Especially JCE: March 2019

March 2019 cover of JChemEd

Even after my kids move out of the house, the toy/game closet will remain. Sure, I could say it’s just for any grandchildren that may eventually come into our lives, but that’s not all. The closet also pays off in classroom possibilities. I’ve brought in a favorite science-related jigsaw puzzle or two to piece together with students during spare minutes, used Scattergories list categories for brain breaks, and more. The March 2019 issue of the Journal of Chemical Education led me to the closet shelves to retrieve one of my thrift store purchases: the Spirograph.

Kurushkin and Tracey connect this gear-based drawing toy to electron location in the student activity they describe inIntroducing Electron Probability Density to High School Students Using a Spiral Drawing Toy (available to JCE subscribers*). They suggest using the Spirograph to introduce orbitals. Students draw a repeating pattern using specific pieces from the toy. Students share their observations, then the instructor helps them link the drawing pattern to one that they would see for the electron density of an sorbital. For example, students can see that particular areas of both the drawing and an electron density probability graphic are darker closer to the center. They might also notice that there is a white area in the center of both. This can lead to a discussion of how the motion of the pen in the drawing relates to the motion of an electron, to produce this particular pattern (see figure 1).

My in-home high school chemistry student and I played around a bit with the patterns. For our particular Spirograph version, the authors’ suggestion to “Use the first hole of the largest gear and the smaller outer ring to produce the desired pattern” (shown in the abstract) did not work. Eventually, we found a combo that made a similar reproduction (see our left drawing below, with ring/wheel information). We also looked at other patterns that could be compared (center and right in graphic). This also allows more than one student pair to use one Spirograph set, since it uses a different ring and wheel size. Once we had the combo down, it was quick, it was visual, and students were part of the “electron path” making process. You could picture an electron zipping around from side to side, although not in such a deliberate pattern.

Using the toy can be frustrating for students (and adults!) in trying to keep the wheel seated within the ring. At times it would pop out of the wheel and ruin the pattern. I found the best results with a slow and deliberate tracing. I liked the visual results of an ultra fine point Sharpie permanent marker, rather than pen or pencil. The longer metallic tip also held better in the wheel. As with all activities, try it yourself with your own equipment ahead of time.

Figure 1: Example patterns 

Looking Forward—Special Issue on Chemical Security

I’ve been aware of news reports of bombings, poisonings, and other attacks over the years. What I wasn’t aware of was the entire subset of chemistry related to it—chemical security. The topic will be the focus of a special issue, with Nelson and Hotchkiss announcing a Journal of Chemical Education Call for Papers: Special Issue on Chemical Security (available to JCE subscribers). The issue’s goals are “to (i) raise awareness of the potential for misuse of chemicals, equipment, and expertise; and (ii) provide a diverse collection of case studies, lesson plans, and reference materials that will enable educators to impart critical security information to current and future leaders of chemistry.” If you (or someone you know) has expertise in this particular area, please consider sharing resources and knowledge with educators through a submission. If you don’t, look for this special issue in the future—I know I will be.

More from the March 2019 Issue

Look for Mary Saecker’s post JCE 96.03 March 2019 Issue Highlights for an overview of this issue. You’ll find various themes pulled from the issue, including nanochemistry, using technology, promoting student engagement, teaching with models, and more.

What else have you used from the Journal in your classroom? Share! Start by submitting a contribution form, explaining you’d like to contribute to the Especially JCE column. Then, put your thoughts together in a blog post. Questions? Contact us using the ChemEd X contact form.

*See Accessing Cited Articles 


Students that demonstrate understanding can develop models to illustrate the changes in the composition of the nucleus of the atom and the energy released during the processes of fission, fusion, and radioactive decay.

*More information about all DCI for HS-PS1 can be found at and further resources at


Students that demonstrate understanding can develop models to illustrate the changes in the composition of the nucleus of the atom and the energy released during the processes of fission, fusion, and radioactive decay.

Assessment Boundary:

Assessment does not include quantitative calculation of energy released. Assessment is limited to alpha, beta, and gamma radioactive decays.


Emphasis is on simple qualitative models, such as pictures or diagrams, and on the scale of energy released in nuclear processes relative to other kinds of transformations.