Sunday, July 17, 2016

Make Your Own Magnetic Molecular Model Kit

In this post, I will show you how to convert an old molecular model kit into a futuristic magnetic molecular model kit.  Why would one want to take the time to add magnets to a molecular model kit?  Let me answer that before I explain the steps.  By the way, don’t worry, it’s not as hard or time-consuming as you might think. 

One of the most fundamental and often misunderstood concepts in chemistry is bond energy.  For some reason, students have a difficult time remembering that when bonds form they release energy and to break bonds energy must be added.  Maybe it’s because they think of an explosion as a way of breaking something and explosions release energy.  Maybe it’s because they are told in biology that when ATP breaks off a phosphate ion to become ADP energy is released.  Maybe it’s because we teach students the misconception that bonds contain energy.  If a bond contains energy, doesn’t make sense to think that when a bond is broken it would release the energy it contains?

To help my students understand and to “see/feel” this concept, I use magnets as a model for chemical bonding.  In the past, I used a couple of magnets as atoms and demonstrated that when the magnets come together energy is released, i.e. the magnets moved and made a "smack" sound when they came together.  I also pointed out that when I needed the magnets apart I had to use my energy to pull them apart.  I thought it was a good demonstration and I’m sure most of you have used it in your classes. 

While I liked my demonstration, I always felt it was missing something that would give it a bigger impact.  I wish I could take all the credit, but I was inspired by Derek Muller, the host of Veritasium.  He created Snatoms, which was recently funded on Kickstarter.  In his video for Snatoms, he does a great job of explaining why the magnetic model kit is superior to the old ball-and-stick kits that have been used in chemistry for ages.  For one, bonds are not sticks but a force that holds atoms together.  Second, they are very tactile; you can actually feel the “chemical bond”.  Using the magnetic model kit, students will feel the energy they must add when they break the bonds and they will feel the energy when the atoms are pulled from their hands as the bond forms.  I really love Derek’s Snatoms but I have two problems with them.  One, they are not available yet.  Second, they are a little pricey.  During the Kickstarter campaign, you could buy the basic set of 6 carbon, 6 oxygen and 12 hydrogen Snatoms for $49 plus shipping.  (Note: I loved his idea so much that I backed his project at $89.)  I don’t know what the retail cost for Snatoms will be, but I know what I’m about to show you will cost much less!  I built my magnetic kit for less than $22.  Please, if you have the money buy Derek’s Snatoms.  

How to make your own magnetic model kit

Here's how to easily convert an old ball-and-stick molecular model kit into a state-of-the-art magnetic kit that will impress your colleagues and students.  First of all, you will need the following supplies:
  • Old ball-and-stick model kit (I used an old Sargent-Welch wooden kit I found in the storage room.  Any model kit will work.  The atoms in my kit are 1.25 inches in diameter.  You may have to adjust the size of the magnets if your atoms are a different size.)
  • Magnets (I used magnets N42 epoxy neodymium magnets from K&J magnets)
  • Glue (I used white Gorilla Super Glue)

That’s it!  That’s all you need.  I used the N42 epoxy neodymium magnets because the magnets happen to fit into the holes of the atoms that came in my model kit and they are strong enough to hold the atoms together.  

Now, all you have to do is glue the magnets to the atoms.  It's that easy.  Well, sort of...  THIS IS IMPORTANT, SO DON'T SKIP THIS PART!  I quickly realized that you need to pay attention to the polarity of the magnets as you attach them.  If you glue all the magnets in the same direction then the atoms will all repel each other.  Just make sure that you alternate each magnet.  For example, I started with some hydrogen atoms.  On the first hydrogen atom I glued a magnet and on the second hydrogen, I glued the magnet in the opposite direction of the first.  For oxygen, I did the same thing, but I made sure that the two holes in the oxygen atom had magnets with opposite poles facing out.  I repeated this pattern for carbon making sure that I had two similar magnetic poles facing out at each hole in the carbon atom.


Your cost will depend greatly on whether you can find an old kit in your science storage room.  I only made one set to use for demonstrations so I didn't need to magnetize all the atoms in the kit.  Here is a breakdown of my cost for the supplies:

  • Old Model Kit = Free
  • 50 Magnets ($0.34 each) = $17.00 + $5.00 for shipping; total cost = $22.00 for magnets
    • 12 hydrogen atoms (1 magnet each) = 12 magnets
    • 5 carbon atoms (4 magnets each) = 20 magnets
    • 6 oxygen atoms (2 magnets each) = 12 magnets
    • 2 nitrogen atoms (3 magnets each) = 6 magnets
  • Gorilla glue = $5.79
  • Grand total = $27.79
If you don't have a molecular model kit to use then it may cost you about $20-25 more.  You can find them on Amazon and through many science supply companies.  You could also use wooden spheres from a local craft store.  I wouldn't recommend using styrofoam balls, I think the magnets are too strong.


