
  4. Magnesium and Oxygen

Be sure to:

  • Draw the atoms that you will be reacting,
  • Show how the electrons are donated,
  • Write the chemical formula of the resulting compound,
  • Write the chemical reaction.

Good luck. Next we’ll try covalent bonding.

* Think of happiness as energy. Like people, atoms are happier to be in low energy states.

Notes

When we looked at the patterns in the periodic table, one of the things I had my student graph was the electronegativity. Electronegativity is the ability of atoms to attract electrons to themselves. You’ll note that chlorine’s electronegativity is high, while sodium’s is low.

The repeating pattern in electronegativity shows up quite well in the first 20 elements.

So chlorine will attract electrons to itself strongly, while sodium will not. This is why (more or less) sodium will end up donating its electron and why chlorine is happy to accept it.

When atoms with a large difference in electronegative bond together, the bonds tend to be ionic.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. An Introduction to Ionic Bonding, Retrieved June 24th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Atom Builder

January 22, 2013

This app lets you drag and drop electrons, protons, and neutrons to create atoms with different charges, elements, and atomic masses. You can also enter the element symbol, charge and atomic mass and it will build the atom for you.

Note, however, it only does the first 20 elements.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. Atom Builder, Retrieved June 24th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Electron Configurations on the Periodic Table

January 15, 2013

Having demonstrated how to draw a few simple atoms, I had students fill out a periodic table template with drawings of the first twenty atoms. Actually, I only had them draw the electrons in their shells because it reduced the messiness of trying to fit in forty nuclear particles into a small tile, and the point I wanted to get at was the pattern of shells and valence electrons in the periodic table.

The end result looked something like this:

Students learn the relationship between electron configuration and position in the periodic table. Diagram by E.F..

All the drawing only took about 15 minutes, and once they’d figured out the first half dozen or so it started to get a little boring. But that freed up the cognitive resources so they could notice the two key patterns.

  • First, each row in the periodic table has an additional electron shell.
  • Second, as you go across a row you add one electron to the shell until it is filled.

It’s a first glimpse at the periodicity in the periodic table. And it sets us up nicely to be able to talk about chemical bonding.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. Electron Configurations on the Periodic Table, Retrieved June 24th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Drawing Atoms

January 13, 2013

This year, I’ve been basing my introduction to basic chemistry for my middle school students around the periodic table of the elements. The first step, however, is to teach them how to draw basic models of atoms.

Prep: Memorization over the Winter Break

I started it off by having the students memorize the first 20 elements (H through Ca), in their correct order — by atomic number — over their winter break.

A diagram of an oxygen atom.

So that they’d have a bit of context, I went over the basic parts of an atom (protons, neutrons, and electrons) and made it clear that the name of the element is determined solely by the number of protons. I even had them draw a few atoms with the protons and neutrons in the center and the electrons in shells. Since I’d dumped all of this on them in a single class period, it probably was a bit much, but since it was just to give them some context I did not expect the 7th graders, who had not seen this before, to remember it all; for the 8th graders it should have been just a review.

Most students did a good job at the memorization. Some found songs on the the internet that helped, while others just pushed through. Having the two weeks of winter break to work on it probably helped too.

Day 1. Lesson: The Parts of an Atom

When we got back to school, the first thing I did was give them an outline of the upper part of the periodic table and asked them to fill it in with the element names.

Template for the first 20 elements of the periodic table. (pdf)

After they’d filled out their periodic table template, I went into the parts of the atoms in more detail, and had them practice. The key points I wanted them to remember were:

  • The atomic number is written as a subscript to the left of the element symbol.

    The atomic number is the number of protons. Since they memorized the elements in order, they should be able to figure this out on their own — but they could also look it up quickly on the periodic table, or look at the element symbol where the atomic number is sometimes written on the lower left.
  • The atoms have the same number of electrons as protons. Protons are positively charged, and electrons are negatively charged, so an atom needs to have the same number of both for its charge to be balanced. We don’t talk about ions –where there are more or less electrons– until later.
  • The atomic mass (4) is written as a superscript to the left of the element symbol. The atomic mass is the sum of the number of protons (2) and the number of neutrons (2).

