SciJourn Stories: The Element Project

Published on September 22, 2011 by in SciJourn Stories


The Element Project: Integrating SciJourn into Freshman Introduction to Chemistry

By Rose Davidson,  May, 2011


One of the conditions that I operated under while implementing the SciJourn activities this year was that I cover core content material on basic chemistry. This core content material forms the basis upon which all the other science coursework at my school is built. So integrating SciJourn lessons into my established and required content sequence was vital to the success of the program in my school.

I began the year with general lessons from SciJourn, usually one after each content unit. I discussed the chemistry in our daily lives through Read Alouds as I covered the introductory chapter on what chemistry involves. We brainstormed the aspects of our lives that were impacted by chemistry. I covered how to locate credible sources of information and how to use diigo as I covered the second unit on the divisions of matter: elements, compounds and mixtures. I assigned each student to one of these categories and had them look up articles online and use diigo to share them with the class. In the next unit we learned about atoms and this is where I choose to begin introducing the students to the idea that they would be writing a science journalism article. As we discussed atoms and atomic structure I used Read Alouds to share the important work that is being done to allow us to”see” actual atoms with the Scanning Transition Electron Microscope. We looked at the organization of these articles, that of the inverted triangle.

Each student chose an element by lottery to research from one of the main groups on the periodic table. Teams of three students crafted a movie using Windows Live Movie Maker which described their assigned elements and the family to which they belonged. The students used diigo in order to keep track of their sources and to share them with each other as they worked.   Once the movies were completed and the class had viewed all of the student produced movies we moved on to the actual article  that they would be writing for SciJourn.

The SciJourn assignment began with the student looking back over their work on their element and finding one area or use of that element which had some relationship or context to their lives.   This would become the topic for their SciJourn article.  We spent a class period brainstorming ideas and looking up ideas by googling, “The importance of (element name)” and “Uses of (element name).” Most students had already done some work on this as the movie required them to find uses of the elements in their lives and to explain the importance of the element to life on earth.

Some students felt they had very easy and interesting elements; fluorine in toothpaste, chlorine in swimming pool, helium gas in balloons.  Other students had to stretch to find context; rubidium in fire works, argon in light bulbs and lasers, carbon’s role in global warming.  By the end of the class period most students were on the trail to their topic.

Over the following weeks topics were decided and experts were interviewed on their topic by each student. This was followed by lessons on attributions, giving credit to our experts and sources of information.  Students peer edited each other’s papers twice and received feedback from me, their teacher using track changes. The final papers were submitted and they each had a story to tell about their element.  Each student had made a connection to their element and saw its importance in their lives.  They had varying success with writing in the inverted triangle style of the journalist as they were well indoctrinated in the five paragraph essay method.

This project was so successful that I plan to create an interactive periodic table from their essays. As one scrolls over the element, the titles of the articles or the ledes would appear. By clicking on them the entire article with the student selected illustration would then appear. I cannot wait to elaborate and develop this project further next year.


Some examples of Ledes that my students had in their papers:               


Phosphorous uses in Fertilizers

Have you ever thought about what makes plants grow into beautiful flowers? Or what ingredients help them prosper?  Well phosphorous is one of the main nutrients plants need to survive. It used in fertilizers because it is important for the best crop productions.

How to Stay Standing, Longer

Got Milk? Has anyone not heard this phrase? Blah, blah, blah. Milk, milk, milk. Why does it even matter? It does not matter what your age is, calcium is very important to your health, so drink it!! Okay so this is a little harsh but seriously milk is really important for the growth of your bones.

The Air that Could Kill

Have you ever thought that taking a breath could be harming the environment? The recent talk between teens is, “Do you think the world is going to end?” This is what is on everyone’s mind, but no one knows for sure the reason.  Every day, every hour, every minute, and even every second we are breathing in oxygen. Once you take a breath you have to exhale something, and that something could be carbon dioxide.

All about Nickel

Did you know that the element Nickel is named after the devil? According to Uses of the Element Named After the Devil article from An old German tale tells the story of two miners who thought that Old Nick, or the devil was playing tricks on them. They tried to remove this copper looking metal but since it was nickel, it was too hard to remove or chip away unlike copper which is softer. Kupfernickel means “Old Nick’s copper” and that is where the word Nickel comes from.