The magnets I used fit perfectly into the holes that were predrilled into the atoms.  It was pure luck that the magnets fit so well.  I was planning on just gluing the magnets directly to the surface of the atoms.  You may have to do this if your magnets don't fit into the holes.  I suppose you could drill out the holes to fit the magnets, but that just seems like too much work to me.  

Now, you have a magnet molecular model kit that will help your students better understand the concept of bond energy.  If you have the time and the resources feel free to make sets for your entire class.  I wouldn't recommend you do this your first time through.  You will be overwhelmed and have atoms and magnets glued to your face!  Remember keep it simple.  The goal is to teach students that bonds are forces, not sticks and that bonds formed release energy and energy must be added to break bonds!

Please, share your thoughts and experience in the comments below.  Let me know if you have any ideas on how to lower the cost.


Monday, July 11, 2016

Molecules is Available from AMEP, LLC

Molecules, our newest chemistry card game, is now available from American Educational Products, LLC.   
Molecules is an easy-to-learn and fun-to-play chemistry card game.  
In Molecules, players compete to create various molecular compounds such as water, carbon dioxide, oxygen, and even more complex molecules like acetic acid (vinegar).  Players compete to collect sets of atom cards that match the atoms in the various molecular compounds.  The game ends when a player completes the fourth molecular compound and the player with the most points wins.  
This game has just the right mix of education and geeky fun that chemistry students, chemistry teachers, chemistry enthusiasts, and gamers will enjoy!  Gameplay is easy to learn and quick to teach, which makes it ideal for the classroom.  As players play Molecules, they will learn about chemical stability, valency, chemical nomenclature, the octet rule, types of bonding, molecular geometry, and more.

  • 30 Molecule Cards, 80 Atom Cards, & 4 Quick Reference Cards
  • Number of Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 12 & up
  • Time: 30-40 min

Thursday, June 23, 2016



Educational board games have received a bad rap over the years.  And rightly so, they tend to be nothing more than review questions or flash cards slapped over the traditional roll and move mechanic without much thought to creativity or originality.  Creating a really good educational board game can be tricky.  There is a delicate balance between the educational component and the fun element!  Many games put so much emphasis on the educational component that the fun element is lost or it is so much fun that it has little to no educational value.  This has left many teachers with a very negative view of educational board games.  On top of this, the current generation has become so immersed in technology, that the mention of a board game results in sighs and eye rolls.  It seems that everybody wants the app version for everything.  When I presented my first game to various distributors, many of them would ask "Do you have an app version of your game?"  This is all very unfortunate because I believe that modern board games are far superior to video games.  With their new innovative gameplay, the board game hobby has been making a huge comeback recently.  Today's board games are nothing like what we grew up with.  They are imaginative, creative and just plain fun.  In this article, I will share with you the reasons I believe teachers and the general public should play more board games!  

By the way, many board game publishers are taking advantage of this resurgence in board gaming and they are creating really fun and imaginative educational board game.  In future articles, I will single out a number of the publishers of chemistry board games that teachers should be playing with their students.  


Sure video games and technology grab a students attention but what else do they have to offer.  Don't get me wrong.  I love technology and video games.  I think they are great and they have their place, but they take a backseat to board games when it comes to the educational value!  Here are some of the reasons why I believe teachers should be playing more board games in the classroom:
  • Overcoming Intimidation.  The joy of playing a game removes the intimidation of learning a new concept.  Learning something new is often overwhelming for students.  Educational games create an environment where students use content specific vocabulary and apply content concepts as they play the game.  As the students play the game, they become more comfortable with the vocabulary and subject material while playing a fun and competitive game.  Using a board game is a great way to introduce students to a new topic.  
  • It's OK to Fail.  It's human nature to fear failure.  We all do!  But for some reason, failing is acceptable in a game.  For example, look at the game Angry Birds!  I failed at that game more times than I can count, but yet I kept playing.  Failing actually increased my motivation to win.  When it is a game it is the norm to fail, but in school, failing is to be avoided.  For years, I have been battling with this with my students.  I want them to know that it is okay to fail.  I believe that games teach us that failure is acceptable, as long as we learn something and try again.  Jane McGonigal, a world-renowned game designer of reality games, preaches that we should play more games.  If you have not watched her TED talk I highly recommend you check it out.  She believes that when we play games we are more willing to take chances and get back up after failure and try again.  To Jane, games are a safe place for people to take chances and not fear failure.  

