CONSTRUCTING A CLASS PERIODIC TABLE DEMYSTIFIES THE ELEMENTS AND PROVIDES HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

Suzanne Buckley with Sreedevi Koramannil, Priyaja Panikar, and Sreekrishnan M.
BHP Teachers, Kerala, India

For the 22 Big History students of Sri Atmananda Memorial School (Malakara village, Kerala, India), stepping across Threshold 3 into the world of new chemical elements was an exciting moment. To focus our journey, we decided to research and construct a giant Periodic Table of Elements, measuring roughly 2×3 metres, for the classroom wall.

Each student was assigned five elements and given a research questionnaire for each, including the following questions:

  1. What process formed your element?  How and when did it find its way to earth?  Where can it be found on earth?  What are its key properties and characteristics?
  2. What is the story of the human discovery of your element?  When and how did humans discover your element?
  3. How have human uses of your element changed over time? What has been the significance of your element to human societies, both pre-modern and modern ones?

While the children were busy learning about their elements in the library and online, a group of the students measured and prepared the backing sheet for the table and cut the individual element squares, which challenged their mathematical and organizational skills. They also created a colour chart assigning colours to the squares so that the elements could be painted and grouped in their appropriate “families.”

When their research was complete, the children received five squares each to prepare and decorate. Each element square was painted a background colour corresponding to its other “family” members, along with its element symbol and atomic number. In the corner of each square an item or photograph representing a practical application of that element was attached. For example, in the corner of the Cadmium square is a small cadmium battery; in the corner of the Oxygen square is a small photo of an oxygen tank. All the radioactive elements have the symbol for radioactivity in their corners.

Fitting the whole puzzle together was a day’s work. Finishing artistic touches were supplied by one of the trainee teachers to make the table even more unified, colourful and attractive. Here are photos of the students’ work.

10.19-periodic-table-700

10.19-Sreedevi-Tr-periodic-table-700

In the course of their work, the children came to know some of the organizational principles of the table and the history of the elements, which they presented in individual oral reports to the class.

As a result, they now feel they “know” the table and have come to appreciate the building blocks of their planet.

As a further outcome of this project they decided to perform a Periodic Table skit for the lower classes, with a humorous script about the snobbish noble gases refusing to sit at the ‘table’ with other Element family members. At the close of the skit, the children sing an elements song to the tune of “Row, row, row your boat,” beginning:

“Hy-hy-Hydrogen,
Helium too!
Lithium, Beryllium,
We won’t be Boron you!”

One thing is certain, for these children Big History class is never “Boron!”

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Not yet a Big History teacher? Register for a free account on the Big History Project website to access the entire curriculum.

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