Carbon is a great element to begin a study about the elements because it’s so common. It exists in pure forms that are readily available and highly interesting. It’s also a word we hear thrown around often: carbon dioxide, carbon emissions, carbon footprint. There’s a lot that can be explored. In this post I’ll talk a little bit about what we did in my class and provide some more ideas to pursue. Let’s get started!
In structuring my class, I wanted to frame core concepts within the context of different elements. For the first class, I wanted them to understand that the elements are the building blocks of everything. We started by talking about how every single thing is made up of elements. Elements can be put together in different ways. Some attach easily to others (like carbon) while others don’t. All elements are sized differently and behave differently and this is how they are arranged on the Periodic Table. We didn’t focus too much on the atomic number or mass, but just briefly touched on what they mean and observed how the numbers increase as you move down the table.
I gave each child their own Periodic Table and we located and colored in carbon along with the other non-metals. [Download coming soon]
We also talked about examples of pure carbon: diamond, graphite, and coal. I brought in a diamond ring for them to view under a magnifying lens and we marveled at how the brilliant diamond and ordinary pencil are basically the same thing.
For our lab, we used activated charcoal to remove some impurities from water. I found several sets of instructions online and we had to do some trial and error to get it to work. It was a good way to illustrate the problem solving work that goes into science.
When we got it to work, we were able to construct a simple filter that removed food coloring from water. There are lots of other things to try like removing odors or tastes. The activated charcoal works for a lot of un-pleasantries, but of course not everything.
This post is part of a series about introducing chemistry and the elements to kids. Last spring, I taught a homeschool co-op course and I’m sharing what we learned and how we learned it. There will be more posts and free downloads to come! As always, thank you so much for reading and please share your favorite resources for learning about the fascinating world of chemistry in the comments below.