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!


Resources: Brain-food for you and your students, courtesy of YouTube and the Net

MAN-Steve Cutts 


The above is my favourite piece of propaganda: a hyperbole of the damage we are doing to our environment. It is biased and confronting, so it is best used for an older/more mature class and should be followed up with some sustainable behaviours that the students can enact. Otherwise, it can be quite depressing. I have to admit that it’s something I often share with adults as well. 

Wild Sex-Sexy Dance Offs


I used this for my senior Biology class when I wanted to teach them about mate choice and sexual selection. It is not necessarily part of the curriculum, but it helps kids to understand that “survival of the fittest” is about organisms surviving long enough to produce offspring rather than just surviving. You can also use it to explain the reasons why some characteristics become more prevalent than others in a population. 

Positive and negative feedback loops


Perfect because it’s simple, but still detailed and it uses subject specific terminology. Senior biologists love this one! 

The Science of Cats


This is a great video, answering interesting questions using simple, applied Science. It’s a great treat for the end of a lesson of hard thinking. 


This website is useful for communicating with students outside of school. It gives you administrative privileges so that you can control what they are posting to one another, but they can ask questions of you or each other. If I use a resource in class, I post it to the wall for future reference, either for them to study or for me to find again. They can share photos, videos and websites too. If I am absent from school and my class has laptops, I can leave them a copy of the work to refer to. Some classes respond to it better than others, but it’s still a useful resource, and the layout resembles Facebook, making it easy to use.

Dog Cloning


This is a cute little interactive explaining the process of cloning. It uses a hypothetical scenario of cloning  imaginary dogs and I LOVE it because it removes some of those common misconceptions. For best effect, get each kid to do it individually on a computer. Takes about 10 mins at the most. 

Mantis Shrimp-The Oatmeal


Educational for all involved, fun facts with an accessible perspective on the Science. I use it when I’m teaching about light waves, and also in senior Biology when we’re learning about how eyes work. 

Nikola Tesla-The Oatmeal


Same as above, plus the excellent ‘human element’ that can be missing from Science sometimes. It is essential for teaching kids about how to actually BE a scientist and it also makes them think about where our acquired knowledge has come from. From memory, it has offensive language, so I save it for seniors or I tell students to look it up at home on their own. They can be enticed to do this with the promise of offensive language.

My biggest goal when teaching is making my students think. I like to give them information, perspectives and opinions so that they can come to their own conclusions and make carefully-weighed decisions. The best way for me to do that is to continually collect information, perspectives and conclusions for myself. I also spend a fair amount of time finding new representations of scientific issues and concepts. The resources above are great, so please check them out and make sure that you pass them on. Teacher or not, this knowledge is useful and accessible for people of all ages and educational backgrounds. 

Healthy faculty relationships can often be built around shared resources. We are good at passing on resources in our faculty when someone asks for them, but we are working towards building an electronic repository that everyone can access at their own leisure. This is a positive and progressive step forward for us, and I recommend it. 

Happy Learning! 


Friendship is for kids

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Friendship is a recurring theme for high school children and it is referenced constantly in the education literature about hidden curriculum. The hidden curriculum is a term for those things that children learn at school outside of the curriculum mandated by any Department of Education. Friendship is an important contributor to mental health and self-esteem for teenagers and it can also be a badge of popularity. For many students, it is not the quality of the friends they have that is important, but rather the quantity of friends they share moments with, or the quantity of photos taken and posted to social media. Most people will agree that it is important to have friends and that it is important to be seen by others as having friends.

As a school student, I would have said that I was friends with a great many people, and those I was closest to, I termed ‘best friends’. As an adult, my perception of friends is very different from that teenage view, and I often feel that I have very few friends. In fact, despite giving advice about quality relationships and correct treatment of others, I have plenty of people I deem ‘friends’ who do not treat me well, and there are other people that I am sure I do not treat well due to a lack of interest in them. I sometimes find myself wondering if they would call me their ‘friend’. The Book of Faces thinks that I have 300+ friends, and yet I socialise with a small group of people who do not share the same interests, beliefs, morals and viewpoints as me. It is wonderful to interact with and learn from such a diverse range of people, but there are times when I hide my own thoughts and opinions from them so as not to cause offense or seem lesser than them. As a teenager, I would have said that honesty was the most important aspect of friendship.

My teacher alter-ego takes from me a great deal of emotional energy and so I have fallen out of those circles of people who socialise by partying in night clubs every weekend. My friends and I have physically moved apart from each other as well, sometimes to different countries, to chase our careers, and we have deprioritised our commitment to each other. By moving out of my family home and into share accommodation, I have taken on the responsibility of maintaining ties with my family as well as the responsibilities of caring for myself and the share house. Social interactions with housemates are usually polite, but extended politeness is a mechanism for masking discord.

