In this activity, students will read a series of passages from the young readers edition of The Disappearing Spoon that are related to the elements in the AACT video series.
Middle and High School
By the end of this activity, students should be able to
- Understand chemistry concepts and improve their science literacy, critical thinking and reading comprehension skills.
- Recognize the contributions to the organization of the periodic table over time by important scientists.
- Understand that the current periodic table was developed over time based on many discoveries, models and revisions.
This activity supports students’ understanding of
- Periodic Table
- History of Chemistry
Teacher Preparation: minimal
Lesson: Approximately 15 – 30 minutes per reading passage
- The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Rivalry, Adventure, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements (Young Readers Edition)
- Student Handout
- Sam Kean’s Disappearing Spoon Video Series (optional)
- AACT Student Video Pass (optional)
- No specific safety precautions need to be observed for this activity.
- This activity is designed to help students understand and connect chemistry concepts to real life events. It will also help improve science literacy, critical thinking, and reading comprehensive skills.
- This resource is based on the Young Readers Edition of The Disappearing Spoon, but could also be used with the original edition.
- Short passages where chosen so that students can easily read and answer questions in a relatively short period of time.
- Assign the readings and questions to be completed outside of class and then use class time to discuss the passage and how it is related to the concepts you are covering with your students. Then show the corresponding video from Sam Kean’s Disappearing Spoon Video Series and have students answer the video questions as they watch.
- Request that students purchase the book at the beginning of the school year so that you can refer to it and use it as you move through the curriculum.
- The passages that are included in this resource have been linked to chemistry topics that you may cover throughout the school year:
|Mercury||Introduction||1 - 4||Use this passage at the beginning of the school year to get students excited about chemistry.|
1 - What Exactly is an Element
1 - Location, Location, Location
13 – 16
20 - 22
|Periodic Table - basics and introduction|
|Arsenic||2 - Bunsen, Mendeleev, and Meyer||23 -25||Lab safety and equipment|
|Gallium||2 - Theory Versus Experiment||29 - 32||Periodic Table – after talking about how Mendeleev predicted the existence of unknown elements|
|Silicon||3 - The Same But Different||36 - 39||Periodic Trends|
|Hydrogen||4 - The Big Bang and Other Theories||47 - 50||Chemistry Basics – elements, compounds, atoms|
8 - Shape Matters
8 - The Shape of DNA
|97 - 103||Molecular shapes, VSEPR, structure and properties|
|Cadmium||9 - Itai-Itai Disease||104-108||Chemical reactions|
13 - Midas's Zinc Touch
13 - Counterfeit Currency
|146 - 151||Electrons, energy levels, electron configuration|
|Manganese||15 - Shark Teeth||169 - 172||Unit conversion|
|Astatine||19 - The Island of Stability||204 - 208||Kinetics (first order decay), nuclear chemistry|
- Each of the reading passages in this resource is related to an element in the Sam Kean’s Disappearing Spoon Video Series. Each video in the series tells the story of an element from the periodic table. The name of the series may be familiar to you because the video content has been adapted, with author involvement, from the widely popular book, The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements, by Sam Kean.
- The student questions/answers are presented in sequential order from the book.
- An answer key has also been provided for teacher reference.
For the Student
The Disappearing Spoon Reading Questions – Mercury (Pages 1 – 4)
Read the Introduction (pages 1 – 4) from The Disappearing Spoon, answer the following questions.
- Described what Sam Kean observed when he would break a thermometer when he was sick as a child.
- How did his mother clean up the mercury mess from the thermometer?
- Why does mercury act differently when spilled than water or carbon dioxide?
- What medicine did Lewis and Clark carry with them as they moved across the county?
- What was the medicine used for?
- What evidence is there of Lewis and Clark’s mercury laxatives?
- How do you think the “Mad Hatter” in Alice in Wonderland got his name?
The Disappearing Spoon Reading Questions – Helium (Pages 13 – 16, 20 - 22)
Read What Exactly is an Element (pages 13 - 16) and Location, Location, Location (pages 20 - 22) from Chapter 1 of The Disappearing Spoon, answer the following questions.
- What term did Plato use to mean “element”? What did it stand for?
- What is an element? Give two more examples of an element. Give one example of a compound and explain why it is a compound.
- What did you learn about electrons?
- Describe what happens when you cool pure helium down to -456°F.
- Draw a helium atom, showing the electrons, protons, and neutrons.
- Why is helium referred to as “noble”?
- What is used to determine the position of an element on the Periodic Table?
- Helium is in the 18th column of the Periodic Table. What is it referred to and why. What are there other elements that are part of that same group?
The Disappearing Spoon Reading Questions – Arsenic (Pages 23 – 25)
Read Bunsen, Mendeleev, and Meyer (pages 23 - 25) from Chapter 2 of The Disappearing Spoon, answer the following questions.
- What is unusual about the Bunsen burner’s name?
- How did the Romans use arsenic to assassinate their victims?
