Making M&M atoms with Year 10

Modelling The Subatomic Structure of an Atom (Year 10)

Prior Knowledge: atomic number=number of protons, atomic mass= number of protons + neutrons, number of electrons=number of protons, electrons exist in energy levels or shells with 2 occupying the first shell and 8 occupying the shells after that.


mnms skittles mnsmmini


periodic table


1. Write on the board:

M&Ms= protons


M&Ms minis=electrons.

2. Point out that the size difference between protons and neutrons is negligible (for year 10) and that electrons are much smaller than the other two subatomic particles. Hence, the mini M&Ms are the electrons.

3. Students use the information in their periodic table to construct an atom of hydrogen, an atom of lithium and an atom of beryllium.

4. Students draw the atom they have created out of consumables.

5. Students create a table showing similarities and differences between the structures of the three atoms. (help them to notice that they all have one electron in the outer shell and that each one has a different number of electron shells)

6. Students use the information in their periodic table to construct an atom of helium, neon and argon.

7. Students draw the atom they have created out of consumables.

8. Students create a table showing similarities and differences between the structures of the three atoms. (help them to notice that they all have full outer shells and that each one has a different number of electron shells)

9. Link the number of electrons in the outer shell to the group number (explain the helium anomaly) and the number of electron shells to the period number.

My class is pretty bright, so I managed to leap straight from this to ionic bonding by getting them to trade mini m&ms. They picked up on their own that the atoms become charged if you change the amount of electrons, and thus I could introduce the concept of ions.

I’m not going to lie, this lesson was a massive hit. They worked as fast as they could in order to eat their atoms, and the physical model also helped them to see that the nucleus doesn’t get ‘filled’ it is actually just MADE of protons and neutrons. Likewise with ‘shells’. If you remove an electron from a shell with only one in it, the one underneath becomes the outer shell.

This is actually a lesson I borrowed off of another teacher and then modified. It was originally shown to me as a lesson for teaching year 9 about the existence of protons, neutrons and electrons and their organisation within an atom. In this instance, you should provide the kids with a scaffold showing a distinct empty nucleus and some empty energy levels.

This is a very versatile lesson and I hope it works for you! Don’t forget to write the lollies off on tax….even the extras that YOU end up eating!


“So you don’t have to go back to work until February, right? Wow, I wish I got 6 weeks of paid holiday!”


1301BlamingTeachers-ArtAt this time of year, the only smalltalk among friends and family during Christmas celebrations is a comment on my ‘extensive holiday period’.  I’d like to see some of my family members do this holiday with as much style as I manage to pull off!

But firstly: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Australia! 

Traditional Christmas Symbolism:

tree one

Australian Christmas Symbolism:

snowman sand


….although, to be fair, it did drizzle a bit on Christmas Day 2013.

How to Christmas Holiday like a Science teacher: 

1. Increase coffee intake so that your 10-week sleep debt catches up with you on the 27th, not the 25th. Try hard to remember that it’s not nice to snap at people.

2. Purchase gifts for everyone within two days. Do not buy anything that is more than 50% plastic and refuse shopping bags wherever possible. Don’t forget that children should be engaged in learning from their Christmas presents. (Yes, people ARE grateful when I’m their Secret Santa, why do you ask?)

3. Wrap presents as well as you can with minimal wrapping paper (reduce), rip the old tags off of last year’s gift bags (reuse), and separate the sticky tape and foil paper from the papery paper before putting the rubbish into your bins (recycle). Advertise unwanted boxes on freecycle for people who are moving.

4. Conveniently forget that the supermarkets are closed for two days. Neglect to shop for groceries. Strategically plan your meals based around the friends and family you visit.

5. OPEN GIFTS! Plenty of chocolate, Science documentaries, household trimmings and books to read! These gifts are truly orgasm-inducing! (Turn into boring adult: check!)

6. Watch housemates leave for work. Brainstorm people to hang out with…..but they’re all at work. Wait for something to happen on FaceBook.

