For the past few months, my older son and two friends have met most Fridays to do science, often chemistry. My son’s interest in chemistry began last summer as a preoccupation with the composition of fireworks. The more he discovered about the loud, flashy chemical reactions, the greater his interest in the science behind other reactions. Christmas brought him a chemistry set, and the mail brings him chemical catalogues. Finding a new friend who is taking a chemistry class at the local high school fueled his passion for all things stinky, loud, and flammable, which may be about as good as it gets for a 12.5 year-old boy.
They’ve smelted brass, reacted lithium with hydrochloric acid, created black powder, and much more. They’re weighing compounds and calculating molarity. They’re diluting solutions and titrating acids and bases. They are using pipettes and burettes and filtering mixtures. They appreciate the need to neutralize before disposing of a strong acid or base and consider how to handle potentially hazardous materials They’re intimately familiar with the periodic table, acquiring knowledge of the groups of elements and their characteristics. Like I mentioned, they’re learning real chemistry.
It’s a bit messy on Fridays, and it’s not 100% safe. But life is a messy experience, and risk surrounds us. So let’s live and learn with enthusiasm and a bit of flash. But do wear your goggles and shoes.