Essential Elements

October 6, 2011 in Elements

On Friday, November 7th, 2008, our third season of the Molecules of Life Project debuted in Ms Reavell’s 4th grade class with a dose of the Essential Elements delivered by Concordia University Masters of Art Education students Jess Aylsworth, Maya Grubisic and Zac Kenny, and Université de Montréal BSc chemistry students Cindie Eugene and Sixian Lin.  Reviewing the elementary students knowledge of the essential requirements for plant life, we arrived at a discussion of fertilizer and Sixian explained about the big 3 essential elements in fertilizer: nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous.   Cindie then assisted four student volunteers, dressed in proper laboratory attire, to perform a test for nitrogen using ninhydrin as an indicator of amines.  The students were excited to see the nitrogen containing amino acid solution turn purple after heating with ninhydrin and disappointed that a similar color could not be obtained with non-nitrogen containing sugar.  Zac helped introduce to the class five essential elements by separating them into groups that were each assigned  something containing a specific element to color and construct: bananas for potassium, weights for iron, an egg yoke for sulfur, leaves for magnesium and a milk container for calcium.  As the students assembled their separate elements, Sixian used flash cards with pictures of things containing the element on one side and the name and symbol of the element on the other to remind the students of the elements they know about and encounter in their daily lives, i.e., oxygen, potassium, sodium, calcium, gold, silver, mercury, iron, sulfur, helium, chlorine, copper, carbon.  As the essential elements are needed for plant growth, with assistance from Maya and Jess, the students assembled their essential elements into their own plant sculpture.   Coloring their items the students were taught about specific sources of essential elements (like magnesium in chlorophyl).  Assembling the items into a plant sculpture, the students gained an appreciation that the essential elements are all necessary for plant growth.


We thank team Essential Elements for serving the students up a satisfying healthy bowl of elemental molecules of life fun and information.


For more information on the essential elements see: