High School Chemistry part 1

As our children get older, we are being faced with teaching upper level science at home.  Do you have reservations about doing science at home?   This post can help you approach high school science with confidence.  Science is the subject most mentioned by parents in my seminars as the reason parents send children back to regular schools.  And yet, science may be one of the best subjects for homeschooling because of the flexibility possible at home.  Let’s discuss some of the many options available for learning high school level chemistry at home. 

Chemistry is a difficult course.  In regular schools, students either take a minimum level introductory course or no chemistry at all.  The homeschooled student is different, however, and many are taking difficult courses like calculus, physics, law, logic, and world philosophies.  Homeschoolers should not be afraid of chemistry, either.  Some of that fear can be removed by learning about chemistry, what is involved in learning it, how a homeschooler can do chemistry lab at home, and how to plan ahead for chemistry.

What is chemistry and what is studied in high school chemistry?  Chemistry is the study of the matter that makes up the universe and the changes in that matter.  In a high school course, the student should learn about the structure of matter, the periodic chart, chemical reactions, the chemistry of life, nuclear chemistry, and some basic lab techniques.  Who needs chemistry?  Every student should take some type of chemistry.  Those students who will go on to college should take a more rigorous course and those who may never go on to college should at least take a foundational course that emphasizes real-life application of chemical principles.  Both of these groups should have lab experiences although the labs may be somewhat different.  Whether your student studies chemistry for one semester or for four semesters, he should be able to apply what he has learned to life.

What are the fundamentals of a high school chemistry course?  For a list of traditional topics normally covered in high school chemistry, check this blog entry.  For students using a non-traditional method of learning chemistry such a list can be a valuable help to keeping on track.  Check off topics as they are studied so that the student does not have to repeat topics already learned.  An example of this: suppose the student has studied the structure of matter, atoms, molecules, and compounds in 8th grade.  He should not have to repeat topics if he already knows the information.  So, he checks off those topics and during the first quarter of the year, reads over the material already studied in a quick review.  He then spends the remainder of the semester studying electron configuration, the periodic chart, and bonding; fundamental concepts he has not yet learned.  By doing this, the student has more time to learn the new material and, at the same time, is getting ahead of the normal schedule allowing him time for the more complex topics at the end of the book.  When you study the theory of chemistry you should not leave out the practical aspects of the subject.
Many students never really make the connection that chemistry is something they will live with for the rest of their lives.  They do not connect events in the laboratory with events in the garage or the kitchen.  The application of chemical principles to real life is very important to every student because in understanding these principles the student understands many events in the “real world”.  To help make chemistry real for your student, use a good plan for laboratory.

A homeschooler can easily have a real chemistry laboratory at home. There are several lab manuals on the market that use materials which are available to the average homeschooler and which will do an excellent job of teaching chemistry.  Check out the resource list in part 3 of this blog post for suggestions.  The materials do not cost a large amount, either.  In fact, if you buy a good chemistry kit (with glassware rather than plastic) when your children are young, you will get many years of use out of the materials.  Kits may contain the chemicals necessary to do the experiments, or chemicals can be bought at the grocery store or hardware store.  Have your student keep a lab notebook that describes the experiments he or she has done.  The best plan for building a home lab is to:

  1. Buy your equipment early
  2. Buy a lab manual and read it for materials required
  3. Make your purchases, ideally purchasing or borrowing only what you need to complete the prescribed labs
  4. Ensure the student keeps a lab notebook as the labs are completed.

Now, you have a list of topics for chemistry and a plan for getting your lab set up.  The next step is putting it all together.  This means choosing a text, a lab manual, and perhaps a few references.  These choices must be made based upon the goals, reading level, and math level of your student.  Remember, you do not necessarily have to do the teaching.  The primary role of a parent at the high school level, anyway, is facilitation (that’s where you provide the money and the wheels for your children.)  Your student should be able to do the reading and problem solving solo, or nearly so.  You may be needed to help interpret the text, discuss the material, and be curious; or, on the other hand, you could have another friend do these things.  One homeschooling mom from Colorado told me that she thought that the beauty of homeschooling is that the children learn to learn on their own.  Even struggling with hard things helps them learn so much better.  So, be encouraged; you can do this!

