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        Building Blocks of Matter

        Structure of matter.

        Lesson Summary


        Middle school students will brainstorm what matter is and how they might define it. Using a packet on the structure of materials and video clips, they will explore the following topics: what matter is, what the important parts of an atom are, what a molecule is, and how chemical bonds change the properties of a substance. Students will construct a water molecule with marshmallows and toothpicks. They will be introduced to the idea of using nanoscience to understand the properties of materials and view some nanoscience tools.

        Content Objectives

        Students will know

        • the definition of matter, volume, and mass
        • that matter is composed of atoms
        • the parts of an atom
        • basic properties of the subatomic particles which make up an atom
        • basic bonding characteristics

        Process Objectives

        Students will be able to

        • describe the structure of an atom
        • construct models demonstrating basic atoms
        • construct models demonstrating basic atom bonding to form molecules

        Grade Level: 6-8

        Suggested Time

        About an hour

        Multimedia Resources


        • Structure of Materials Packet PDF Document

        • Computers with Internet access (Either one for each pair of students or a projection system for the class)
        • Enough marshmallows, gumdrops, and toothpicks for the class to construct water molecules
        • A large glass container
        • Enough raisins, gummy bears, and toothpicks for the class to construct NaCl molecules


        Part I: Introduction to the Structure of Materials (10 minutes)

        1. Explain to the students that today they will be introduced to the building blocks of all matter. Have students brainstorm what they think matter is and how we might define matter.

        2. Pass out the

        Structure of Materials Packet PDF Document

        Ask the students to fill in the answers to Part 1, as they watch What is Matter? QuickTime Video (1 minute 16 seconds).

        3. Review the answers to Part 1 of the packet with the students.

        Part II: Constructing Models of Atoms (10 min)

        4. Explain how we can build models of atoms. Have the students refer to the carbon atom example in Part 2 of the packet. Have the students identify the important parts of the atom. (Nucleus, protons, neutrons, electrons, and the electron orbit)

        5. Allow the students some time to complete Part 2 of the packet.

        6. Hold a discussion about question 5 in the packet. Explain that it is the differences in the number of protons, neutrons, and electrons that change the properties of an atom. Explain that all atoms with the same number of protons have the same properties.

        Part III: Constructing Models of Molecules (20 min)

        7. Show What is a Molecule? QuickTime Video (28 seconds)

        8. Explain that atoms can bond together to form molecules. Go over the model of a salt molecule in part 3 of the packet. Explain that the atoms bond by transferring or sharing electrons. (Do not go into great detail)

        9. Give the students a few minutes to answer numbers 6 and 7 of the packet

        10. Review number 6 with the class.

        11. Review number 7 with the class by discussing how the properties of the atoms changed when the chemical bond formed. Have students identify the properties of oxygen. Have students identify the properties of hydrogen. Show

        Hindenburg Disaster Newsreel QuickTime Video

        (5 minutes 26 seconds) identifying hydrogen’s explosive property. Have students identify the properties of water (the combination of hydrogen and oxygen).

        12. Explain how the number of subatomic particles did not change. The only change to the atoms is that they formed a bond. Discuss how chemical bonds can change the properties of a substance.

        13. Pass out the materials needed to construct a water molecule. Allow students a few minutes to create their molecules. Have the students come up and put their molecules in a large beaker. Explain how molecules will group together to form a large quantity of a substance.

        14. Have students answer number 9 of the packet. Review the answer to number 9.

        Part IV: Summary of the Building Blocks of Matter (5 minutes)

        15. Show Using Nanoscience to Understand the Properties of Matter QuickTime Video (48 seconds) to introduce students to nanoscience or how scientists investigate the properties of atoms and molecules.

        16. Show Taking Pictures of Things You Can't See QuickTime Video (1 minute 17 seconds).

        Part V: Extension

        17. When the students make their water molecules also have them make a NaCl molecule using the raisins and gummy bears. You can mix the water and salt molecules together in the beaker and explain that salt water is not a chemical bond. It is the molecules of salt and the molecules of water mixed together. Have students identify the properties of saltwater. Students should notice that the properties of water and salt are still present so no chemical bond was formed. Have the students identify another substance that is not a chemical bond but a mixture of different molecules.


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