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High School Chemistry part 2: Myths about Teaching Chemistry

There are some myths about doing chemistry that are important to homeschoolers.  Let’s go over a few of these:

Myth #1.  “You cannot teach chemistry at home if you did not take it yourself.”  (Or its corollary: You cannot teach chemistry at home if you don’t have a degree in chemistry, etc.)  I have met many parents who believe that this is true.  Parents can learn chemistry by reading the text just as their students can.  As well, homeschooling high school is not ‘parent spoon feeding the student’, but is student-directed self-study.  Chemistry can be learned this way as can any other subject.  What is required is a good, understandable text, a good amount of curiosity, and a willingness to be consistent.

Myth #2.
  “It takes $2000.00 to set up an adequate chem lab at home.”  I have heard this one at homeschooling conventions and it is patently wrong.  Since centuries ago, chemistry has been done in homes and can be done there today.  There are many very good books available either currently in print or reproducible with permission, which will provide a good laboratory experience.  The equipment is not terribly expensive, a good kit ranges from $100.00 to $350.00.  Even the Smithsonian chemistry sets in toy stores can be used to give a lab experience to your student.  Note that most lab manuals have been written for schools with laboratories and large-scale budgets.  Most of the common ingredient manuals are really more for elementary students.  So, how can you deal with this?  Simple, don’t worry about the labs you don’t have the materials for.  You should do about 25 -30 experiments during one year of chemistry.  (36-40 is better, of course)  So, choose your experiments from several sources, if necessary.  There are at least several manuals available that were written for homeschoolers specifically.  Experiences in Chemistry is one that was specifically designed to use everyday household equipment.

Myth #3.
  “Chemistry is too hard to do at home and should be taught by experts in school.”  Many homeschooling parents use chemistry as the subject to cover with a tutor, videotapes, or special classes.  These are great alternative ways to do chemistry, but they are somewhat expensive, whereas doing lab in a class for homeschoolers can be fun as well as a learning experience.  If you are thinking about a tutor, look into hiring a retired person from your church.  A retired chemical engineer can teach things about chemistry that no ordinary teacher would know.  If you plan on using videos, remember that a video does not substitute for laboratory experience.  Lab experience means using the equipment yourself, not watching someone else use the equipment.

Myth #4“Kitchen chemistry is the way to go for high school credit for your non-science major or non-college bound student.”  The chemistry of foods is a very complicated subject.  It is difficult to teach the foundations of chemistry simply by using a recipe book.  It is good to remember that Foods and Feeding is usually a very difficult course of study in college.  The fact that we all eat food does not mean that the chemistry of food is easy.  On the other hand, there are some good, edible experiments out there that can provide a great supplement to your chemistry studies, as well as being fun to do.

Myth #5.
  “One text is like another.  I’ll just pick up a used book from the school.”  Each text has good points as well as weaknesses, but they usually can be trusted to include the principles of the topic as well as some good problems for your student to solve.  However, there are differences in the texts.  One text might be good for your student, while another might totally turn him off to chemistry.  Read some of the reviews and see if you can spot the differences between the texts.  Some texts rely upon the student to work all of the math problems; others want the student to use analytical skills to solve non-math oriented problems.   One text may have the semester lined out with assignments, etc., while another may leave all that up to the student. If your student is self motivated he can use the later, while a less organized person will want to use the former.  Choose your text based upon the goals, skills, and interests of your student. (Yours, too)

Part 1: High School Chemistry!

Part 3: Resources for Teaching Chemistry