This is an interactive small-group discussion activity I did on the first day of sophomore-level inorganic chemistry to get students to interact with each other and brainstorm to collectively review what they knew about atomic orbitals. I also wanted to "set the stage" for non-lecture type activities in this class. I adapted this in-class activity from one posted by Joanne Stewart (Hope College) with additional questions from a fundamental quiz posted by Barbara Reisner (James Madison University).
After this in-class review a student should be able to:
- Describe a number of different meanings for the term "orbital"
- Recall the values of the quantum numbers for a particular orbital including their significance
- Sketch simple pictures of the atomic orbitals including the locations of both angular and radial nodes
- Describe the relative energies of atomic orbitals as a function of principal quantum number and effective nuclear charge
I left the last 20-25 minutes of the first day of class for this activity. I wanted a way to get all the ideas from General Chemistry about atomic orbitals out on the table without having to spend lecture time on it. I was able to look through the group worksheets afterward and used this feedback in planning my first real "lecture" on atomic structure. For example, I compiled a list of all the things the students told me that the term "orbital" meant and highlighted particular meanings that I wanted to connect to. That was a great lead-in to my lecture.
For the activity itself, I let students self-select into groups of 4 and asked them to assign the roles to each group member as described on the handout. In most cases, groups of friends worked together, although we had an interesting diversity of student backgrounds in this group including some second-semester freshpeople through seniors and several students who had already completed quantum mechanics.
I collected the group worksheets and used them as a first peak at the "ready-recall" knowledge that different students were bringing to the class (although I was not able to single out individual responses from the group) and where the class stood as a whole in their understanding of atomic orbitals.
I have attached a document with a list of all the ideas the students came up with for the term "orbital" as well as how many groups answered each of the other questions correctly and some of the common errors.