Flash Point: The Periodic Puzzle

December 22, 2017
Flash PointsJulia Winter

One of my favorite activities during introductory chemistry was what we called the Wee Tag exercise. These unique creatures have developed very interesting features — fingers, hair, body shape, etc — that occurred in certain periodic sequences. One can use these features to find missing Wee Tag individuals from a set, and use the sequence of their features to predict the next generation of Wee Tags.

A few representative Wee Tag characters

Students would work in groups and cut out the paper squares of Wee Tags and try to discover the sequence of features to discover the missing “secret agent” character.  This activity was the preliminary activity for a discussion on the periodic table. In addition to being a nice puzzle on its own, it set the stage for a similar activity which used data of elements printed on cards. 

(I have looked for the original source for Wee Tags (or even the person who coined that name), to no avail. It is used in an introductory chemistry text and I have found this published document on the web from Birmingham Public Schools in Michigan.)

One of the problems with the activity was the use of paper, and even the need to glue/tape the little squares of paper onto a big sheet to solve the problem. I found it rather wasteful — even though we put the finished activities into the recycling bin. I set out to re-create the activity with our Animator App. The resulting activity is perhaps not quite as *cute* as the original, but it has been shown to provide similar results to the Wee Tags: students find it an engaging puzzle to solve that helps them to discover concepts about periodicity.

With access to our Animator sharing platform, the puzzle template is located in the “Alchemie Innovators” group or by joining the group with code: periodic_puzzle.  We had students save the frame each time they tested a hypothesis about grouping the particles to create an animation of their thought process. The goal is to create a table and to use these hypotheses to find the missing particle in the table and then predict the properties of particles not yet “discovered”, much like Mendeleev did with the elements.  

Here is an instructional video for the Periodic Puzzle activity. The answer can be found at this link — but don’t check this until you have given then puzzle a try! 

If you have not tried out our Animator sharing platform, contact us and we can set up a demo!  

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