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Carbon Atom Mobile

How can something so small be so spectacular? Explore the structure of carbon, the foundational element for all living things. See atoms for yourself!

  • Grade 5
    Grade 6
    Grades 7 and 8
  • 60 to 90 Minutes
  • Directions

    1. Carbon is everywhere -- diamonds, graphite, fuels, even the air you breathe. All plants have carbon as their most important element. Students find out more about the value of carbon to our planet.
    2. The smallest piece of carbon is a carbon atom. It can only be seen with a super-powered microscope. A carbon atom consists of a nucleus (center) with rings of moving electrons around it. Inside the nucleus are six protons (with a positive electrical charge) and six neutrons (with no electrical charge). Six electrons (with a negative charge) are around the nucleus.
    3. The positive electrical charge of the protons pulls on the negatively charged electrons to keep them around the nucleus. But four of the electrons are called valence electrons, which means they are free to bond with valence electrons from another carbon atom or an atom of another element, such as oxygen or hydrogen.
    4. Students build their own carbon atom mobile to visualize tiny carbon atoms. Students can use their your own ideas or follow these directions.
    5. With Crayola® Scissors cut one large cardboard circle into the outer shell, inner shell, and nucleus. Here's one way to do it.
    6. Fold the circle in half. Cut into the fold about a finger length from the edge. Cut a semi-circle around the inside of the outer circle. Unfold. There will be a large and small circle.
    7. Trim around the edges of the smaller circle to make it slightly smaller yet. Fold it in half. Cut into the fold about halfway from the outer edge. Cut around the inside again. Trim the smallest circle, which will be the atom's nucleus. Unfold.
    8. Color the nucleus and inner and outer shells with Crayola Washable Markers. Arrange the pieces with the smaller circles inside the larger ones. Cut string long enough to fit across the center of all three pieces plus add extra length for hanging. Lay string across the middle of all circles. Tape where the string rests on each piece.
    9. Use three different marker colors to color cotton balls to represent six protons, six neutrons, and six electrons. Attach protons and neutrons to the nucleus with Crayola School Glue. Attach two electrons to the inner shell and four electrons to the outer shell. Dry.
  • Standards

    LA: Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.

    LA: Integrate information from several texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.

    LA: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.

    LA: Report on a topic or text or present an opinion, sequencing ideas logically and using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace.

    SCI: Ask questions about the natural and human-built worlds.

    SCI: Construct drawings or diagrams as representations of events or systems.

    SS: Identify and describe examples in which science and technology have led to changes in the physical environment.

    VA: Intentionally take advantage of the qualities and characteristics of art media, techniques, and processes to enhance communication of their experiences and ideas.

    VA: Describe ways in which the principles and subject matter of other disciplines taught in the school are interrelated with the visual arts.

  • Adaptations

    Who figured it out? Provide students with a current Periodic Table of Elements. Students investigate scientists who made discoveries that are significant in modern chemistry, such as John Dalton, Linus Pauling, Jons Jacob Berzelius, Robert Wilhelm Bunsen, Dmitri Mendeleev, etc. Students compose a written summary of their research, use Crayola Colored Pencils to sketch the face of the scientist. Next, students create a mobile of that scientists contributions to chemistry. Take a digital photograph of the sketch and mobile. Upload these to a classroom computer. Students will audio record their summaries and attach these electronic files to the appropriate digital photograph.

    The first 18 elements in the periodic table make up the majority of matte in our universe. In small groups, students focus research efforts on these 18 elements and identify as many items as possible for each element. Post this project as a bulletin board in the classroom.

    Students tour their school building and grounds to find items that contain one or more of the first 18 elements contained in the periodic table. Using Crayola colored pencils, students sketch these items. Post a listing of items documented on the school campus, paired with student sketches in a public display at the school.


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  • Creativity.
  • Capacity.
  • Collaboration.
  • Change.
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