            What would Las Vegas look like without any neon lights? Well, let us just say that it would look a little different! According to the largest use for neon is in signs. Neon signs are not made by machines, they are almost all made by hand and some of the first neon signs cost as much as $12,000 each!

Aluminum and Alzheimer’s Disease

“Hi, nice to meet you.” Connie says to her 37 year old son, Dave, as he appears in her room at the local nursing home and introduces himself. “Have we met before?” Connie is unaware that Dave is her son because she suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Even though Dave visits her every day, they go through the process of introducing themselves each time because Connie cannot remember who Dave is.

Helium: A Dangerous Game

Balloons, are they good or bad? There is more to a balloon than the funny voice people get when they inhale it! The light-headedness, the blurry vision, and the funny feeling in your stomach, are all huge red flags from your body! I know from experience that too much helium can really make you sick. I found out at a party that after inhaling helium to have the Mickey Mouse voice, something was wrong. I thought I was just tired but after reading about helium asphyxiation, I found I wasn’t tired, but I was starving myself of oxygen!

How an Element is a Source of Security in Japan

            “Although only a few patients have asked about them, I think they are a good thing to have handy,” states nurse practitioner Chris Champagne about patient inquiry of potassium iodine tablets.

Photo courtesy of

After a tragic 9.0 magnitude earthquake in Japan, people are wondering what will happen if there is another nuclear meltdown? How will the people protect themselves? Worldwide, everyone is pondering the answers to these questions. The United States Embassy is a step ahead. Recently, the U.S. embassy has begun distribution of a simple substance that protects thyroid glands from absorbing radioactive iodine. Those on the Yokota and Camp Zama were among the first to stock up on the potassium iodine compound pills, they have not been distributed as of yet.



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By Linda Gaither, science department chair and Becky Bubenik, journalism and comm. arts teacher at Fort Zumwalt North High

Linda was a member of the pilot group, and Becky was in Cadre 1. Knowing that they wanted to collaborate through SciJourn, Becky guided her newspaper students through the SciJourn materials and writing their own SciJourn articles in the fall of 2010. Science topics from the environment to health issues to internship opportunities sparked their interest, resulting in a science page in each issue of the school newspaper.

In the winter of 2011, Linda led her Applied Biology and Chemistry students through the SciJourn materials, culminating in SciJourn articles, but instead of initially responding to them herself or sending them to the SciJourn staff, she gave Becky a copy of the articles.

Displaying the articles on a screen, Becky asked her newspaper students to respond to the first few articles as a class. They brainstormed a list of issues to comment on including interest, source credibility, and source attribution.  A few days later the newspaper students used the same list to respond to more articles from Linda’s classes, but this time they worked in pairs. A little later they repeated the pair activity with more articles, but this time they used a form created by the SciJourn staff.

Linda returned the articles and responses to her students. The students read the responses and used them to work on a revision of their original first draft. The overall response from the science students was positive. The year simply ended before there was time to rework their original articles.

The experience was valuable for both science and newspaper students, so Linda and Becky plan to repeat this collaboration in 2011-2012. Linda plans on working on SciJourn earlier in the year and is looking forward to her ABC II students since they all experienced SciJourn last year and will be ready to research and write much sooner than her ABC I students. She is looking forward to the recommendations from the newspaper students.

In addition, Becky will be spending fifteen minutes once or twice a week in a freshman physical science class teaching active reading and summary writing skills in the context of their science curriculum. She predicts that exposure in a science class to many of the same strategies taught in communication arts classes will help students cross the curriculum and access those skills when reading science materials and thus increase their science knowledge.

Note 1

The editor for the school newspaper is in ABC II this fall and very excited about saturating the student body in SciJourn information. She has several ideas for making our student body more aware of the scijourn process and the fun of writing science news articles.

Note 2

Because of her experience with Sci Journ Linda participated in the Gateway writing project this summer along with Becky, and discovered she really is a writer.  She would have never even considered taking the Gateway writing project without the experiences in SciJourn

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