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Monthly Archives: February 2013

Noble Gases on my bed…….

One of my Freshmen asked me the other day where I come up with the examples and stories I use. I told her that it could be anywhere and everywhere. This wasn’t a good enough response apparently so I was asked to explain. I put this photo up on the screen and asked them what they saw.

“Cats”, was the obvious response. So I asked them what else they saw, what did it remind them of? We brainstormed a lot of answers but eventually came up with ‘lazy’. Then I told them this was exactly what I was thinking.

I then told them that I got their names wrong, really they should be called, Helium, Neon, Argon and Krypton……..”Oh, aren’t those the noble gases?”, asked a student.

“Yes they are, and what do the Noble Gases do?”.


Now the kids got the joke, but I was secretly doing mental ‘high fives’ because these kids had and recalled some prior knowledge! (As an aside, never tell any kid they should know something because they’ve done it before. There is a reason they don’t remember it. And exactly what do you accomplish by such a comment?)

Part of my job is to explain concepts that outside the realm of experience for most of my students. Understanding something that you don’t identify with is very difficult. The truth of the matter is we have to take the abstract and turn it into something our students can identify with. If you can do this with humor you have a hook, and maybe the students will get it, file it away and recall when necessary.

Hence the very unusual Saturday morning when I was lying in bed, watching my cats who were so inert they could be part of the Periodic Table.

My mentor, a million years ago really did have it right. “How do you eat an elephant?” “One bite at a time”.

Keep it simple, break it down. Have more ‘high fives’.


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