I am a 7th grade teacher who has been teaching a semester of physics and a semester of chemistry at the Harker School in San Jose, CA for the last twenty years. Early on in my career, I made a few observations based on the reactions of my students when I introduced the periodic table of elements to them.
- Most elements have been discovered by men, only a handful of elements by women. So, is the field of Chemistry male dominated? Is this the impression created in the minds of young girls?
- Students also wondered as to how they would remember the properties of the elements within each family and how one family differs from another. Is there an engaging, visually stimulating, creative, and fun way to learn about the elements and the periodic table?
In response to these observations, I started attributing a female personality to each element and would refer to the element as “she.” I also asked the students to picture the elements in their minds and I would roughly sketch the element personalities on the white board and in my notebook and share those images with the students. I encouraged my students to draw images of concepts along with some text to enhance their understanding.
Additionally, I made up stories about the elements based on their properties. For example, I would say, “Suppose our school had a policy where if a kid has 8 candies in their outer jacket, the kid is cool! Let us say, Sodium is a kid on our campus with two candies in the inner jacket, eight in the jacket over that, and one in the outer jacket. She really wants to be cool like Neon. What would she do?” Then, kids cry out, “Give that one outermost candy away and be cool like Neon!” This combination of story-telling and visual representation of the elements as human characters, that students can easily relate to, along with hands-on activities created enthusiasm in my chemistry classes. Most of my students appreciate visuals when learning. This is not a big surprise, since from a very young age, they are exposed to computer games and multimedia.
When my family gifted me an ipad for my birthday a couple of years ago, I started doodling the element girl characters electronically. Since most of the metals on the periodic table are silvery grey in color, I decided to give color to the elements based on their flame test color. In order for the characters to be appealing to my teenage and preteen students, I also gave the element girls fashionable outfits, shoes, and jewelry that emphasized the element’s properties. I also illustrated them in such a way that showed their strength and confidence.
I created the element stories such that the elements appear to have all human emotions. For example, Fluorine is greedily seeking an electron and almost captures Atom’s dog that is named Electron! Astatine is quite upset that her discoverers named her after the Greek word “astatos” meaning unstable - who likes to be named unstable?
Furthermore, the narrator, Atom, is a girl who loves to explore science, draw, and imagine. Young children love to have pets. So, Atom’s pet is a dog named Electron who can always be found in her orbit! In my second and third books which cover the Alkaline Earth metals and Halogens, I introduced Atom’s five friends Ion, Exo, Endo, Valence, and Mole who join in the adventures of meeting the element girls with Atom. Ion is always positive and loves to play with the dog Electron. Exo is always releasing her energy just like an exothermic reaction. Endo is always thoughtful and focused on absorbing all the information around her like an endothermic reaction. Valence is quite social like the valence electrons that take part in chemical reactions. And, Mole got her name since her big sister is a chemist!
Most of all, Atom and her friends’ adventures are possible thanks to the magical periodic table that Atom receives for her birthday one summer. All she has to do is push on an element and Atom and her friends are transported to the element’s environment! For example, they travel to a mine in the state of Utah to visit Beryllium, to the village of Strontian in Scotland to visit Strontium, and to the Dead Sea in Israel to visit Bromine. Along with each element’s story, these books also contain a colorful drawing of each element, Chemistry vocabulary words, check yourself questions, and resources.
Links to the Element Girls books.
Always free eBooks in iBook:
Hydrogen and the Alkali Metals: Exciting and Explosive! - Element Girls Series Book 1
My Basketball Game - A Lesson about Accuracy and Precision
If you have Kindle Unlimited, the following books are free.
2nd Element Girls book : Alkaline Earth Metals - Rocks and Bones! - Element Girls Series Book 2
3rd Element Girls book: Halogens - Oh! So Reactive! - Element Girls Series Book 3