Atomic models help students understand basic atomic theory. Building the atom shows the student the nucleus with its protons and neutrons and illustrates the rings of electrons. Attaching single atoms together shows students how atoms join. It also reveals the relative strength or weakness of different atomic bonds. You can build atomic models in any number of ways.
The best way to begin to explain or understand the concept of atomic parts is to draw them out. Each atom has three distinct particles in two areas. The nucleus contains the protons and neutrons, while the electrons circle the nucleus in a constant whirl of motion. An accurate drawing of the atom would show a cloud of motion obscuring the nucleus. However, since this looks like a scribble, students must use their imagination and pretend that they have the ability to stop an atom from moving. The Bohr atomic model helps students imagine the process by stopping each electron in its tracks.
Most craft stores have everything the average student needs to construct a good three-dimensional model of an atom. Several kits are on the market, or students can create their own. Glue styrofoam balls tightly together to form the nucleus. Use wires to suspend the smaller electrons so that they appear in constant motion. To give the impression of the solid appearance of the nucleus, try using clay to form the protons and neutrons and press the pieces tightly together. Wrap the clay nucleus in strings to represent the trails of the moving electrons.
Three-dimensional models lend themselves to illustrating the principles of molecular bonds. Use different-coloured styrofoam balls to represent different atomic elements. Attach each atom together with a coloured piece of wood or plastic to indicate the type of atomic bond. For example, craft sticks represent a covalent bond, while two coffee stirrers represent a double bond. Three-dimensional models illustrate very complex molecules, giving the student a chance to explore the different atoms and bonds that make up everything from air and water to complex plastics and sugar.
A fun way to explore atomic models is to create edible models. Place a variety of small candies in bowls around the student. Designate which candies are protons, neutrons or electrons. Ask each student to glue the candy to a piece of paper with icing. When exploring molecules, designate each candy as a specific atom and use the icing to show which type of bond holds each atom in place.