AMITIAE - Sunday 18 May 2014

The Elements: Flashcards - Quizes and Tables for Chemical Symbols on iOS Devices

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By Graham K. Rogers


With the logic behind physics and maths I was able to fare reasonably at those subjects in my high school days. Chemistry eluded me, particularly when it came to understanding formulae. I still remember many of the chemical symbols and even some of the compounds (H2O, H2SO4, NaCl), but the table of elements and the groups were beyond me.

An app, with the name The Elements: Flashcards, has been developed by Touch Press LLC, a London company with a number of other education apps available.

While it is aimed at students revising for exams, it could be used as a useful tool for anyone who needs to refresh their knowledge. Having run it a couple of times on the iPhone and iPad, I also see ways in which it could be used for classroom activities.

Flashcards Flashcards Flashcards

The app is split into two sections: Quiz; and Drag & Drop. Quiz has a number of ways to test knowledge: Name, Symbol, Group and Picture. When one of these is selected, a number appears at the top of the screen to select the Number of Elements to be tested. Name had a choice of 20, 40 or 118 (all elements). At the bottom is a button marked, Begin.

On the iPhone, the app only worked in portrait mode, but on the larger screen area of the iPad the display also used landscape mode. With Name, a chemical symbol appears. There is no option to type in the answer, so this is a verbal or mental exercise. The latter requires some personal honesty, but as no scores are kept, this hardly matters. Tapping on "Element Name" reveals the correct name, an image and two icon options: wrong or right. Tapping one of these takes the user to the next problem.


Similarly, the other sections ask the user to identify the chemicals: Symbol provides the name (e.g Hydrogen = H); Groups ask the user to identify if the named element is a transition metal, rare earth, alkali metal, alkaline earth, halogen or noble gas (About.COM.Chemistry). I was less happy with the section marked, Picture. It was not easy for me to relate to the images used, despite their clarity. The images used were larger on the iPad, but I could still not make the link in most cases.

At the top of the panel is a speaker icon and the word, Language. Pressing the speaker caused the app to pronounce the element when it appeared. There were some 18 languages listed (plus Automatic) and selecting one, changed the app display language and the pronunciation. I did change the iPhone language to Thai but that had no effect on display or speaker in the app. My thanks to True staff in Pinklao for helping me change back to English.


The second part of the app, Drag & Drop, displayed a partially completed Table of the Elements. At the bottom, depending on the number of elements the user had selected - 40, 60, 118 as in the Quiz - were thumbnails (in a random order) with basic information of an element: chemical symbol, image and atomic number.

Hydrogen was easy with its Atomic number of 1 (I had remembered that), but others less so. As the thumbnail was dragged to the Table, so the main part of the panel was enlarged, making it easier to drop the icon into its correct place. If the user was right, a green check appeared; if wrong, a black cross in a red circle.

Flashcards Flashcards

A couple of times when using this free app, I was asked to examine (and perhaps buy) The Elements, a first-rate app that has been available for a while for the iPad for $13.99. That app is beautifully finished, with plenty of information and links. Some of the excellent images in that app are also used in The Elements: Flashcards.

The app scores highly for me with its ease of use and the mix of exercises, although I am not sure - particularly with the small size of the iPhone screen - that the pictures used are closely related enough for the task they are used for.

As a standalone app this has much value simply as a revision tool, but it would be quite easy to create other tasks, such as classroom exercises, that increase the education value of this app. Because of the interest it might create for those using it, the useful link to The Elements is less a form of advertising and more a public service announcement.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.



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