Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Unschooling: Atomic Marshmallows

Photography: Diana Horak (used with permission)
I got an idea from a friend of mine several months ago.  She posted pictures of her kids making atoms out of marshmallows.  I decided that would be a fun thing to try with the kids.  So I went out and bought two bags of mini-marshmallows.

Then I created suspense buy telling the kids they were for a school project we were going to do someday.  Then I waited another month or so before I actually pulled them out of the cabinet.  Ok, so maybe that part wasn't intentional, but rather an attack of my procrastination gene.

Here's how I did it (and how it worked in the unschooling framework).

I waited until the kids were getting their afternoon snack and told them I was going to let them have marshmallows today.

I printed out two copies of the table from this site.  Then I printed out pictures of the atomic diagrams for the first 18 atoms on the periodic table.

I explained how to determine the number of protons, neutrons, and electrons based on this page.

I let the kids pick which color marshmallow to designate as each one.  They picked the following

Yellow: Electron
Peach: Proton
Green: Neutron

Then I told them that they could build as many atoms as they wanted, but they had to build each atom before they could eat the marshmallows it contained.

My youngest daughter (4 years old) built the least number of molecules with a total of three.  Well, technically her third was just arranging random marshmallows on toothpicks, but I let it slide.

My son (15 years old) built the second least with 8 total.  They had to build them in the order I printed them.  He got to carbon and, despite his usual high sugar cravings, decided he would rather go play on the Wii U.

My oldest daughter (10 years old) finished a total of 9.

And my middle daughter (9 years old) finished the most with a total of 18.  Yes, that was all the ones I printed for her.  She probably would have kept going had I printed more.  In fact, she ran out of the other three colors and had to use pink ones for the last atom.  She then ate her fill of marshmallows and had a napkin full to deposit in her treat bin, to be eaten at her leisure on another day.

I gave them the parameters and they performed to their level of interest.

You might be asking, What about the other pink marshmallows?  I told the kids that for every element they read about I would give them 5 pink marshmallows.  All three of the older ones read the introduction about hydrogen here (first 7 paragraphs).  The four year old repeated the names of the first 6 elements to me, and I gave her 5 pink marshmallows.