X is for Xenon

Xenon has the atomic number 54 on the periodic table of elements, which is something I didn’t know seconds before writing this sentence. I wouldn’t feel so badly about this lack of knowledge in chemistry in general (chemistry kept me from pursuing any sort of medical degree) except that I have a student who has memorize the entire table, plus every element’s atomic number AND knows how to spell them all correctly. This student is five years old. Oh, and English is his second language. Feels like we should all be studying a little more, doesn’t it?

The thing is, though, we’re all hardwired to be good at different things. This isn’t to suggest that the line is drawn between genders because it isn’t, but as individuals we each have a different learning strength, a different exploitative passion, a different path our brains are coded to take. Like most things, it’s a little bit nature and a little bit nurture, but very few people excel at everything. My kindergarten chemistry savant can name any element given only its atomic weight, but ask him to draw a picture of his family and he’ll flip the page over and write complex mathematics equations instead. (Ok, that last bit was an exaggeration, but only a small one. He’ll actually draw molecular compounds instead.)

So while I try not to feel bad when I’m struggling to find a stimulating learning environment for one student who should be handed a high school science textbook while the rest of my students are struggling with lower case letters, a part of me still feels like I should crack open the Elements Vault, just for a little review.

elements vault


15 thoughts on “X is for Xenon

  1. How interesting you should make these comments about chemistry – my daughter took it as a summer course at UNC and didn’t do well at all. It determined, for her, that she would not pursue a career in medicine. What DID she do? Majored in three fields (French, Film and Media Studies, and Creative Writing)at Johns Hopkins University and got honors in all of them.

    • There you go! I’m of the mind that people excel at different things at different times in their life. I barely scraped through high school math, but when I took it again in adult education I got all A’s.

  2. When I was in high school, I used to tell people I was from Xenon. Then the Xenonian secret service showed up and killed everyone I’d told. So, um, yeah, I am NOT from Xenon.

  3. Wow, what a child prodigy. I found chemistry interesting as an adult (I did a couple of courses) but hated it at school. I could never have remembered the periodic table in either period of study though.

    • Yeah. He’s definitely really smart. The trouble is, he’s too young to realize what that means. And he’s an only child. So he’s very used to everyone telling him how smart he is. I don’t run my classes like that, since it alienates the weaker kids, and it breeds an attitude in the smarter ones that they don’t need to try anymore. That chemistry whiz, for example, is very, very sensitive to being corrected when he makes a mistake. I’ve gotten everything from, “I’m just not going to do this” to full, hyperventilating breakdown. 😦 Not to mention that the weaker kids are starting to oust him because again, he’s too young to understand how to deal with all his knowledge, In his limited scope, running around blasting out the wealth of knowledge he has earns him praise and recognition, but the other kids have gotten tired of it, and him and it’s really hard to explain to a five year old who doesn’t speak English that bragging isn’t socially acceptable.

      • Who’s to say? I’m not a fan of pushing children before they’re old enough to realize what they’re doing, but one hopes that he’ll continue this pattern of study (and gets over his phobia of making a mistake) to go on to do great things. Maybe that’ll bring him happiness.

  4. I never did get the hang of the periodic table. Part of that comes from not having it explained properly, and the rest from laziness, I suspect, although having a chemistry teacher who just insisted on testing us every week put me right off. 🙂

  5. I pity that child if his mother is so demanding and he is so clever – in that one area. He so needs the socialising that school can bring, but it sounds like his mother is working against that. Poor kid – I wonder how he will cope as he gets older.

  6. Tough on the poor kid imho. He’s being programmed early (as so many Japanese children are) that success and being outstanding is the only option, mediocre is nothing.
    I’ve nothing against people excelling, its how the world continues to evolve, but to start them this young makes me quite sad.

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