  • Improves Social Interactions.  Games involve social interactions, which this generation desperately needs.  This generation is very comfortable with text messaging and using social media to share what is going on with their lives rather than calling.  Games force students to sit down with someone face-to-face and interact.  Students learn how to take turns, how to be a gracious winner & loser, and in some games, how to work together.  
  • Something Different and Student-Centered.  Games are a great way to add variety to your class.  One of the secrets to keeping students engaged is to always do something different.  Constantly using the same teaching strategies creates boredom in the classroom.  Letting students play educational board games is something different, while also being a student-centered activity.  The current trend in education is to let the students work on their own.  Teachers need to provide students with activities that require the student to be the driving force behind the learning, while the teacher is a there to add support.  Educational games are a fun way to accomplish these goals.  
  • Requires more than just rolling dice.  Modern board games, the types of educational board games I am referring to, require much more than answering questions and rolling dice.  They require critical thinking, decision making, strategy and sometimes a little luck.  The games I will review in later articles require that students use their knowledge of chemistry to help them accomplish a variety of goals.  For example, in Meltdown, which I will review in more detail in a future article, students must gain control rods to keep a nuclear power plant from reaching a meltdown.  Students gain control rods by answering chemistry review questions.  For most educational board games, that is where the gameplay ends, but for a game like Meltdown, things go way beyond just answering a question.  The student must then work with the other students to determine the best way to use the control rods to most effectively stabilize the reactor core.  Each student has a special ability and they must work cooperatively to win the game.  In Meltdown, there is no one winner.  It is a cooperative board game,  such as PandemicShadows Over Camelotand Forbidden Island.  In a cooperative board game, the players must work together to beat the game, not each other.  This is just one example of how modern board games have changed.
 I really hope that teachers, and everyone, takes the time to really look at modern board games.  They have much more to offer than just something to do on a rainy day.  In my next article, I will review a number of chemistry review games.  In my reviews, I will discuss why the game is unique and it's educational value.

Molecules Ships

My newest chemistry card game, Molecules  has been successfully published and is now shipping to all of our Kickstarter backers.  Thanks again for all the support.  If it were not for you, Molecules never would have been made.

Molecules  is an easy-to-learn and fun-to-play chemistry card game. In Molecules , players compete to create various molecular compounds such as water, carbon dioxide, oxygen, and even more complex molecules like acetic acid (vinegar). Players compete to collect sets of atom cards that match the atoms in the various molecular compounds. The game ends when a player completes the fourth molecular compound and the player with the most points wins. 
Molecules  is a fun way for players to learn how atoms come together to create compounds.  Players learn about chemical nomenclature, valency, the octet rule, chemical stability, types of bonding, molecular geometry and more in this new game from Elementally Fun Games, LLC!  
For those of you who missed out on the Kickstarter project, you can now buy your own copy from American Educational Products, LLC.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Lewis Structure Online Practice

Acetic acid Lewis structure
Drawing Lewis structures is a very difficult thing to do on the computer.  Over the years, my class has been moving ever so slowly toward more online content.  One area of chemistry I have found find nearly impossible to go digital is the drawing of Lewis structures.  No matter what I have found, it is almost always easier to have the students use paper and pencil.  There are some interesting programs and apps out there, but in the end, students still need to draw them.

With this being said, here are two interesting Lewis structure "drawing" sites that I have recently found.  Although, neither of these sites allows the students to "draw" the Lewis structures, I still believe they have some educational value.   Let me explain!

St. Olaf College's Construct a Lewis Structure

Wow, Disney's Olaf has been sainted and has a college named after him?  I bet this university was happy with the success of Frozen.

Scree shot of St. Olaf College's Lewis Structure Program
Anyhow, this is nice little program for students to practice Lewis structures.  The site lists the general rules for drawing Lewis structures and then provides the student with the skeleton, i.e. only containing the single bonds, of the structure.  It is up to the student to complete the octet for each atom by adding double bonds, triple bonds and lone-pair electrons.  I think this is a good place for some students to start "drawing" the Lewis structures.   From a students perspective, much of the tediousness of drawing Lewis structures is removed.  After using this, I would still have my students draw Lewis structures on whiteboards and on paper.

