Lesson Guide for “Breaking Down the Atom”

Content area and grade levels
Big question
Lesson overview

Content area and grade levels
Physical sciences for grades 6-8.

Big question
What are the parts of an atom and how do we know?

Lesson overview
Scientists used the interaction of matter and energy to learn more about the atom. Through their experiments not only did scientists identify sub-atomic models, they also discovered they could change the very structure of the atoms themselves. Highlights include:

  • Important scientists (Dalton, Thomson, Rutherford, Geiger, Marsden, Chadwick)
  • Important experiments (Cathode Ray Tube experiments, Gold Foil Experiment)
  • Theories and models of atomic structure
  • Parts of the atom: electron, proton, neutron
  • Influence of scientists on their students


Illinois Learning Standards for middle/junior high school

Illinois Learning Standard 12C: Know and apply concepts that describe properties of matter and energy and the interactions between them.

12.C.3a Explain interactions of energy with matter with matter including changes of state and conservation of mass and energy.

12.C.3b Model and describe the chemical and physical characteristics of matter (e.g., atoms, molecules, elements, compounds, mixtures).

Illinois Learning Standard 13B: Know and apply concepts that describe the interaction between science, technology and society.

13.B.3b Identify important contributions to science and technology that have been made by individuals and groups from various cultures.


National Science Education Standards content standards for 5th-8th grade

Unifying Concepts and Processes Standard: Evidence, Models, and Explanation; Constancy, Change, and Measurement

Content Standard A Science as Inquiry: Understandings about Scientific Inquiry

• Different kinds of questions suggest different kinds of scientific investigations. Some investigations involve observing and describing objects, organisms, or events; some involve collecting specimens; some involve experiments; some involve seeking more information; some involve discovery of new objects and phenomena; and some involve making models.
• Mathematics is important in all aspects of scientific inquiry.
• Technology used to gather data enhances accuracy and allows scientists to analyze and quantify results of investigations.
• Scientific explanations emphasize evidence, have logically consistent arguments, and use scientific principles, models, and theories. The scientific community accepts and uses such explanations until displaced by better scientific ones. When such displacement occurs, science advances.
• Scientific investigations sometimes result in new ideas and phenomena for study, generate new methods or procedures for an investigation, or develop new technologies to improve the collection of data. All of these results can lead to new investigations.

Content Standard B Physical Science: Transfer of Energy

• Energy is a property of many substances and is associated with heat, light, electricity, mechanical motion, sound, nuclei, and the nature of a chemical. Energy is transferred in many ways.
• Light interacts with matter by transmission (including refraction), absorption, or scattering (including reflection). To see an object, light from that object--emitted by or scattered from it--must enter the eye.
• Electrical circuits provide a means of transferring electrical energy when heat, light, sound, and chemical changes are produced.
• In most chemical and nuclear reactions, energy is transferred into or out of a system. Heat, light, mechanical motion, or electricity might all be involved in such transfers.


Content Standard E Science and Technology: Understandings about Science and Technology

• Many different people in different cultures have made and continue to make contributions to science and technology.
• Science and technology are reciprocal. Science helps drive technology, as it addresses questions that demand more sophisticated instruments and provides principles for better instrumentation and technique. Technology is essential to science, because it provides instruments and techniques that enable observations of objects and phenomena that are otherwise unobservable due to factors such as quantity, distance, location, size, and speed. Technology also provides tools for investigations, inquiry, and analysis.

Content Standard F Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
: Science and Technology in Society

• Science and technology have advanced through contributions of many different people, in different cultures, at different times in history. Science and technology have contributed enormously to economic growth and productivity among societies and groups within societies.


Content Standard G History and Nature of Science: Science as Human Endeavor

• Women and men of various social and ethnic backgrounds--and with diverse interests, talents, qualities, and motivations--engage in the activities of science, engineering, and related fields such as the health professions. Some scientists work in teams, and some work alone, but all communicate extensively with others.
• Science requires different abilities, depending on such factors as the field of study and type of inquiry. Science is very much a human endeavor, and the work of science relies on basic human qualities, such as reasoning, insight, energy, skill, and creativity--as well as on scientific habits of mind, such as intellectual honesty, tolerance of ambiguity, skepticism, and openness to new ideas.

Content Standard G History and Nature of Science: Nature of Science

• Scientists formulate and test their explanations of nature using observation, experiments, and theoretical and mathematical models. Although all scientific ideas are tentative and subject to change and improvement in principle, for most major ideas in science, there is much experimental and observational confirmation. Those ideas are not likely to change greatly in the future. Scientists do and have changed their ideas about nature when they encounter new experimental evidence that does not match their existing explanations.

Content Standard G History and Nature of Science: History of Science

• Many individuals have contributed to the traditions of science. Studying some of these individuals provides further understanding of scientific inquiry, science as a human endeavor, the nature of science, and the relationships between science and society.
• In historical perspective, science has been practiced by different individuals in different cultures. In looking at the history of many peoples, one finds that scientists and engineers of high achievement are considered to be among the most valued contributors to their culture.
• Tracing the history of science can show how difficult it was for scientific innovators to break through the accepted ideas of their time to reach the conclusions that we currently take for granted.