There are two types of elements in the world: metals and non-metals. Most things in the world fall under the category of metals. We’ll help you to understand the chemistry of metals. Here is a color-coded periodic table of the elements. The metals and semi-metals are most of the chart. Only the dark purple and yellow-orange on the far right are non-metals.
A metal has certain characteristics:
- Hard: though some are harder than others and mercury, a liquid at room temperature, is the exception
- Good conductors of electricity and heat
Some things you would never think of as metals are. Sodium, which is a major component of table salt is a metal. It’s extremely unlikely you will ever see it in nature in its pure form though. Sodium (Na), on the extreme left of the periodic table is highly reactive. The metals in the center of the table, like gold (Au) and Iron (Fe) are stable and can be found commonly in nature.
Gather some metallic and non-metallic items to illustrate the properties of metals. Ask the kids to describe in detail the objects they see before them and then to put them into two groups. There will probably be many ways to group the objects. See how many different ways you can organize the groups. Make a chart showing your groups and the reasons you grouped the objects the way you did.
Then whip out your handy-dandy periodic table and show the kids that scientists like to organize and group things as well. Point out the metals and non-metals on the periodic table. Then explain the characteristics that make something a metal.
- For more on the Periodic Table.
- Go here for a great science experiment with metals. Hint: Potassium is a highly reactive metal from Period 1 of the Periodic Table.
- When learning about metals learn about mining and take a tour of a mine if you can.
- Unit 2-12 talks more about metals and their properties and has lots of metal experiments to try. Go get it.