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Emoji Chemistry

By Gabe Kraljevic

Posted on 2019-07-13

Chemistry is not my strength. Any hints or resources for teaching chemical equations at a basic level?
— M., Maryland

I find it useful to demystify why we use chemical equations.

A chemical equation is simply a communication tool. It similar to using emojis in place of writing words. Instead of emojis, chemists use a periodic table and other standard symbols to communicate what is happening when particles of matter interact. Every scientist in the world knows this shorthand, overcoming language barriers. It is the language of chemistry.

Just like when learning a language, students need to learn basic vocabulary. Before teaching chemical equations, review some basic terminology: atoms, molecules, chemical change, and chemical formulas. Then move on to teaching the notations used in writing out a chemical equation.

A chemical equation is a “recipe” with ingredients, instructions, and expected results. Many recipes have the same ingredients, but the proportion of each determines whether you get a pancake, scone, or loaf of bread. Likewise, a balanced chemical equation gives the exact proportions of reactants to create the expected products. There are actually more details in a chemical equation than a recipe—the symbols indicate exactly how the atoms rearrange, form new bonds and create new products.

In addition to searching NSTA’s The Learning Center, resources at these sites can help teach chemical equations:
American Chemical Society
American Society of Chemistry Teachers
PhET Colorado Simulations

Hope this helps!

Image credit: Chemical & Engineering News

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