The way to own your knowledge

Simon went further on his research about what exactly valence is, and what determines how many other atoms an atom can bond with. “What about Helium? My question is, how many bonds does Helium have?” I hear him ask and watch as he searches the internet for a chemical bonds table. “From this table, I can see that the amount of bonds is not equal to the amount of electrons in the last orbital, the amount of valence electrons!” But what is the algorithm to calculate the valence of every element? He then discovered that the information about it hides inside the periodic table where elements are divided into groups. But those groups are more about the number of the valence electrons.” Mom, it says 7 for chlorine, but in my Chemistry modeling set chlorine has just one hole!” Something didn’t add up. I suggested we look into Theodore Gray’s Molecules book, which we only have in Dutch. There we studied the drawings of the outer layers of the “schil” of different atoms (in Dutch, the orbital cloud is called “schil”, which is the same as the peel of an apple). And all of a sudden, Simon knew it. He started shaking, his body stiffened with excitement. He realized that the element’s valence is the number of electrons the outer orbital can take minus the number it already has! That is, the number of “holes”, of vacancies! What a feast it was to see how he made this huge discovery all on his own, how he physically felt the discovery strike his mind and pierce his body like an envigorating wave, and how now he owned that knowledge, something he was genuinely interested in and something he experienced so deeply.

What Simon did then was grab ping-pong balls and little atoms from his modeling set and invite me and Neva to play with him, as if we were the unhappy elements that missed electrons in our outer shells and we started exchanging our ping-pong balls (our electrons) to form happy and complete molecules. And then he took two balls and gave two balls to me and said: “I don’t need you. I’m Helium and happy alone”, a big smile on his face at he made the joke.

Here we pretend we are two oxygen atoms trying to form a molecule. The white balls are how many valence electrons each of us has.

Making atom models from clay together with sis. The blue clay balls are electrons and the red ones are protons.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s