Calming periodic fears

It's really not that scary, especially at the level high school freshmen need to know it. The periodic table, however, is something almost inherently deemed as incomprehensible by incoming students. To them it's something to be feared not something to be understood. After some ineffective periodic table teaching for a few years I realized I needed a better approach.

Sometimes you just get lucky

Students really didn't understand what an element's atomic number and atomic mass meant, nor how they could find the number of protons, neutrons, and electrons simply by looking at the periodic table. Our school had just gotten a couple laptop carts, and I figured I would try to create a little assignment utilizing websites that took students through the concepts of atomic number, atomic mass, reading a periodic table, ions, and more. What I created was this sheet. It is one of the very few online assignments I've ever created which hasn't needed major overhauls in order to be as effective as I'd like. I've never had a computer-based assignment be as instantly successful as this.This year was the fourth year I've used this. I look forward to it every year- it's a great "aha!" day. 😉

How I do it

I'm constantly walking around while they're filling this out. Whenever I see mistakes I ask students how they came to that number. It's a battle to fend off misconceptions from forming. I never give answers, I simply ask them to explain how they got their answer and ask them to verify their process against what they've looked up previously. This generally heads off 98% of errors students make.

The Sheet

  • Atomic Information Assignment (WORD) (PDF)
  • BONUS! A worksheet I drop a day or two (or more) after doing the initial sheet. It gives me a good idea how well they're picking it up.


Scream by marysia
Periodic Table image
from Wikipedia