Each student learns differently and so, will need a different kind of chemistry course.  Here are some suggestions for different students:

Planning for chemistry for the non-science major who will probably not ever consider college is not difficult.  The concepts he should know are the fundamentals, the basic principles of chemistry upon which our lives depend.  A good text might be Usborne’s Illustrated Dictionary of Chemistry.  These books explain things simply and concisely.  Use Chemistry Experiments by Mary Johnson for lab. 

Your non-science major future college student will need a bit more rigorous course.  The A Beka text, Chemistry: Precision and Design, is very good and the explanations are excellent.  Chemistry in the Community (ChemCom) by the American Chemical Society is a great text and the labs are within the text itself.  Choose a kit from The Science Project Store, Science Labs.com (for ChemCom), or use Experiences in Chemistry from Castle Heights Press. 

If you have a student who is in 7th grade and very interested in chemistry, go for it.  Take out the list of fundamentals; get an introductory text, like Bob Jones’ Physical Science or A Beka’s Science of the Physical Creation, and just do the chemistry part of it.  Do the first part of Experiences in Chemistry for the lab.  When the child is older, just dive right into a high school level book and complete the laboratory activities already begun.  If you choose Science of the Physical Creation, you can do many of the lab activities at home provided you have a good lab kit. 

Your older college bound science lover can complete any of the usual high school texts or he or she can go right into the General Chemistry text by Umland for a rigorous start on college level material.  Remember the information is not different, there is just more of it.  For lab do Experiences in Chemistry, or a Chemistry kit from ScienceLabs.com such as the Chem C2000.  After the text is complete have your student take the Advanced Placement test in May.   If your student has used the normal high school level texts have him or her take the SAT II: Chemistry in the spring.

What about the parents who simply want a worry-free experience for their students?  Go to the local junior college and have your child take the general chemistry course.  It will be two semesters and the labs will probably be integrated into the course.  Don’t be afraid of night courses.  My son took one and the instructor was a retired chemical engineer who taught a great deal about vat chemistry in industry.  My son loved it. 

Now you know something about what is taught in high school level chemistry, you know how to plan for a laboratory at home, you also know several options for putting together a good chemistry course.  Learning chemistry requires effort, but is an excellent way to learn about God’s universe and the way it is put together.

Part 2: Myths About Teaching Chemistry!

Part 3: Resources for Teaching Chemistry.

Comments { 0 }

Fossils: Stones and Bones, part 3: Searching for Fossils on the Internet

Use these helpful resources as you study fossils in your homeschool!

Fossil Sites and Collecting Locations
Straight-forward list by state.

Fossils for Kids
Great, creative website with fun things like the X Marks the Spot page, Now and Then (my favorite), and a Shark Teeth collection!

St. Louis Science Center
Nice museum site: fossils, dinosaurs, and many other topics.

The Creation Museum
70,000 square foot museum in Kentucky that brings the pages of the Bible to life!

San Diego Natural History Museum: Finding Fossils
Kids’ site on the who, what, when, where, why of fossils

Fossils, Rocks, and Time
Produced by the US Geological Survey, a very informative site for your older students

Everything Fossils…Fossil Facts and Finds
An educational site that tells you everything you need to know about fossils, including activities, coloring pages, specific dinosaur information, articles, links, and lesson plans

Black Hills Institute of Geological Research, Inc.
“the leader in paleontological excavations and preparation since 1974, BHI has been helping supply museums and collectors the finest in professionally prepared fossils and cast replicas.”

United Kingdom Natural History Museum: Dino Directory
Online guide to 333 dinosaurs, images, and classroom activities with printable data files.

Champlain Sea Fossils
See pictures of sea fossils from Canada.