Who are my friends then? When am I being friendly and when am I being polite? How do I measure how much I care for someone and how can I measure how much they care for me? I think that it IS important to find a measure for the level of friendship you have with someone, because that measure dictates the acceptable intimacy and frequency of interaction. This measure becomes particularly important when cementing friendships with attached members of the opposite sex. I have always found it easier to converse with males. I have a simple biological answer for why this is, but it may not be the correct answer: I am not competing with males for mates and therefore I am not intimidated by them. Since this is a fairly candid post, I should also admit here that I do find the males I want to mate with intimidating and I avoid all conversation with them where possible! The only other time I struggle with males is when their mate would prefer them not to become friends with a female. I then have to find a way of keeping my distance and acting ultra-appropriate. That is definitely NOT friendship. I find many females intimidating and it takes me longer to form firm relationships with them. Perhaps that is why I forgive so many of my female ‘friends’ when they neglect to make time for me or when they do not reciprocate the effort I put into organising social events or asking after their wellbeing. It took me so long to make those friends in the first place that I do not want to let them go.


At the moment, I have no easy answers for which of my friends are actually friends and which ones are not, but despite experiencing only transient feelings of intimacy with others, I still have people to go climbing with, people to go to yoga with, and people I love teaching with and eating with. I have people to discuss novels, movies, politics and environmentalism with and I have plenty of people with the expertise and life experience to enrich my knowledge and challenge my opinions.

The Book of Faces reflects these relationships and displays many photos and check-ins attesting to my status as a friend of many who frequently enjoys outings with others. I am not condemning social media as a facade of friendship because I do not believe that this is so. Many people do take that point of view, but I think that social media has given opportunities for relationship development that would not exist outside of these websites. Social media allows friends and families separated by distance to converse regularly and it also helps with ice-breaking during the early stages of any friendship or co-worker interactions.

I am grateful for social media, and for the people who take the time out of their lives to share some company with me, but most of all, I am grateful to the rare few who ask how I’m going, chat to me for no purpose and acknowledge me when I am sad. Thank you to the people who share their inner thoughts with me as well as a movie theatre, staffroom, novel or climbing rope. I hope I am meeting your standards of friendship too.



Something for Me; Something for Them!

A little while ago, I found this video circulating Facebook and I watched it and LOVED it! You should watch it too:

If I Were A Teacher-Ask Kingsley

The title of the video gives an inkling that perhaps this youth in a funny hat will be bagging out teachers, so I found his opinions and his arguments refreshing. I wish very much that I could share this with my students, but due to the explicit language and unsavoury themes, (stabbing people and wishing for bus crashes) I cannot. 

After watching, I perused some other videos by this enigmatic person because he is viewed enough to suggest that his audience values his opinions. The premise of his YouTube channel is that you can log on to his tumblr page and submit questions of any nature to him, and he will answer the ones he chooses in an amusing fashion. He also performs dares. It made me wish that I had the time to set up a YouTube channel dedicated to helping kids with their Science homework. 

Trust a boring old teacher to take the fun out of YouTube!

Instead, I now use a question box during select lessons. The box is always depressingly devoid of conscious thought and overflowing with the litter that usually adorns the floor. 

Still, I continue to cogitate about the influence this brave young soul possesses and I wonder how I could attain the same level of trust from the young minds entrusted to me. I suppose it also makes me wonder about the ethics and mechanics of persuasion…..

The other excellent resource I found from a colleague of mine is a DVD entitled Bag It. It can be investigated and purchased below: 

Bag It

This DVD is a documentary evaluating the impact of modern plastic use on the environment. It is not a balanced view because it seems the producers had difficulty in obtaining statements from a pro-plastics representative. It is food for thought, I changed my lifestyle in small ways as a result of watching it, and top students will empathise with the viewpoints presented. However, I have found that lower ability students or students who have difficulty behaving in a polite fashion during Science have strong negative reactions to the documentary. They often describe plastic reducing behaviours as “extreme” “not likely to become widespread” and “for hippies and crazy people”. 


Often, the argument about sustainability and environmentalism is that we are educating a disempowered sector of society. I.e. it is not children who make decisions about the products purchased for the household, and if they tried to advocate reduction of plastic use, perhaps their viewpoint would not be valued. I had not thought to find children’s minds closed to building a sustainable future. 


