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