By Adrian Gonzalez
I have been teaching the atom and the periodic table the last five years. During that time, I read through many different books about the subject — looking for a connection that would engage students and create a better understanding of a complicated, abstract concept. Last summer, I found a book, Atom, based on the BBC series. Written by Piers Bizony, it begins with a beautiful concept: We are all made from stardust.
I couldn’t believe I had never heard or thought of this before. Scientists know that all the atoms that are here with us now were created during the big bang. There is more to it than that, but as an eighth-grade teacher I try to keep it simple. I explain to the students that as those atoms flew away from the center, they began hitting each other with such a force that they released energy and formed bigger atoms. This is how stars are formed. Then a star will either explode or wither away. This releases the atoms back into the cosmos to be formed into new stars and planets. One of those new stars became our sun, and we humans were formed from the Earth within the sun’s system. It is interesting to note that when we die, our bodies decompose back into the atoms and molecules they came from.
In order to make the connection of atoms and stardust, I dress as the atomic fairy, here to spread the word that we are all pieces of the same star. Inside each and every one of us are the atoms that were present at the beginning of the universe. So students are happy to go home and tell their parents that they are truly stars, or at least a part of one.
They also get a good laugh at seeing me in a tutu. But they remember the lesson, and they understand how important they are to the universe.
Adrian Gonzalez teaches science at University Heights Middle School in Riverside.
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