Secondary Chemistry – Why is the Periodic Table like a Porsche 911?

Ok – not sure this is going to work if you don’t know a Smart car from a Subaru but, hey, here goes.  A Porsche 911 is regarded, at least in some people’s eyes, as a bit of a classic.  I did drive one once and it’s certainly a bit different.  On paper it shouldn’t work as well as it does.  The engine is at the back, and drives the rear wheels.  Dynamically this is not good; too much weight at the rear end.  When you blip the throttle it sounds like a piece of calico being torn from end to end.  The 911 is great though, because it’s been endlessly developed, refined, improved and balanced.  It sticks to the road like a limpet and goes like a rocket.  Mind you, I imagine that if you overcooked things you’d become part of the scenery pretty quickly.

Some people think the Periodic Table is a bit like this: repeatedly worked on over the years.  Many people know it was Mendeleev’s genius; fewer know that what he came up with didn’t look much like what we now see on the wall of the Chemistry Lab.  Same basic ideas but a lot of subsequent refinement.  It is, of course, iconic.

(Image source:

We thought at Collins we’d put some resources together using some of the more common elements as themes.  Each collection would be centred on a particular element but designed so that you could use them in loads of different ways. 

The first one is on chlorine.  In the 90s Roger McGough wrote some poems for Channel 4 about the elements and we thought it was time for a revisit, so you’ll find a poem on chlorine.  However it doesn’t say it’s about chlorine – that’s for students to work out.  There’s a bit of parental pride here; it was my daughter that wrote the poems (I did consider having a go but teachers these days have more than enough to contend with).  We also wanted some visual challenges so you’ll also find a poster with two very different pictures on it.  The idea is for students to try and work out the link between the pictures.  There’s a card sort and some other activities as well.  It’s not really about providing information but offering some ideas that should engage students in some discussion.

What we plan to do is release them over the next few months.  Really keen for some feedback too, so let us know how you get on with them and the uses you put them too.

Ed Walsh


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