Maxwell-Boltzmann Distribution Curves & Periodic Trends

That’s some science talk! As a science teacher, I am constantly using images during class – in my presentations, to aid ELL learners, to figure out a concept that I too struggle with! I am new to the IB curriculum, and chemistry can be difficult 😉 So, not only do images aid in the learning of my students, but they help me to become a better teacher of my scientific discipline.

I usually just Google an image and plop it into my presentation – DONE! And I also usually have no idea if I am really allowed to use those images. BUT with the Creative Commons image search that I am now aware of, I know that the images I am using are appropriate to use in the classes that I teach.

IB Chemistry Standard Level Year II

Here is the first image that I searched for on the Creative Commons image search, and I searched, “Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution,” and this is one of the first images that came up. In my year 2 chemistry class, we are currently learning about chemical kinetics, which includes what affects the rate of a reaction. This image is now a part of our Chemical Kinetics presentation (see slide 8). I linked the actual image in the presentation to show where this image came from. (I am wondering if it would be appropriate to include a caption as well.) I have already used this image in my lesson, and I asked my students the following questions about the image:

  • Which noble gas do you think has the highest temperature? How do you know this?
  • Which noble gas do you think has the highest energy? How do you know this?
  • Why do each of these noble gases have particles of varying speeds?

Visual imagery definitely supports our curricular content in chemistry. Oftentimes, chemistry is such an abstract subject, and it is difficult for students to “see” what is happening at the molecular level. Including images allows students to “see” and better understand how chemistry works 🙂

IB Chemistry Higher Level Year I

Here is the second image that I searched for on the Creative Commons image search, and I searched, “Periodic trends,” and this is the very first image that came up. In my year 1 chemistry class, we are currently learning about the periodic table, which includes various trends that are associated with the periodic table. This image is now a part of our Periodic Table presentation (see slide 12). I plan to use this image in my class this week, and I was thinking about asking them questions similar to the following:

  • Why do you think electron affinity and ionization energy have the same trend?
  • Why does atomic radius increase down a group?
  • Why does atomic radius decrease across a period? Does this answer contradict your previous answer? If so, does that make sense?
  • What does metallic and nonmetallic character have to do with electron affinity and/or ionization energy (if anything)?

As stated above, visual imagery is an integral part of our curricular content in chemistry. It allows our students to “see” the unseen or at least try to make some sense of it 🙂

I am a HUGE fan of visuals especially in the classroom, but I am not all that sure that I am making the most of them. I think I can do better. Any suggestions? How do you use visual imagery to support your curricular content? Ideas wanted! I warmly welcome your comments below 🙂

6 thoughts on “Maxwell-Boltzmann Distribution Curves & Periodic Trends

  1. Pam, I can totally see how visual imagery helps understanding such hard concepts like you teach in chemistry. Like you, I believe images can reach the majority of your students irrelevant of their language background, as the saying goes, an image (picture) is worth a thousand words! I teach study skills to my students, and being able to take their notes and turn them into some visual so their brain remembers it easier, is once strategy I try to get them to do. Have you thought about asking your students to create a visual to go with a key concept? or take the visual you share with them, and ask them how they would modify it to make the meaning clearer to them. It might be as simple as enlarging what they think is the most important word on the diagram, or changing a color so a particular concept they have the most difficulty understanding, stands out…. Anything to get them to manipulate new concepts, to make it their own, will aid their understanding and retention… we hope!
    I enjoyed reading how you use visuals in your daily practice – thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks, Bettina! These are GREAT suggestions! I am definitely going to try what you are suggesting. After showing the periodic trends visual to my class, one student actually said to me, “That makes so much more sense now! If I saw that picture before the quiz, I would have done a lot better!” It’s so important to get our students thinking visually 🙂

  2. Hi Pamela,

    I totally agree with you about the importance of visuals in a science classroom. I talked about it in my blog this week too! I was also using google to find all my images because I felt like flickr didn’t provide me with ones that were appropriate or worked with the content. I have just been introduced to wikimedia commons and so far the images for science are really good. It’s worth looking into. Have you checked out bozeman science  he has some great videos on chemistry topics as well.


    1. Hi Stephanie! This is great news 🙂 I will definitely be checking out wikimedia commons. It seems like a great resource. I have seen Bozeman Science, and I have used some of his videos. Thank you so much for sharing. I can’t wait to check out your blog!

  3. I am so thankful for visuals when I’m reading about Chemistry on your blog Pamela! Unfortunately I did not do so well in Chemistry at high school (totally bombed if I’m honest) so I love learning stuff from you!

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