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Upper El (Mr. D): Chemistry and Flash Fiction

We had a great week back from our February break with two new units—chemical energy for our science time and flash fiction for our story time.


To learn about chemical energy, we need to understand what matter is, the structure of the atom, and what chemical bonds are. That was our first day on Monday. We explored the building blocks of matter by learning about the structure of the atom.

Students learned that the number of protons in a nucleus names the atom. Everyone wanted to make their own atoms and began drawing different numbers of protons and neutrons into their nuclei on our handout.

"Mr. D, what do three protons make?"


We went on like this for a while. Everyone was interested in what element they made and in the properties of those elements (at least as much as I could draw from memory). Lithium, Hydrogen, Neon, Sulfur (everyone enjoyed hearing about stinky Sulfur!), Silicon, Oxygen, Nitrogen, and Carbon, to name a few. And on and on we went. It was great, but we had to move on to the next step.

Most atoms don't like to be alone. They like to connect with other atoms. We learned what a chemical bond is and that when we bond atoms together, we make molecules. From here, we played a little "game" that I created.

I have small circular cards made to represent four different atoms (Hydrogen, Carbon, Oxygen, and Nitrogen). Each card shows how many bonds each atom needs to make to feel complete. Also, we learned that some atoms could make single bonds, double bonds, and up to triple bonds.

Using that knowledge and the cards, students went off to build molecules. We also learned how to write the molecular formulas for those molecules so they could look them up on a website to learn more about their molecule.


Tuesday continued our quest to understand chemistry and chemical energy by exploring chemical and physical changes and the states of matter.

We used our field for a little fun to explore the states of matter differently, from the vibrating atoms of solids to the free-flowing liquids to the straight-line zipping gasses. We pretended we were water molecules, and we imagined how as the molecules gain more energy, they're able to overcome the attraction they have to each other, which leads to the different states of matter and the different properties of each state.

Back inside, it was time for some chemistry experiments. We had five demonstrations, and every student had a job to help out. Students looked closely to learn the difference between physical and chemical changes. I told them before we started that only one of the demonstrations would be a physical change.

We had yeast and sugar to blow up a balloon, lighting a candle with a match, hot water melting an ice cube, baking soda and vinegar, and then the very nifty Iodine Clock reaction (there were a lot of oos and ahhs on that one). The Iodine Clock reaction is a color change reaction that is delayed and then happens almost instantly, changing color to a deep purple in the blink of an eye.

Eventually, we landed on the ice cube melting as the only physical change, which helped us define a chemical change. The substances must change to something else! We then brainstormed some things to look for that might indicate a chemical change: expanding gasses, color change, heat, light, and electricity.


Wednesday, after we returned from a fun Spanish field trip to Mestizo's, we began our new story unit on flash fiction or stories under 1,000 words. First, I read some examples from Neil Gaiman and then a few of my own. How do we write such short stories and make them good?

Flash fiction is a great way to learn plotting and character development and be more thoughtful with our writing. We need to get to the point of the story quickly; therefore, we need to know where this story is going before we start writing.

This month, we are going to write a story every week. We'll get to spend more time in the editing phase as well to clean up our stories to make sure they have the impact we want. These stories can be a lot of fun and are definitely not easier than longer stories.

Next week we'll continue our chemistry unit, exploring the size of atoms and some of the chemistry of our bodies.

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