November 15, 2016

Chemistry Students can Build Atoms, Molecules with ‘NOVA Elements’ App

By Rob Klindt, Contributing Writer | Literacy Resources

Chromium, silicon and tungsten. What are these elements, and why are they important? If you’re a science or a chemistry teacher, you want students to know about these elements and dozens more that are the building blocks of ordinary matter.

Chemistry teachers have used the printed Periodic Table of the Elements chart as a standard teaching tool and reference guide for generations. But for some students, the chart can seem unwieldy or dull and elicit yawns of boredom.

That’s when teachers should stir a bit of technology into lesson plans by using an educational app to engage students while they learn the material.

Screen shot of the "NOVA Elements" app for iPad and Windows tabletsAn excellent app to consider is “NOVA Elements” by PBS/WGBH Educational Foundation. The app targets students in upper elementary grades through high school and works with Apple iPad tablets. A separate app for desktop PC users running the Windows operating system is available, too.

The app helps students learn to identify the basic content and structure of the Periodic Table of the Elements. Touchscreen technology lets students use a finger to tap any element on the table to launch an information page.

Topics include:

  • Atomic numbers
  • Atomic symbols
  • How elements combine
  • Names and classifications of elements
  • The number of elements

The movement, organization and interactive elements of the app may help keep kinesthetic and visual learners engaged while learning the material. Using the app also can be especially helpful for college-bound students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs.

Getting started

No registration is needed, so students can jump into the app’s three main features right away. The app launches with a splash page narrated by David Pogue, a science and technology writer. He invites users to explore elements in an interactive table, play a game based on identifying common elements or watch a movie about how elements are tracked and found.

The heart of the app has a colorful and interactive Periodic Table of the Elements chart that shows 116 element tiles arranged in a traditional periodic table layout. Using a finger to tap a tile launches a window with element details. Tapping the “Build” button on each window uncovers an “atomic sandbox” where students tap and drag onscreen icons to combine protons, neutrons and electrons to build a stable atom.

Next is the “Essential Elements” game, which asks students to assemble component elements and molecules into everyday items such as a cup of coffee, nylon, cotton or stainless steel.

Finally, students can watch a two-hour educational program called “Hunting the Elements” on the internet.

Dynamic features

Several dynamic features make the app fun to use and keep the exercises and games moving. The most helpful features include:

  • An animated learning game
  • Colorful graphics
  • Lively sound effects
  • Interactive Periodic Table of the Elements chart
  • Video narratives of the elements

The app’s main splash page includes clear navigation buttons at the bottom of the screen that let users jump between programs, clear game scores and set audio preferences. The app is self-paced, and students can take as much time as they need to study the material.

What’s included

Content in the “NOVA Elements” app is all-inclusive. Once it’s been downloaded into a device, most content, including tables, exercises, games, sound effects and narration, will work without an internet connection.

The only time an internet connection is needed is to watch the “Hunting the Elements” movie link on the “NOVA” television program’s website.

There are no advertisements or in-app purchases, and no registration is needed.

Download details

The “NOVA Elements” app by PBS/WGBH Educational Foundation is free. It can be downloaded from iTunes and is compatible with iPad tablets running iOS version 3.2 or later. A desktop computer version running Windows OS 8.1 or later is available at the Microsoft store.

Rob Klindt’s “App Reviews” combine his passion for writing with an ever-growing interest in educational technology. His simple, straightforward approach to reviewing educational apps help educators and parents leverage new tools for students in and out of the classroom.

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