Resource Type
Completion Time
About 1 period
Middle School and Up
Download, Share, and Remix
Each student needs the worksheet, a periodic table and possibly a calculator.
The teacher needs audiovisual equipment and access to the power point presentation and video.
The video can be found at:
Physical Science
Tools and Methods
Climate Change


This lesson is based on studies completed by undergraduate geoscience students working around the glaciers of Kongsfjord, Svalbard during the summer of 2014. It is intended as part of a larger unit on matter that covers atomic theory, atomic structure and the periodic table. Students connect authentic research to their classroom understanding of atoms while learning how this knowledge applies to real-world scientific investigations.


  • Students know each element has a specific number of protons in the nucleus (the atomic number) and each isotope of the element has a different but specific number of neutrons in the nucleus.
  • Students will cite examples of how isotopes are used in science research.

Lesson Preparation

Preparation includes making copies of student worksheets and periodic tables, if needed. Additionally, preview of the video and power point is recommended along with setup of required audiovisual equipment.

This lesson presents a definition and examples of isotopes and should be presented in the context of a larger unit that includes atomic theory, atomic structure and the periodic table. It is assumed that students have completed prior units in a physical science curriculum and have the requisite background knowledge necessary for mastery of the objectives.


The components of the lesson are:

  • A six-minute video to generate interest, add authenticity and inform students about how the study of isotopes applies to real-world scientific investigations.
  • A teacher guided power point that reviews atomic structure, defines isotopes and gives several examples.
  • A worksheet for students to complete with video notes and practice determining the number of subatomic particles of various isotopes of different elements.
  • The above order is suggested, however it can be modified to accommodate different age groups, time allotments, etc.


As an extension activity, students can investigate how isotopes found in gas bubbles in ice cores help us understand past climate and model possible future climate scenarios. The Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine provides an interactive website, Ice Core 101.




Evidence of mastery of the objectives should be evident on the worksheet and can be further assessed on a test or quiz. Specifically, did the student adequately:

  • Determine the correct number of protons and neutrons for the various isotopes and accurately identify the atomic numbers and element names.
  • Provide examples of how isotopes can be used in scientific research.

Author / Credits

PolarTREC teacher, Peggy McNeal created this lesson based on her experience with High Arctic Change 2014. Peggy may be reached at peggy.mcneal [at]

Files Included

  • Worksheet: What is an Isotope?
  • Power point presentation: What is an Isotope?

Standards Other


Science Content Standards for California Public Schools, Grade 8:
Periodic Table
The organization of the periodic table is based on the properties of the elements and reflects the structure of atoms. As a basis for understanding this concept:

  • Students know each element has a specific number of protons in the nucleus (the atomic number) and each isotope of the element has a different but specific number of neutrons in the nucleus.
Attachment Size
Download Complete Lesson (PDF - 287KB)287.1 KB 287.1 KB
Download Worksheet (PDF - 205KB)205.64 KB 205.64 KB
Download Powerpoint (PPT - 879KB)879.5 KB 879.5 KB
Download Presentation (PDF - 297KB)297.46 KB 297.46 KB

This program is supported by the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed by this program are those of the PIs and coordinating team, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.