- What type of arsenic-based substances did Bunsen experiment with?
- What is their name based on and why?
- What did Bunsen’s arsenic antidote contain and how did it work?
- Why did Bunsen stop experimenting with arsenic and what was his next project?
- How was Newland’s Periodic Table arranged?
- What other science is credited with the “periodic law”?
- What did Mendeleev do that Meyer did not with the blank spaces on his Periodic Table?
The Disappearing Spoon Reading Questions – Gallium (Pages 29 - 32)
Read Theory Versus Experiment (pages 29 - 32) from Chapter 2 of The Disappearing Spoon, answer the following questions.
- Who was the element gallium named after? What was another theory about the name at the time?
- Why will gallium melt in your hand?
- How has gallium sometimes been used as a practical joke?
- Why did Mendeleev claim that he should be able to name gallium and why did he originally name it eka-aluminum?
- How did Mendeleev’s prediction differ from Boisbaudran’s measurements and what happened as a result?
- What wrong predictions did Mendeleev make?
The Disappearing Spoon Reading Questions – Silicon (Pages 40 – 44)
Read The Same But Different (pages 36 - 39) from Chapter 3 of The Disappearing Spoon, answer the following questions.
- How do we refer to the columns and rows on the Periodic Table?
- Why are columns referred to as “families”?
- What elements are in Group 14, how are they the same, and how do they differ as you move down the column?
- Describe the similarity and differences between carbon dioxide and silicon dioxide.
- What is one theory about why the dinosaurs might have died?
- How do we use silicon?
- What is a semiconductor?
- Why did Bardeen and Brattain use germanium instead of silicon in their amplifier?
- Why did engineers prefer silicon to germanium transistors?
- Germanium was the best choice for making integrated circuits, but silicon eventually replace it? Explain why.
The Disappearing Spoon Reading Questions – Hydrogen (Pages 47 – 50)
Read The Big Bang and Other Theories (pages 47 - 50) from Chapter 4 of The Disappearing Spoon, answer the following questions.
- By 1939, scientists had proven what theory about how the sun and starts produced heat?
- What two elements to young stars contain?
- What did the “B2FH” paper theorize?
- Why did this process stop with iron?
- Where did elements bigger than iron come from?
- How and when was our solar system formed?
The Disappearing Spoon Reading Questions – Phosphorus (Pages 97 – 103)
Read Shape Matters and The Shape of DNA (pages 97 - 103) from Chapter 8 of The Disappearing Spoon, answer the following questions.
- Why are snowflakes six-sided?
- Pauling studied chemical bonds. What fascinated him the most about bonding and larger molecules?
- What did scientists know about DNA in 1952?
- What was Pauling’s theory about the shape of DNA?
- What did the graduate student find when he checked Pauling’s calculations?
- What was Rosalind Franklin’s theory about the shape of DNA?
- What did Watson and Crick finally determine about the shape of DNA?
- What two Nobel Prizes did Pauling win and when?
The Disappearing Spoon Reading Questions – Cadmium (Pages 104 – 108)
Read Itai-Itai Disease (pages 104 - 108) from Chapter 9 of The Disappearing Spoon, answer the following questions.
- What is the “poisoner’s corridor” and what elements are in it?
- How do you separate zinc and cadmium?
- How is cadmium used today?
- How were the people who lived along the Jinzu River being exposed to cadmium?
- What are the symptoms of cadmium poisoning?
- How was Godzilla killed in the movie The Return of Godzilla?
The Disappearing Spoon Reading Questions – Gold (Pages 146 – 151)
Read Midas’s Zinc Touch and Counterfeit Currency (pages 146 - 151) from Chapter 13 of The Disappearing Spoon, answer the following questions.
- How did Midas get the “Midas Touch”?
- Did the “Midas Touch” actually produce gold?
- What ancient ruler is given credit for the first real currency system and what did he do?
- How did early counterfeiters make fake money?
- Describe how electrons move around a nucleus.
- Describe how the element europium is being used to stop counterfeit Euros.
The Disappearing Spoon Reading Questions – Manganese (Pages 169 - 172)
Read Shark Teeth (pages 169 - 172) from Chapter 15 of The Disappearing Spoon, answer the following questions.
- What did researchers from the HMS Challenger find when they dredged the Pacific Ocean floor in 1873?
- How did this discovery lead to the theory about the “megalodon”?
- How fast did the manganese form around the shark teeth?
- What did the size of the manganese cones tell scientists about their age?
- How is the story of the megalodons similar to that of the coelacanth?
The Disappearing Spoon Reading Questions – Astatine (Pages 204 - 208)
Read The Island of Stability (pages 204 - 208) from Chapter 19 of The Disappearing Spoon, answer the following questions.
- What is the most prevalent element in the universe?
- How do scientists figure out how much astatine is present on earth?
- What is the half-life of astatine?
- What is the purpose of the “strong force”?
- Why are astatine and francium so unstable?
- Why is there more francium than astatine present on the earth when it decays more quickly?