Academic journal article The Science Teacher

A Tale of Four Electrons: Using Creative Writing to Learn about Chemical Bonding

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

A Tale of Four Electrons: Using Creative Writing to Learn about Chemical Bonding

Article excerpt


One sweltering summer afternoon, four electrons sat on a river bank, restless and with nothing to do. On the left was Crystal, a sodium electron. Crystal [was] often ... lonely because she was the only electron in her atom's outer shell.

"Once upon a time, in a land far, far away ..." began the chemistry teacher, "each of these electrons began in single atoms. Eventually, they bonded with other atoms, following one of three fates: ionic, covalent, or metallic bonding to form chemical bonds...Bonding is a sort of rite of passage that changed the lives of these electrons forever."

Here ye, here ye to all who dare: The King of Periodicity henceforth proclaims his desire for four brave and noble electron knights to join the famed "Knights of the Periodic Table." Those electrons of atoms of noble birth will face challenges unlike any other.

"And in the news today, Bonding, Inc., is looking for new electrons to begin careers for the large bonding firm. Electrons interested ..."

Mike's mother interrupted the news report: "Mike, do you want to eat? We have Proton Pebbles, Fluorine Flakes, and--"

"Not now! They're talking about the new jobs!" Mike turned up the TV.

So begin four student essays for "A Tale of Four Electrons," a creative writing assignment I use with my 10th-grade Honors Chemistry students. The project helps students consolidate their learning about bonding--an important unifying theme in chemistry--and answer questions such as

* How are ionic, metallic, and covalent bonds related?

* How do variations in electron configuration across a period alter expected bonding? and

* How do intermolecular forces depend on bond polarity?

I have found that most students are enthusiastic about this assignment. I am also amazed by their ability to intertwine creative stories with bonding concepts and vocabulary words. This article describes the assignment, and the processes I use to grade students' tales.

The assignment

I begin by giving students a copy of the assignment and a grading sheet (see "On the web"). Students must incorporate all 14 bonding concepts (Figure 1) and 35 of 44 bonding vocabulary words (Figure 2) in ways that demonstrate their understanding. (Students are also given the option to create a multipage, hyperlinked PowerPoint to explain chemical bonding, but the story option is encouraged.)


Bonding concepts.

Most atoms are chemically bonded to other atoms.

* The three major types of chemical bonding are ionic,
covalent, and metallic.

* In general, atoms of metals bond ionically with atoms
of nonmetals, atoms of metals bond metallically
with each other, and atoms of nonmetals bond
covalently with each other.

* Atoms in molecules are joined by covalent bonds.

* The bond length between two atoms in a molecule
is the distance at which the potential energy of the
bonded atoms is minimized.

* The octet rule states that many chemical compounds
tend to form bonds so that each atom--by gaining,
losing, or sharing electrons--shares or has eight electrons
in its highest occupied energy level.

* A single bond is a covalent bond in which a pair of
electrons is shared between two atoms. Covalent
bonds with more than one pair of shared electrons
are called multiple bonds.

* Bonding within many molecules and ions can be indicated
by a Lewis structure (or what is sometimes
called an electron dot diagram). The Lewis structure
for water, for example, looks like this:


Molecules or ions that cannot be correctly represented
by a single Lewis structure are represented by
resonance structures.

* An ionic compound is a three-dimensional network
of positive and negative ions mutually attracted to
one another.

* Because of the strong attraction between positive
and negative ions, ionic compounds tend to
be harder and more brittle and have higher boiling
points than materials containing only covalently
bonded atoms. … 
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