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First Day Assignment: Making A Point

Near the end of the period on the first day of school, I always give my students the same assignment- memorize the Periodic Table! Now don’t stop ready in disgust, there’s a method to my madness.

I tell my students that since this is chemistry that we may as well get off to a good start by memorizing the Periodic Table. Then I give them the details. They will need to know the name of each element with correct spelling, AND pronunciation. AND, it will be very important to know where each element sits on the Periodic Table, so they will need to know the element’s number and position on the table.

Then I drop the bomb, and tell them that the test will be tomorrow, and no, it’s not matching. I usually get a few seconds of silence… crickets. Then the horror of it all begins to come forth. I listen to them complain for a few minutes with my “What?” face on. I’ll hear things like: “There’s no way,” “I won’t do it,” and of course…”That’s not fair!”

After I’ve let them whine and complain for a few moments, I say…”Well, let’s see, there are 119 elements on the table. That shouldn’t be difficult.” Roars come from the students.

“Wait, I have more than 119 students- a lot more! Don’t you expect the same thing out of me? I’m expected to know your name, spelling, AND correct pronunciation on the first day! The hoax begins to dawn on them… “No, I will never have you memorize the Periodic Table. It is a very important tool that we will be using this year. I may ask you to know about thirty of the most common elements, but never the whole table.

BUT, I want you to think about how you felt when you thought you would have a test on this tomorrow. Have mercy on your teachers, and be kind to them as we learn all 150 names, correct pronunciations, and whether it’s “Bre-anna” or “Bre-onna” (spelled the same).

Students really get it, and usually react positively to the analogy. “Wow, I never thought of that.” And then, we will always have at least one student say: “So, we’re not having a test tomorrow?” The whole class breaks into laughter!

Chemistry Corner

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