Kids’ Concepts of Atoms and Playing the Rutherford Gold Foil Game…

March 1, 2012 at 1:51 PM Leave a comment

Atomic structure is an important, assessed concept in the California 5th grade standards. Atoms are referred to throughout 6th and 7th grade. So what do my students start the new unit with? Thank goodness for whiteboards – so fun, all round!

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So, about 10% have a decent idea of a nucleus of protons, neutrons and circling electrons. Other diagrams seem to have wires in them holding the jelly beans out from the central piece of candy. Some confusion between methane molecules and an atom. But at least I still have a job to do, and it makes it more fun starting with Dalton’s cue ball atom, to Thompson’s plum pudding and finally, (for today at least) to Rutherford’s gold foil experiment where he inferred the dense, tiny, tiny nucleus. By the afternoon, I got the ordering of activities down. Here’s what we did:

Set this up before kids come into class.

2. Hide the steel balls. Have a student bowl marbles aka alpha particles at the 'gold atoms' target

They are excellent at inferring what’s under there based on the path of the marbles. Particle physicists, brace yourselves for an onslaught of new enrolments. Then taking this playful model to what Rutherford actually did with a video clip from SciTechUK’s YouTube channel with Brian Cox “In Search of Giants” and then giving students time to process it with drawing the diagrams of what Rutherford expected, what he observed, and what he inferred from their texts. Taking time to roll around to each group and check in with everyone. Dinner (Here’s the sheet if you are interested: 2. Particle Physics ending with a tutorial link to bubble chambers – apparently the first one was inspired by watching a glass of beer).

Dessert: Playing the atoms game themselves

A comment that’s stuck with me from one of my early morning students “It’s just so overwhelming, it’s like everything is connected.” and I just happened to have John Muir’s quote handy ” When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” Hers for life.



Entry filed under: Atoms and Elements, Chemistry topics, Critical Thinking, Experimental Method, Inquiry and critical thinking, Physics Topics. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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