3-Dimensional Learning with the History of Atomic Theory

Simple supplies

It’s Thursday afternoon (the equivalent of Friday to the rest of the world). They’re tired. They would rather go to the volleyball tournament but our team isn’t currently playing. And we are discussing the history of the atomic theory. They clearly are not convinced this is going to be an interesting lesson.

In an effort to help them appreciate the study of the unseen world, practice conducting an investigation, collaborate to produce data to serve as a basis for evidence, to see that different patters observed can provide evidence for causality in explanations of phenomena all in the context of studying the history of the development of atomic theory, I set up a little activity for them that I had modified (by making it simpler, of course!) from one I found on the Internet (1).

A board, some textbooks, a marble, butcher paper, and they’re intrigued. On the floor and pencils in hand, they are intent on the task. Mental gymnastics begin to take place as they try to figure out the shape and placement of the unknown object under the board. Inadvertently my students find themselves in observation, recording of data, and discussion.  

It was intense. And, it was also the last school day before Halloween.

“If it bounces off in that direction, what does it mean?”

“Wait, does that mean a rounded or straight edge?”

“What do you think?”

“Should we mark it here or there?”

“What is another way we can approach this?”

They also make connections to the documentary film, “Clash of the Titans” on the development of atomic theory they were to have viewed before coming to class. The gold-foil experiment of Ernest Rutherford is suddenly appreciated. The students wonder at the determination, the intuition, the ideas, the experimentation of great scientists. More importantly they see how different and conflicting perspectives work together to come up with more accurate results. They perceive 

I concur that “Science is more than a school subject, or the periodic table, or the properties of waves. It is an approach to the world, a critical way to understand and explore and engage with the world, and then have the capacity to change that world..."  President Obama (2)

Furthermore, “The National Research Council's (NRC) Framework describes a vision of what it means to be proficient in science; it rests on a view of science as both a body of knowledge and an evidence-based, model and theory building enterprise that continually extends, refines, and revises knowledge.” (3)  Thus, students must be immersed in practices that connect them with this vision.

Even a discussion of the history of atomic theory can take students on a three dimensional journey that covers not only content but involves them in practices fostering connections with the world and broader ideas found therein.

  1. Muller, Eric. "READ: RUTHERFORD ROLLER - EXPLORATORIUM | THE MUSEUM - AWED.BIZ." AWED.BIZ. N.p., 2003. Web. 29 Oct. 2015.
  2. "Science, Technology, Engineering and Math: Education for Global Leadership." <i>Science, Technology, Engineering and Math: Education for Global Leadership</i>. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.
  3. "Three Dimensions | Next Generation Science Standards." <i>Three Dimensions | Next Generation Science Standards</i>. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.