Chemistry: A Volatile History

Author: Homan, Ros

Publication date: February 3rd, 2010
Publisher: BBC Four




This is a short, four-minute clip from a BBC documentary series called “Chemistry – A Volatile History.” The focus of this clip is Dmitri Mendeleev, the scientist credited with the first arrangement of the elements in a Periodic Table. Though Mendeleev’s Periodic Table looks significantly different from the Periodic Table one might see on the wall of a chemistry laboratory, the underlying principles that govern its arrangement are the same. The video introduces viewers to Mendeleev and tells the story of his discovery: arranging the elements by both chemical properties and atomic mass.


This film clip is conceptually appropriate and accessible for most students in a high school general chemistry class. It consists of narration accompanying appealing visuals to help illustrate concepts. For instance, as the narrator describes how Mendeleev arranged the elements in the Table, the film shows him placing cards, each with an element written on it, on a table, and arranging them by atomic mass and chemical properties. The strong visuals associated with the direct, clear narration make this video clip accessible to high school students of general chemistry. It is especially beneficial for students who are visual and auditory learners, as hearing the concepts explained by a narrative voice and seeing accompanying video helps these students grasp new ideas.

Use in Class

Students could watch this video together, as a whole group, and while they watch they will use a jot chart (which I would prepare) to write down key concepts. After watching the video once, I would divide the class into groups of four students each, and ask the students to engage in a reciprocal teaching exercise. One student would summarize what happened in the video, a second student would ask questions about the video, a third student would clarify or attempt to answer the proposed questions, and a fourth student would predict what we will learn next. In this particular case, the student would be asked to make predictions such as, “What discoveries about the Periodic Table occurred after Mendeleev?” or “Did Mendeleev get it all ‘right’? How will the Periodic Table change after Mendeleev?”

Unit Focus


Submitted by Molly McMahan

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