Lesson Guide for “Getting to the Periodic Table”

Content area and grade levels
Big question
Lesson overview

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

Big question
Where did the Periodic Table of the Elements come from?

Lesson overview
Scientists striving to determine the fundamental units of matter conducted experiments that led to new discoveries even when their efforts lacked good scientific methods. These pathfinders laid the foundation for the theory that everything is made up of the elements, and soon scientists wanted to know more -- what made up the elements? By analyzing patterns in atomic weight and properties of the elements, Mendeleyev came up with an enduring model that would become the repository for so much of what future scientists would discover about the nature of matter. Highlights include:

  • Important scientists (Mendeleyev, Boyle, Lavoisier, Cavendish, Dalton)
  • Theories and models (Boyle’s Law, the Periodic Table)


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 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
: Systems, Order, and Organization; 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.
• 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: Properties and Changes of Properties in Matter

• A substance has characteristic properties, such as density, a boiling point, and solubility, all of which are independent of the amount of the sample. A mixture of substances often can be separated into the original substances using one or more of the characteristic properties.
• Substances react chemically in characteristic ways with other substances to form new substances (compounds) with different characteristic properties. In chemical reactions, the total mass is conserved. Substances often are placed in categories or groups if they react in similar ways; metals is an example of such a group.
• Chemical elements do not break down during normal laboratory reactions involving such treatments as heating, exposure to electric current, or reaction with acids. There are more than 100 known elements that combine in a multitude of ways to produce compounds, which account for the living and nonliving substances that we encounter.

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.


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.
• In areas where active research is being pursued and in which there is not a great deal of experimental or observational evidence and understanding, it is normal for scientists to differ with one another about the interpretation of the evidence or theory being considered. Different scientists might publish conflicting experimental results or might draw different conclusions from the same data. Ideally, scientists acknowledge such conflict and work towards finding evidence that will resolve their disagreement.
• It is part of scientific inquiry to evaluate the results of scientific investigations, experiments, observations, theoretical models, and the explanations proposed by other scientists. Evaluation includes reviewing the experimental procedures, examining the evidence, identifying faulty reasoning, pointing out statements that go beyond the evidence, and suggesting alternative explanations for the same observations. Although scientists may disagree about explanations of phenomena, about interpretations of data, or about the value of rival theories, they do agree that questioning, response to criticism, and open communication are integral to the process of science. As scientific knowledge evolves, major disagreements are eventually resolved through such interactions between scientists.

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.