Submitted by Joanne Stewart / Hope College on Wed, 04/02/2008 - 23:04
My Notes
Course Level
Topics Covered

This is a beginning-of-semester "warm up." The goals are to help students reconnect to their prior knowledge about atomic orbitals and to introduce and practice the fundamentals of good small group work.

Learning Goals

Students will be able to describe atomic orbitals using the language they learned in high school and/or general chemistry.

Students will demonstrate their ability to work successfully in small groups. In particular, they will learn about the various roles one can play when working in a group and they will practice being reflective about group process.

Equipment needs

A video or animation on atomic orbitals. I use the atomic orbitals video that came out of Nate Lewis's group at Caltech. A short lecture on orbitals can also work.

Implementation Notes

I find it helps to be pretty rigid about structuring group work early in the semester, and then loosening the reins as the semester progresses. Therefore, I have students play just ONE role in this exercise and I have them complete the "meta" reflection at the end. Research on small group work demonstrates that when the group takes time, collectively, to reflect on how they worked together, they can improve their small group skills.

Because this is a brain storming exercise, students need to be reminded to write EVERYTHING down and not criticize.

Time Required
40 minutes


Evaluation Methods

I grade the "Scribe's Sheet" (see attachment).

Evaluation Results

Students have fun with this. Groups are typically able to remember up to about ten terms related to orbitals (see attached sample of answers).

Most of my students have not had physical chemistry, so they don't understand the relationship between total number of nodes, spherical nodes, radial nodes, and n and l. Most groups are able to figure it out, but there is typically one group (out of 8-10) that gets the relationship wrong.

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Karen McFarlane Holman / Willamette University
I'm always looking for ways to reduce lecture time and get them talking and thinking together.  This looks like a great way to do it!  Thanks.
Tue, 04/22/2008 - 01:00 Permalink
Barbara Reisner / James Madison University
Are the videos that you mention available online?  If so, could you provide a link?  If not, could you provide ordering information?
Wed, 07/16/2008 - 11:56 Permalink
Joanne Stewart / Hope College

I searched the web and was not able to find any current information on the videos. They came from a project called "CAP" for Chemistry Animation Project, but the CAP web site is dead and I couldn't find any mention of them on Nate Lewis's web site.

I like them because they're short and professional, yet vaguely humorous in a geeky kind of way. And although this may sound bad, I like the fact that you can simply turn them on and watch them somewhat passively. It's relaxing for the students.

So the obvious thing would probably be to contact Nate. I also looked through the Merlot site (,  an amazing resource) and they have a zillion different orbital animations, but none of them really caught my fancy. But if someone designed a learning object using one of them, I'd test it!

Tue, 10/14/2008 - 23:35 Permalink
Maggie Geselbracht / Reed College
Joanne, I really like the format of this activity.  I decided to try it on the first day of my sophomore-level class as a way for students to review what they knew.  I combined your activity with some questions from the fundamental quiz on atomic orbitals posted on VIPEr (see the Related activities link above) and came up with a new version that I have posted for others to see.  This modified version only uses small group discussions and not the video or animation.
Fri, 07/31/2009 - 02:51 Permalink