7. Eat many things.

8. Sit on couch with no prospects of company for many days. Find reasons why usual exercise schedule is absurd and unachievable without a school routine.

9. Eat ALL chocolate with nobody around to avoid possible social tension stemming from an unwillingness to share.

10. Begin intense household cleaning regime.

11. Cook lots to pass time and to create MORE things to eat. (WARNING: Do not interact with scales).

12. Become dissatisfied with housemates and enter into harebrained scheme to move house. Keep this scheme continually running in the background.

13. Allow the days to pass in a blur of domesticity, superficial social encounters, overeating and vegetating.

14. One week before the return of school, panic.

15. Lock self in office and complete all planning, marking and resource creation that was supposed to be spread over six weeks.

16. Begin the term and dedicate yourself to teaching again at the expense of housework. Restart exercise routine. Plan to clean and cook again in ten weeks’ time. It is now safe to approach the scales, but you might have to leap over piles of mess……..


And that’s why they tell you to marry a teacher! 


Next Teacher Please!

The “middle” year ten Science class, Term four, guaranteed by streaming to contain average, ‘c’-level students.

The end of a topic.

Test completed by the regular attenders, still chasing the ghosts on the roll to submit more of the work and complete said test.

To further asses the long-term retention of information and to aid with programming for the coming year, students are asked to provide course and teacher feedback.

Q1. What topics were studied this year?

Silence. Most can eventually agree that they studied something about space and that last year, there was something about electricity.

Q2. What was your favourite topic

Must have been the space one

Q3. What would you change for this course next year?

We should study some electricity like in year nine.

Finally, thankfully, the stupor breaks.

“A different teacher” says Andrew*, grinning at the other students, looking for someone to share his joke.

It falls flat, but I just can’t leave the comment alone, because I agree with him. I job-shared this class with another teacher, but despite two scientific intellects and two different perspectives on teaching, we failed them. They didn’t feel like a successful class at all. “What would you change about our teaching?” I probe. It was at this point that Andrew admits to his joke. “I just hate school.” The other students begin to nod, looking relieved that maybe the task of having to expend some brain power reflecting on their learning will end.

“Guys, this is important to me,” I say. “I am not going to get angry with you, please just give me some ideas for what to teach year ten next year, for how I can change the atmosphere in the room!”

Suffice it to say that the rest of the feedback session is just as flat, and it confirms my suspicion: I failed to connect with this class and to help them value learning Science because they refused to actively think about things. I cannot understand that in a person because I overanalyse every aspect of my day, and so, they failed to connect with me too.

So here I am now, overanalysing the results of my failed feedback session. I thought I was valuing my students’ opinions, helping my teaching to grow and assessing the relative importance of the different topics that we teach to year ten scientists. Instead, I was serving them more of what they have been rejecting all year: decision-making power and higher-order thinking skills. The two magic things we were told at uni to incorporate into every lesson!

Before the conversations in the room turned to endless complaints about the inferior intellect and poor fashion choices of past and present teachers, the only other tired phrase I managed to squeeze from them was “more pracs”. Now, the reason this truncated statement made me angry was that whenever we did “pracs”, the same students who made this statement fought me when I insisted that they perform practical tasks and analyse results. These same students failed to submit a take-home experiment and report until I buried them in N-determination warning letters. So you can understand my vehement rejection of this as a considered and valuable response. What they meant was “more lessons where we follow a recipe to burn something without searching for meaning afterwards”.

The final average marks of this class are indeed at a C level and their test results show exactly what you would expect of a middle-range class. Their results are also quite clustered. Apart from a few chronic work refusers/truanters and one or two hard workers, the students have all achieved very similar results. Most teachers would look at this and see that even though the students were uninspired, they kept up with a year ten workload and most achieved their average results. However, their lacklustre attitude and their continual laziness causes me psychosomatic chest pain whenever I have to teach them. I agree with my Andrew, who is a pleasant person when I get to interact with him outside of the Science classroom: they are ready to complain about me to their next educators, whoever they may be, because I had the audacity to insist that they think for themselves.