Chemistry Unit: The Size of Atoms

We started our chemistry unit a couple weeks ago.  We’re doing lots of reading and really enjoying the books in the NOEO curriculum.

We loved, What’s Smaller Than a Pygmy Shrew? It takes a look at protozoa, bacterium, molecules and atoms — even talking about electrons, protons and neutrons. After we read through the book the kids drew pictures of protozoa. (LD’s picture is on the left, DD’s is on the right)

And on another day (after reading selections of the book again) drew water molecules.

We then turned to Real Science 4 Kids and read a number of chapters from pre-level 1. LD (age 9) complains that it is too easy for him and he’s anxious to jump into level 1. I love the cute drawings. This book explains chemistry in a way DD can really understand!

We did an activity that explains how truly small atoms are.  We took a strip of paper and cut it in half. We compared it to our hand. Then the next piece we determined was about the length of our ear or finger. Then we cut that in half. We continued cutting each strip in half (and laying one piece down) again and again until we could cut no farther.  We got up to about 9 cuts before the paper was too small.

We looked at a chart that shows how many cuts it would get to be

  • in the microscopic range (12 cuts)
  • the width of paper (14 cuts)
  • the size of bacteria (18 cuts)
  • the size of visible light waves (19 cuts)
  • electron microscope range/membranes (24 cuts)
  • the size of an atom (31 cuts)

After that the kids spent lots of time exploring an amazing website called The Size of the Universe. You can scroll in to go smaller and smaller (even smaller than atoms, electrons, and quarks) all the way out to the planets, solar system and universe.  You can click on each item and there’s an explanation of what it is.  And there’s a feature where you can mute the music (in the right hand corner) if you spend more than 10 minutes on it!

For more great chemistry ideas, be sure to visit the Molecularium Teacher’s Guide (K-4) and Molecules to the Max (Grades 5-8) Educator’s Resource Guide.

You might also be interested in these posts from our chemistry unit:

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