May 18, 2023
Electric Crystals, Part 1
What is a Crystal, Anyway?

In this engaging, comic-driven lesson, students do individual and group-based activities to understand the characteristics of crystals (like quartz) versus amorphous solids (like glass). This lesson is part 1 of a 4 part series.

Grade levels: 6th grade - 8th grade , 9th grade - 12th grade
Approx time: 45 minutes
Things you'll need:
Step 1

Welcome to The Crystal Factory

Start the tour of the factory! Read the first two comic pages to meet the tour guide, Krista, and enter the crystal factory. Students in the comic have brought items they think might be a crystal. Students are prompted to imagine what item they might bring to a tour of the crystal factory.

Step 2

SPEX 3000 Mystery Solid Analysis

Examine the analysis summaries for each of the items fed into the SPEX 3000. Students will read and sort the analysis summary cards generated by the SPEX 3000 machine: ♧ SPEX 3000 Cards. Each card lists the name of the sample and examples of its visual, microscopic, and chemical structure. The worksheet prompts students to sort these cards in order of personal interest and usefulness.

Step 3

Is It a Crystal?

The definition of a "crystal" is introduced and students determine which of the mystery solids are crystals. In the comic, Krista explains the definition of a crystal, and students will use the "computed chemical structure" section of each SPEX 3000 summary to determine if the mystery solids are crystals or not. Krista also introduces the concept of an amorphous solid, which is not microscopically ordered in the same way as a crystal, and therefore has different kinds of uses. Students will use the worksheet to summarize their understanding of crystals and amorphous solids, and the differences between them.

crystal: a material which is highly organized on a microscopic scale AND has well-defined planes of symmetry (example: quartz)
amorphous solid: a solid with some repeating structure like a crystal, but arranged in a disordered way (example: glass)

Step 4


Reflect on the first activity of the factory tour. The worksheet asks students to reflect on what they learned, what they found surprising, and what they're still curious about.

Why it Works

Supplemental materials for teachers are on the Galactic Polymath website, where you will find information on learning standards and be able to provide feedback on the lesson.

Don't stop here! This is part 1 of a series! Make sure to check out:

Unit Cells and Their Molecular Building Blocks (Electric Crystals, Part 2)

How do Crystals get their Shapes? (Electric Crystals, Part 3)

Electric Crystals and their Broken Symmetries (Electric Crystals, Part 4)

TAGS: #crystal structure    #crystals    #nanostructures