Overall, the YouTube clip will brighten your day, and hopefully one day we will have a Parents Popcorn Night at school where we force them to watch Bag It with their children. I remember an awkward night with my parents at the end of primary school where we all learned about reproduction together, so I think showing Bag It would be a viable option instead! 



Biology isn’t a real Science!

At the beginning of my senior Biology lesson on Tuesday, two trespassers were occupying chairs at the back of the room. I saw the boys almost immediately and told them to leave. One was intelligent enough to try a cunning trick to fool me into letting them stay: “But Miss! We’re your students!” Thankfully, I often look at and speak to the students in my classes, so I saw through his ploy and insisted that they leave.

The two interlopers left and we proceeded to have a normal lesson…..until five minutes before the bell when a threatening message was inserted under the door:




This made it rather obvious that the infiltrators had been bored physicists, tired of their endless calculations and ready to learn a Science that is readily applicable to everyday life.


Yesterday (Friday), I was given an extra class to teach in lieu of the year 12 students who have left for the year. That extra class was of course the very same year 11 Physics! As soon as I walked into the room, I was told: “Ms. Blue, get out!”. “Biology isn’t a real Science” was also shouted around the room a few times. They began to do some work though, and their self-righteous, misguided and uneducated taunting was giving them some pride in their knowledge of Physics, so I suppose I don’t really mind.

How did this pissing contest between the year 11 Biologists and Physicists start? I have my suspicions…..

There is a gifted and talented boy in that cohort who studies Physics and Chemistry but not Earth Science or Biology, because he deems them pseudosciences. When questioned on his views, he stated that his conception of Science was “A practical application of mathematics to explain natural phenomena.” Thus, in his eyes, there was not enough mathematics in Biology and Earth Science to make them true Sciences. The current Earth teacher and I explained the applications of mathematics in our subjects and agreed that they used different types of mathematics, but that it was still maths, and therefore, by his definition, still Science. I then pointed out that the Scientific Method is a more important determining factor for whether or not something is Science. This boy listened to our viewpoints and was convinced. But it was too late. The joke was there, and his peers were not going to let it go. Their Physics pride was now too high for a mere Biology educator to bring them back to reality.

Any level of interest in Science in Australia is a wonderful thing, especially because of the embarrassment our government has become in relation to advancing the Scientific opportunities of our country. I am more than happy for  students to have these little competitions, provided it inspires them to learn more and to take on a Science career in the future. That is, if Science careers are available in the Australian future.

The only irritating and counter-productive aspect to this argument is that most of the students carrying on the joke do not understand the reason for the initial pronouncement of Biology as unscientific. They are parroting something that the “smart kid” said and they have gone against all Scientific principles and accepted it blindly as truth.


………..is this irony? a paradox? Perhaps I should relay the situation to the English staff for an expert opinion………..


How do YOU medicate?




Everyone has had a fat teacher before. In fact, it is rather rare to get a skinny one, and the skinny ones you do find are either health nuts, or they haven’t been teaching very long. I remember being a  prac student and looking at how unhealthy the majority of teachers were. I must admit to commenting that there must be a positive correlation between years spent teaching and weight in kilograms. Even the leaner teachers I observed looked overtired and sick. I remember being embarrassed for them and wondering why they didn’t bother to look after themselves as adults. 

Now I know why.


Teaching is very very stressful, and non-teachers sometimes struggle to understand how it can be. Teaching is emotionally draining, the deadlines for creating and marking work and writing reports are continual and at the end of the day, even driving requires more brainpower than you wish to expend. Additionally, your popularity is important. Parents, students and other staff members must perceive you as reliable, competent, knowledgeable,  reasonable, fair and consistent. I possess none of these attributes when conversing with people I consider to be deliberately ignorant, and unfortunately it is not only  students who fit into this category. 

I know there are healthy ways to burn off this stress, and in fact I usually do find healthy, helpful ways to release stress and invigorate myself for the following day. Exercise is the easiest and most effective stress-reliever and it also lifts my mood a great deal. Taking some ‘me’ time to go indoor rock climbing with friends or to attend a yoga class once a week can keep me happy throughout dealings with the the most belligerent of work refusers.


Here’s the catch: exercise DOES take time, and time is in short supply. So when I can’t manage to squeeze anything else into an overloaded schedule, I turn to many unhealthy and addictive substances and pastimes.

1. Coffee

2. Chocolate

3. Tea

4. Chips

5. TV

6. Shopping


Keeping a blog is my new attempt at stress-relief that will not directly make me fat and poor. Again, it’s time-consuming work, but my current goal is more: 



and less: 



How do YOU medicate?