Collecting Fossils in California
All you need to know if that’s the state you hail from- check it out!

You can purchase fossils from this outfit: specializing in low-cost, quality fossils.

Fossil Lesson Plans from Dinosaur Train!
I couldn’t resist.  I will definitely be using this with my little Dinosaur Train fanatic.

Print Resources:

An Illustrated Guide to Fossil Collecting by Richard Casanova and Ronald P. Ratkevich.  A fundamental book on fossils and fossil collecting, it starts out with a brief history of collecting incuding some of the famous collectors of the past like Mary Anning who was twelve when she found a complete skeleton of Ichthysaurus.  Following a description of fossils and  how they are formed, is a discussion of fossil classification.  Sounds technical but it is written for the real person who collects for his or her own bookshelf.  There is a generic chapter on the history of the Earth, evolutionary, of course, but written from the ecological standpoint.  Chapters on how to collect and display your fossils are included.  Lists of resources with museums, geological surveys, societies and paleontological libraries finish up the book.  The best chapter in number seven.  This is the chapter on fossil collecting localities in North America.  This is definitely the resource you need to find fossils on your vacation trips.  Recommended for all ages.

Dry Bones…and other fossils by Gary Parker.  A Master Books publication, this one is written from a Creationists viewpoint.  It is a dialog between Dr. Gary Parker and his family on a typical fossil hunting trip in Indiana, Dr. Parker covers most of the bases in the creationist story of the Earth from creation to the big flood, explaining fossils and how they are made.  This book also comes in a read-along tape version for your little ones.

The Illustrated Origins Answer Book  by Paul S. Taylor.  A wonderful reference book for older readers, the Answer Book has two parts: a textbook and a reference section.  The text is very concise having good definitions which are not oversimplified on the page the word occurs.  This book is not for young children, but for interested adults and older children who have been wondering about some little problem with scientific creationism, but didn’t know where to look.  There many quotes from scientists, creationists as well as non-creationists, in the reference section.  A handy reference for creationists who may become involved in debates or lively discussions.

Field Guide to North American Fossils by Ida Thompson.  Photographs!  In color!  This field guide claims to be the first all-photographic one published. Written for the field, the guide is valuable to have in your field pack so that you can identify that odd fossil without losing face before your children.  Actually, any age can use this great little guide.  It is, of course, evolutionary and has a description in the first part of the history of the Earth period by period.  There are interesting details of recent research in this discussion, so don’t overlook it just because of the evolutionary bias.  After the photo section is a chapter which uses words to describe the fossils of that type.  The discussions are correlated to the photos.

Roadside Geology Series This series is wonderful for keeping in the car on a trip and reading along as you ride through the countryside.  Most of the major routes through a state are covered in the books and a lot of the minor ones.  Geology is best studied outside and these books help you do that.  They help you figure out what is going on with the Earth as you travel past roadway cuts and outcroppings.  The book for Texas covers the different geographical sections (examples are from Southeast Texas: Upper Gulf coast), the typical landforms (like saltdomes and rivers), the different processes still going on (like longshore drift and hurricanes), and the larger routes (like Interstates 10, 35, and 45)  and US routes (59 and 290) and state routes (36)  The glossary in the back and lots of pictures throughout the text make it simple to understand.  Most states are covered, you can purchase the books at The Geology Store.

Dino-Trekking:  The Ultimate Dinosaur Lover’s Travel Guide   by Kelly Milner Halls.  This is another traveling book, but you’ll use it before you get in the car.  Well-known and not so well-known dinosaur sites are listed and described here.  In the margin are the details like address, admission prices, and facilities available. There are side boxes with interesting notes from the curators of some of the museums and parks. The last section is a description of many dinosaurs plus a few non-dinosaurs which are included.  Useful for dinosaur lovers.

Comments { 0 }

Fossils: Stones and Bones, part 2

Here are some activities for you to try at home as you study fossils!

