Atoms and iPads


The student at the front of the room is working on a self check quiz on atomic theory. If he scores high enough, he will then explore properties of elements, just like the student behind him.

One of the classrooms in our device pilot is a 9th grade science classroom taught by Mr. Christian Ehrhart. Mr. Ehrhart manages and designs his instruction by the concepts of Mastery Learning. In a nutshell, students must meet the expectations for any assignment or assessment. If the expectations are not met, then the student will be given steps for remediation before attempting the assignment or assessment again. This process is repeated until the student has met the expectations. When you walk into Mr. Ehrhart’s classroom, you will observe students working on 4 or 5 different assignments, depending on what the students have mastered so far. This type of instruction requires the teacher to constantly monitor and interact with each and every student. A Moodle site and iPad cart have enabled the students to get immediate feedback on assessments, access resources, and build meaning and understanding utilizing certain subject apps.

Lesson Details

For this post, let’s take a closer look at how students in 9th grade science would learn about the states of matter, structure of the atom, and the ways that atomic theory has developed over time. Several students were also remediating before retaking the assessment from the previous unit on motion. Depending on where the student had progressed, these were the activities the students were completing in class:

1. Socrative quiz  – Students who did not score a 75% or better on the assessment for the motion unit had to remediate to prepare to retake the assessment. Some students needed one day, others needed several days until they were ready to retake the assessment. Students would check with Mr. Ehrhart to show that they were ready to retake the quiz and would then complete the assessment using Socrative. When the students passed the assessment, they would then log into the Moodle site to complete the Introduction to Matter activities.

Moodle page displaying the activities for the students to complete.

Moodle page displaying the activities for the students to complete.

2.  States of Matter using Next Generation Molecular Workbench – Students would view models showing the differences between a solid, liquid, and gas. By viewing these models, students would learn that all matter is made of atoms, atoms in matter are constantly moving, the motion and attractive forces between the atoms determine if something is a solid, liquid, or gas. The instructions given on the Moodle page for the students to follow have been pasted below:

View the following interactives at the links below. Make sure to Mark Two Atoms when you run the model. While observing each model, compare the movement of each model and how the Marked Atoms behave in each model. Record your observations in your notes.

Molecular View of a Solid

Molecular View of a Liquid

Molecular View of a Gas


Molecular Workbench simulation showing the particle movement in a gas.

3. History of Atomic Theory with the Atoms HD app – Students would use the Atoms HD app to explore the timeline on the modern atomic theory. Students were asked to take notes that they could use to help with a multiple choice self-quiz they would then complete in Moodle. After completing the quiz, students could attempt it again to try and get a higher score. The instructions didn’t state that they had to, the students are just used to the idea of reattempting until they have mastered something! The instructions given on the Moodle page have been pasted below:

Overview of the Atomic Theory

  1. Open up the Atoms HD app
  2. Select Atomic Theory History
  3. Read through the history. Take notes on the main points. You will use your notes to take a practice quiz within Moodle on the history of the Atomic Theory.
  4. When you are finished reading and taking notes, go back to the main page of the Moodle course and complete the Atomic Theory Quiz.
Sample questions from the self quiz for Atomic Theory. Students were given immediate feedback when the submitted the quiz. Many students tried the quiz again to get a higher score.

Sample questions from the self quiz for Atomic Theory. Students were given immediate feedback when they submitted the quiz. Many students tried the quiz again to get a higher score.


The Build an Atom activity in the NOVA Elements app.

4. Atomic structure with the NOVA Elements App – Students would build sample atoms of Carbon, Oxygen, Nitrogen, and other elements using the NOVA app. This activity showed students how atomic number and atomic mass identify the number of protons, neutron, and electrons in an atom. They also learned how atoms of different elements are similar and different from each other, as well as the chemical properties and uses of these elements. After completing the activity, students were asked to respond to the following journal prompt on the Moodle site:

Carbon is a very unique element. Why is Carbon so special? How is Carbon different from Nitrogen, it’s neighbor on the Periodic Table?


Building a molecule of Fructose in the NOVA Elements app.

5. Molecular structure with the NOVA Elements App – Students would build molecular models of different types of compounds like amino acids, vitamins, and clothing fibers. After building the molecules, students were asked to respond to the following journal prompt on the Moodle site:

In the app, you were able to construct molecular models of Adenine, Cytosine, Guanine, and Thymine . All of these molecules contain Hydrogen, Carbon, Oxygen, Nitrogen, and Phosphorus. In your journal entry, discuss the following points:

  • Where does each element tend to be located in a biological molecule?
  • What kinds of bonds can each element make?
  • What similarities do you notice in the structures of the 4 molecules you built?

Observations from Lesson

Students were working hard and the entire class had a high level of engagement. Since Mr. Ehrhart has effectively relayed to the class that sub par work is unacceptable, the majority of the students strive to fully understand the content. Throughout the lesson, students would record their own notes as they worked with the new concepts presented by the activities. Many times students were observed seeking clarification of ideas by asking their peers and consulting additional resources such as websites, notes, and the digital textbook on the iPads. When taking the review quizzes, students would consult their notes to help them achieve a high score.
By having the iPads available in the classroom, the students were able to access a variety of resources effectively and efficiently. The interactive nature of the NOVA Elements app and Next Generation Molecular Workbench allowed students to construct understanding of abstract science concepts. The Moodle site provides an organized structure for the multiple activities and resources utilized in the lesson. The students and teacher could assess learning using Socrative and Moodle, giving instant feedback on understanding and comprehension. This feedback was then used to determine if the student would move on to the next activity, or if remediation was necessary. The iPads made it much easier for students to be self guided and engaged in their learning, due to the expectations and structure provided by the teacher.

About John Sengia

Instructional Technology Specialist for a school district in York County, PA. Former science teacher. Looking to help teachers use technology naturally with their teaching instead of trying to "add it in" .
This entry was posted in Handheld Devices, iPad, Science and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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