Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Braving the Elements

For students who are beginning to explore the complexities of matter, an introduction to the subtleties of the Periodic Table of Elements can be something of a revelatory experience, akin to finding an operating manual for atoms. The Periodic Table is a valuable tool for understanding reveals the underlying architechure of matter and prepares novices for a better grasp of the principles of chemistry. Rather than relegating pupils to textbooks when it comes to exploring the elements, encourage learners to make use of web-based sources of information. Take, for example, the Dynamic Periodic Table. Although it contains much the same information found in an exhaustive textbook, the information is much easier to access.

Want to immediately grab the attention of students? Swing by Parallel Graphic's eye-popping 3D Periodic Table. This resource is great when combined with an interactive whiteboard or slate. Note: you'll need to use Internet Explorer and download Cortona, a 3D viewer for IE. The effort will will be well worth it.

By integrating hyperlinked, multimedia-rich resources, students are more likely to discover opportunities for creating meaningful associations between the material being learned and their own experiences. To make in-roads to learning, consider exposing learners to image-rich resources. Want proof? If so, simply look up the work of Theodore Gray, one of the founders of Wolfram Research (creators of the awe-inspiring Mathematica). Gray is also a columnist for Popular Science’s Gray Matter and an element collector extraordinaire who has crafted an exquisite Periodic Table of the Elements. His craftsmanship and obsession with elements makes his version of the Periodic Table a veritable feast for the eyes that learners and instructors are sure to enjoy.

In the same vein, the Periodic Table of Videos provided by the University of Nottingham moves users beyond mere words and dishes up engaging images that stick in the mind longer after vistors leave the web.

Essential questions related to this topic:
  • What is the most (or least important) element on the Periodic Table?
  • What is the best/most truthful way to explain the structure of matter? For example, what's the best way to create models of something we can’t see--like atoms?
  • In what ways can the current Periodic Table be significantly improved for younger and/or non-scientific users?
  • Is the natural world significantly affected by the actions of individuals/societies who don't know or care about the Periodic Table? In other words, what so important about this bit of science that makes it worth learning?
  • What universal rules govern matter and its processes?
  • Which is more important matter or energy?
  • Why exactly should scientists bother getting information about something as small as electrons in atoms?
  • What's the most important reason for the way the Periodic Table is organized the way it is? Given advancements in technology, what might make it possible for future scientists to rewrite the rules for the way the Period Table is organized?

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