    The small atoms that we’re looking at tend to have the same number of neutrons as protons, but that’s not necessarily the case. So how do you know how many neutrons? You have to ask, or look at the atomic mass number, which is usually written to the upper left of the atom. Since the atomic mass is the sum of the number of protons and neutrons, if you know the atomic mass and the number of protons, you can easily figure out the number of neutrons. (Note that electrons don’t contribute to the mass of the atom because their masses are so much smaller than the masses of neutrons and protons.
  • This oxygen atom has 8 electrons in two shells.

    Electron Shells: Electrons orbit around the nucleus in a series of shells. Each shell can hold a certain maximum number of electrons (2 for the first shell; 8 for the second shell; and 8 for the third). And to draw the atoms you fill up the inner shells first then move on to the outer shells.

So, if I wrote just the element symbol and its atomic mass on the board that students should be able to figure out the number of particles.

Example: Carbon-12

For example, the most common form (isotope) of carbon-12 is written as:

  • Protons = 6: Since we know the atomic number is 6 (because we memorized it), the atom has 6 protons.
  • Neutrons = 6 : Since the atomic mass is 12 (upper left of the element symbol), to find the number of neutrons we subtract the number of protons (12 – 6 = 6).
  • Electrons = 6: This atom is balanced in charge so it needs six electrons with their negative charges to offset the six positive charges of the six protons. (Note: we haven’t talked about unbalanced, charged atoms yet, but the charge will show up as a superscript to the right of the symbol.)
  • Electron shells (2-4): We have six electrons, so the first two go into filling up the first electron shell, and the rest can go into the second shell, which can hold up to 8 electrons. This gives an electron configuration of 2-4.

Diagram of a carbon-12 atom.

Example: Carbon-14

Carbon-14 is the radioactive isotope of carbon that is often used in carbon dating of historical artifacts. It is written as:

  • Protons = 6: As long as it’s carbon it has six protons.
  • Electrons = 6: This atom is also balanced in charge so it also needs six electrons.
  • Neutrons = 8 : With an atomic mass of 14, when we subtract the six protons, the number of neutrons must be 8 (14 – 6 = 8).

The only difference between carbon-12 and carbon-14 is that the latter has two more neutrons. These are therefore two isotopes of carbon.

Diagram of a carbon-14 atom.

Example: Helium-4

Diagram of helium-4 atom.

Example: Sodium-23

Diagram of sodium-23 atom.

Note: A picture of a hydrogen atom can be found here.

Update: I’ve created an interactive app that will draw atoms (of the first 20 elements), to go with a worksheet for student practice.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. Drawing Atoms, Retrieved June 24th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Flame Tests

October 11, 2012

Copper burns green.

Elements can be identified from the color of light they give off when they’re ionized: their emission spectra. Ms. Wilson’s chemistry class today set fire to some metal salts to watch them burn.

A hydrogen atom's electron is bumped up an energy level/shell by ultraviolet light, but releases that light when the electron drops back down to its original shell.

She placed the salt crystals into petri dishes, submerged them in a shallow layer of alcohol, and ignited the alcohol. As traces of the salts were incorporated into the flames, the metal atoms became “excited” as they absorbed some of the energy from the flame by bumping up their electrons into higher electron shells. Since atoms don’t “like” to be excited, their excited electrons quickly dropped back to their stable, ground state, but, in doing so, released the excess energy as light of the characteristic wavelength.

Table 1: Emission colors of different metals.

Metal Flame
Copper
Strontium
Sodium
Lithium

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2012. Flame Tests, Retrieved June 24th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Searching for the Higgs Boson: How Science Really Works

May 5, 2012

PhD Comics does a wonderful job of explaining of sub-atomic particles: what we know, what we don’t know. What’s particularly great about this video is that it goes into how physicists are using the Large Hadron Collider to try to discover new particles: by making graphs of millions of collisions of particles and looking for the tiniest of differences between different predictions of what might be there.

I also like how clear they make the fact that science is a processes of discovery, and what fascinates scientists is the unknown. Students do experiments all the time and if they don’t find what they expect — if it “doesn’t work” — they’re usually very disappointed. I try my best to let them know that this is really what science is about. When your experiment does not do what you want, and you’re confident you designed it right, then the real excitement, the new discoveries, begin.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2012. Searching for the Higgs Boson: How Science Really Works, Retrieved June 24th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

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