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The Chemical Educator

ISSN: 1430-4171 (electronic version)

Table of Contents

Abstract Volume 19 (2014) pp 229-231

Teaching Quantum Numbers Using Candy: An Activity for a General Chemistry Course

Kelly M. Elkins

Chemistry Department, Towson University, 8000 York Rd, Towson, MD 21252, kmelkins@towson.edu
Received September 11, 2013. Accepted February 5, 2014.

Published: 11 July 2014

Abstract. The topic of quantum numbers is an abstract and therefore difficult one for general chemistry students. Student learning of quantum numbers has long been improved by employing analogies and mnemonics. Candy has been used to engage students and improve their understanding of difficult concepts including understanding the covalent bond (“sharing”), wavefunctions in Physical Chemistry courses, Punnett Squares in biology and genetics courses, and as a mnemonic for learning electron configuration using the periodic table in General Chemistry courses.This activity will be performed after a lecture on the Bohr model of the atom and electron configuration and waves and energy levels. Initially, the unique sets of four candies assigned by the instructor will be placed at selected seats moving from the front to rear rows of the classroom to model the assignment of quantum numbers to the each electron in an atom of an element of interest by increasing shell number. Using the table provided, the students will deduce from the set of candy the four quantum numbers for a specific electron. The instructor can tabulate the students’ responses on the board in the same organization as the room. From this, the students will be asked to deduce the rules for assigning each candy. The instructor will then explain what the candy represents and lecture on quantum numbers. The candy selections were made due to their availability, shape (e.g., spinning device), and availability of color options. The activity may last as few as fifteen minutes or the majority of a 50-minute class period if the instructor incorporates the initial demonstration with a group work activity on quantum numbers and quantum theory. This activity is easily performed in the classroom by each student or a group of students. The materials are inexpensive, readily available and are non-toxic. The students responded positively to the activity and were more engaged with the abstract material than in sessions without the activity.

Key Words: Laboratories and Demonstrations; ; high school; introductory chemistry; first-year undergraduate; general; physical chemistry; quantum chemistry; hands-on learning; mnemonics; quantum numbers

(*) Corresponding author. (E-mail: kmelkins@towson.edu)

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