Friday, May 3, 2019

Guest Blog: Happy Atoms Bring Exploration to an Elementary Science Classroom - Beth Ellis

Thanks to a Classroom Innovation Grant from Impact on Education, I was able to purchase a classroom set of Happy Atoms that allowed my fifth grade students to independently explore, learn about and practice basic chemistry concepts. Through experimentation and exploration, they built a solid foundation around concepts such as the organization of the periodic table, simple models of the atom, the difference between ionic and covalent bonds and the various shapes of molecules. Here is a short video that my students created to share this app.

When my kit first arrived, the kids dove into creating glucose (C6H12O6) since we had just finished learning about how leaves turn sunlight into this life-giving carbohydrate. Because we have been studying climate change all year, the next most popular molecules were water, carbon dioxide and methane. As we worked our way through the FOSS Mixtures and Solutions lessons, I modeled the chemical reactions for my students and we “balanced the equations” so it was easier to see that matter was not created or destroyed, but sometimes it changed into a different form.

Once the newness of the materials had worn off, we organized all of the atoms into bins so seven teams of four students could all use them at once. I created a small, 12 page notebook that they could use to record their discoveries and turned them loose to solve the missions posed by the junior scientists in the free Happy Atoms iPad app. They remained deeply engaged over about five weeks.

Because I was still figuring how to make this work, we tended to use this in large groups. However, Happy Atoms could be a wonderful addition to a MakerSpace or they could be set up as a center. I gave each team of four students their own iPad to use for tracking their progress but this could be set up in a paper or online journal if your classroom does not have many iPads.

As BVSD moves toward the new Next Generation Science Standards, tools like this could also support performance based assessment. I put the materials away during the subsequent Social Studies units but got them out again after spring break because I wanted to measure the level of retention of some of these abstract concepts. Shockingly, their ability to remember vocabulary words grew for most of the terminology, convincing me that the act of building molecules helped cement this learning into memory. Survey results from my class showed that every student enjoyed this activity and about half wished that they had more time to “play” with the molecules.

Beth Ellis
Bear Creek Elementary