Illustrative Examples of Units of Practice

Mad Hatters and Loons: 
A Study of Chemical Elements in our Environment


Why was the Mad Hatter Mad? An understanding of the elements and their role in our daily lives is constructed through a series of interactive activities. Students use brainstorming, lab investigation, collaborative research activities and interactive presentation software to study elements and their role in our environment.

Subject: Science

Learning Levels: Grades 10-12

Author(s): Greg Turner and Tim Mollins



Science 6-8

Physical Science : Properties of Matter

Science 9-12

Physical Science : Properties of Matter

Physical Science : Properties of Matter

Student outcomes are as follows:

1. Identify examples of common elements and compare their characteristics.

2. Students should become aware of the ways in which our knowledge of chemistry has resulted in the development of a great variety of technologies that affect nearly all aspects of everyday life.

3. Select and integrate information from a variety of print and electronic sources and prepare a presentation, poster or bulletin on a particular element.



The length Ė about a week, but it can branch into many what-if scenarios.

The setting: 


1. Using the graphic organizer software, Inspiration, students brainstorm answers to the following questions:

2. Laboratory Investigation. Students should be exposed to and observe appropriate non-toxic, non-corrosive safe elements such as S, C, Cu, Al, Fe, Zn in order to compare and contrast some of the physical characteristics of these elements. This will involve a lab setting with various samples of the common elements displayed around the classroom or lab. 

Examples could be a sulphur chunk, zinc flashing, aluminium nails, charcoal, iron filings, a steel nail, a copper pipe or a penny, helium balloon, etc. 

A variety of elements should be selected, particularly metals and non-metals. This activity introduces the students to the idea that elements are part of our daily life. 

Empirical data collected in this activity include both qualitative and quantitative observations, such as colour, density, lustre, malleability, ductility, etc. 

Students record the data in a table of evidence they construct either with a pencil and paper or spreadsheet.

Questions for student discussion:

3. Students will research an element using their textbooks, library resources, the Internet or resource people. In the research students should look for basic information about the element, history of the discovery, where we find it in our everyday life, and effects on the environment or human health. The following websites are excellent for researching basic information about the elements:

These sites provide element links to environmental and health concerns:

Effects of Radon

Concerns about Lead

Sydney, NS Tar Ponds and Arsenic

General Health Issues

Loons at Kejimkujik National Park

4. The results of the research can be communicated to the class with posters, brochure (possibly done on a word processor), oral presentations and multimedia presentations such as HyperStudio or PowerPoint.

The activity begins with individuals brainstorming ideas on their own. These ideas will be taken to the group discussion prior to using the mapping activity with Inspiration.

For the balance of the unit of study students are placed in cooperative groups. It is expected that throughout the activity student roles will change to meet the goals of the specific activity. Constructivist pedagogy can be applied throughout with particular emphasis on higher cognitive learning involved with analysis, synthesis and evaluation.


Portfolio developed for this activity that includes

1. initial brainstorming

2. Inspiration idea map designed in the group

3. observations and analysis from the Laboratory activity

4. Research notes for the development of the presentation



Community resources that could utilized for this project would be spokespeople from the health, emergency services, and various experts from Universities (Internet).