Wolfram-Alpha Widgets: Lewis Structures

Again this program doesn't actually allow students to draw Lewis structures either, but here is how I use it with my students.  Often students what to know if their Lewis structure is correct, especially when they are working on homework or studying for a test.

Screen shot of Wolfram-Alpha Widget: Lewis Structures
Wolfram's Lewis structure widget is great for letting students know if their structures are correct.  All they have to do is enter the formula into the site and the Lewis structure is immediately drawn for them.  My students love to know if they are correct and this saves me from having to look at and grade every single Lewis structure.

The nice thing about this widget is that it provides the student with all the various isomers that my form along with the nomenclature.

Even though we a ways from completely replacing paper, especially when it comes to Lewis structures, there are still some worth while programs and apps out there.  If you have one that you use or feel works better than these two please comment!  I would love to hear from you.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Molecular-The Strategic Chemistry Tile Game

If you love games and are a chemistry fan than you need to take a look at Molecular-The Strategic Chemistry Tile Game that is currently on Kickstarter and has six days remaining.  
"Long hours in the lab to master your molecule, the life of a junior researcher is a busy one.  Your supervisor has given you specifications for a new molecule, something with huge potential.  It's your job to bring these ideas to fruition using the resources at your disposal.  If only life was that easy.  Rival researchers also have their own agendas, they are more than willing to sabotage the best laid plans or even steal the value of your research for their own ends.  Not to mentions the risks and stresses of working in a lab, be careful not to blow yourself up..."

Molecular is a tile laying game where players attempt to construct molecular compounds by drawing tiles and playing effector & functional group cards.  From the look on Kickstarter, it looks like it could be a fun game.  I'm a backer, but I have not actually played the game.  The game is for 2-8 players, which is really good because it is hard to find a game that plays more than five players.

It seems like there is a new chemistry game popping up on Kickstarter every other month.  The thing is, they all seem to get funded, so people must love chemistry themed board games.  I have to say that I have yet to see a physics board/card game and I have not seen many biology themed games either.

The Kickstarter campaign ends in six days and the game is still not fully funded, so if you haven't done so, cruise over to Kickstater and support this project!

Also if you get a chance, check out my Prefundia page for my game, Molecules that will be hitting Kickstarter in September.  As I said, it seems like chemistry themed games are popping up on Kickstarter every other month!


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A New Year Brings Fresh Ideas

One of the best things about being a teacher is of course the summers off, but more importantly is the fresh and renewed perspective.  The summer break is great.  I get to spend time with my family but it also provides me with the opportunity to dream up a whole new school year.

Last year, I flipped both my Honors and AP Chemistry course. (I would recommend that you flip your classes one at a time, although, now I am happy that I did.)  Last year, I was hoping to blog more about the experience, but I was way too busy creating the videos and I never got around to writing on my blog.  I have new things that I am going to be trying this year and I hope that I have the time to write my reflections here more regularly.

For a few years now I have been very interested in Modeling Chemistry.  From what I have seen it has a lot of potential and it sounds very interesting.  I was hoping to attend a local workshop on modeling chemistry, but for personal reasons I couldn't make it.  I am grateful to bgoeckner's blog Science Without Spectators. (Sorry, I don't know your name.)  She attended the conference and is providing a day-by-day description of what she learned.  I am so inspired.  While I am not I'm moving to 100% modeling classroom, I do plan on experimenting this year.

So that brings to the Marshmallow challenge.  Tomorrow is the first day of school and I wanted to start with something different.  I have always started by going over the syllabus and all the other boring stuff.  I found this on Science Without Spectators's blog, which was taken from The Marshmallow Challenge website.

The challenge is simple.  Teams have 15 minutes to construct the tallest freestanding structure that can hold a marshmallow on top made only from spaghetti, string and tape.  Check out The Marshmallow Challenge website for more detailed instructions and background information.

I am hoping that my students walk away from this exercise with:

  1. ...the importance of and an appreciation for working in teams.
  2. understanding that sometimes you have to fail to learn something.  (Prototypes are important!)
  3. ...the importance of planning and experimenting.
I am going to tie this challenge to my quiz re-takes.  Last year, I let my students re-take quizzes as many times as they needed.  (I can't believe I did that, but I am glad I did.)  My students really liked it and I loved the lesson that it is okay to fail as long as you get back up and try again.  To do well on the Marshmallow Challenge you need fail many times.  The trick is to look at what you did and make it better.  I want my students to know that success doesn't come easy and it doesn't come without failing and set backs.  I hope this is what they get from the challenge.  

I will have an update on the challenge in the a later post. 

I hope this year I can post more regularly.