1. Make a cast of a footprint.
Find a really nice paw print of a dog, of a cat, or of some other animal. Clear away the leaves and debris from the outer edges of the print. Take a 1-inch wide strip of card stock (an index card works well) about 11-inches long (longer if necessary) and staple it into a circle. Place the card circle so that it surrounds the print like a fence. Dig it into the dirt a little so that it is secure.  Pour plaster which is the consistency of toothpaste into the print and the fence.  Let set and remove.  You should have a cast of the print.  If you do not have a good footprint, make one using your dog, a little dirt, and some water.  Make mud and press your dog’s paw into it.  Allow the print to dry until it is hard enough to keep it’s shape when touched.  Then make the cast as before.

2. Making a plaster copy of a footprint.
After your cast of the animal footprint has become firm, put a thin layer of petroleum jelly all around the inside of the cast.  Put another card stock sleeve around the casting to make a cuplike form.  Pour plaster of paris at a toothpaste consistency into the cup.  Allow to set.  Remove the card stock and separate the layers.  You should now have a plaster copy of the foot print.  You can do this with your little sister’s hand print, too.

3. Dissolving the bone / the first step of replacement.
When a future fossil is replaced by minerals it is done very slowly, a particle at a time so that the structure of the original organism is still preserved by the replacing minerals.  Sometimes even the cells of the plant are able to be seen even though the original cells are long gone.  This is how the trees were petrified in the Petrified Forest.  The water first dissolves the material of the organism, then replaces it with another particle, a mineral.  Some fossils are replaced with beautiful agates and are turned into wonderful specimen you can use as decorations at home.

You can not try replacement, but you can experiment with the first part of the process, the removal of the material of a bone.  Place a chicken bone in a glass of vinegar or of carbonated water.  Each of these liquids are acidic and will dissolve the calcium out of the bone leaving the cartilaginous material which bends easily.  When a tooth is placed in carbonated water, it will dissolve completely.  Ground water filtering through a future fossil may be acidic.  This acid will dissolve the calcium in the organism leaving a spot which may be filled by a mineral also in the water.  A useful tip:  You can increase the calcium content of a stew by adding the bones of the meat along with a tablespoon of vinegar.  You will not taste the difference but the stew will have a considerable amount of calcium in it taken from the bone by the acid.

4. Fossil hunt
You can make up some artificial fossils by putting objects to be excavated into a matrix which is then carved away to reveal the “fossils”.   What you choose to place into the matrix should depend upon the age of the child and whether it is to be eaten during the experiment.

There are several different things you can use as the matrix.  Some people prefer using plaster of Paris because of its rock-like texture, but it is hard and can be difficult to carve.  If you use this matrix be sure to use eye protection.  Parafin can be used and then carved easily with nails and popsicle sticks.  You can simulate different rock layers by using crayons to color the melted wax.  Remember to be careful with the melted wax.  You can even use cake dough and cook some whole pecans into the dough.  Excavating can be done with forks and spoons.  Jello is another matrix you can use for the “fossil” excavation.  If using an edible matrix, be sure to use edible “fossils”.

The best type of fossil hunt you can do, though, is outside hunting real fossils.  If you live in a city, look for building made of limestone, marble, or some other once sedimentary material.  Many building materials have fossils in them.  Marble, though, once sedimentary has been metamorphosed and changed by pressure or temperature.  The fossils within will have been changed, too, but in many cases are still recognizable.  Many libraries have shells embedded in their steps and we walk over them without ever noticing them.

5. Collecting data.
Use a 3×5 Data Card to record notes while collecting fossils.  You may forget where you collected the specimen and you may want to remember a particular location. On a 3×5 card, jot down the following notes:

Name of the fossil (type of creature or plant, if you know it):
Rocks the fossil came from:
Drawing of the position of the fossil in the rock:
Location of collection site: Get out and collect some fossils and try some of these activities!  Stay tuned for part 3 of this post: Internet and Print Resources for the study of fossils.

Comments { 0 }