Chemistry Updates

Note:  The HS Chemistry page is updated through Week 34

Thompson Lab 10.2: Oxidation States of Manganese (before)

Today was our 34th Chemistry class.  I’d like to say it’s our last, but I couldn’t can cram all of an introduction to organic chemistry (alkanes, nomenclature, carbon bonding, etc) into one session.  After we do complete that topic, we’ll have explored 19 chapters in Zumdahl’s Introductory Chemistry: A Foundation and all the labs listed for college prep chemistry in Robert Bruce Thompson’s All Lab, No Lecture:  Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments.  They’ve taken four tests, submitted over 20 lab reports, entered three essays in the American Chemical Society’s International Year of Chemistry (IYC) contest, completed numerous problem sets, and watched an unknown number of Kahn Academy videos and assorted YouTube chemistry demos.

I hope they’ve learned something.

Thompson Lab 10.2: And the color change after

They sound like they’re learning, look like they’re learning, and (generally) test like they’re learning.  I’ve suffered far more self-doubt teaching them Chemistry this year than I did teaching Biology last year, but then the life sciences are my domain.  I’ve stayed at least a half-step in front of them all year for Chemistry, although the instructor’s manual for their text and answer guide for the lab book have made this half-step possible.  I know I’ve learned a bunch, and I’m fairly certain they have, too.

I’m vacillating between final exam options.  Last year, I used a past edition of the New York Regent’s Living Environment exam, which they found easy after the tests I’d been crafting all year.  I may use the Chemistry version of the same, or perhaps a practice SAT subject test instead.  I’d love to give both, but mutiny may occur.  Either way, I’d like THEM to know they’ve learned something that’s testable in the bigger world, the world beyond my kitchen table.   This may not be important to them, but it’s vital to me.

Thompson's 10.1: Reduction of Copper Ore to Copper Metal

While their “book knowledge” growth is impressive, it’s their lab skills that have made the biggest leap.  They’re far more able to trouble-shoot a lab before they start, predicting changes they have to make due to lack of equipment on our end, for example.  They work together far better than they did in the fall (and last year), managing to divide the “fun” tasks fairly and actually work together.  I have no doubt they’d be ready to succeed in any high school or college level laboratory.

Here are a few highlights from our year:

  • Making napalm (Thompson’s lab 18.3).  Gasoline, a styrofoam cup, and matches.  The neighbors asked calmly if they should be seeing smoke.  The calm affirmative from my son was part of an exchange had over that fence many times.  (double displacement reaction)
  • Distillation.  The fancy set-up is part of the fun.  Choosing what to distill is another.  See my previous post on making brandy.  (separating substances)
  • Anything flammable, explosive, or generally dramatic.
  • Impromptu quizzes about the periodic table (I stay out of these, as my memory is a poor match for theirs.)
  • Modifications to labs to speed up those boring wait times.  (Why use a 9-volt battery for electrolysis of water when current from the wall makes for a much faster reaction?)

So far, injuries have been minor (a slight burn here and there), my house is still standing, and our neighbors have habituated to seeing smoke in our driveway and hearing loud pops from the yard.  While the latter causes me to wonder how much smoke it would take for them to call the fire department in the event of a real fire, I’m relieved that they’ve come out of the class with four limbs and two eyes each. (Safety is always a must.  Goggles and lab coats are nonnegotiable. )   I’ve only nixed one lab due to safety concerns:  creating a working cloud chamber and watching the alpha particles (or at least the condensation trail they leave) from Americium 141.  They’re bummed.

Copper sulfate solution aflame

We have amassed a rather embarrassingly complete chemistry laboratory, although the boys are quick to point out it lacks a vacuum filtration device, a good pH meter, silver nitrate, and chloroform.  They’ve survived without.  There were some chemicals we couldn’t obtain, not being a certified school, and a few labs we didn’t complete due to the cost of the materials, but we did remarkably well for a homeschool lab.  Lack of radioactive elements aside, they’ve had the materials to really dive into serious chemistry.

So what’s on the schedule for next year?  Not physics.  Not from me, at least.  I’ll teach a one semester co-op class using the National Institute of Health’s free supplements, including a section on bioethics and one on sleep.  My teen may take a course on Meteorology from a local university, or he may work independently on that subject, which has been his passion since he was nine.  I’d like to see him take the Chemistry SAT Subject Test in the fall, but that’s left to be decided.  Whatever road he takes, I’ll look back fondly on this year of smoke and potential dangers and delight that the house is still standing.


5 thoughts on “Chemistry Updates

    • My older son just turned 14, and his buddy/classmate is the same. They’re bright kids, but just as squirrely as most 8th grade boys. Catching and keeping their attention is the hard part. My younger is 9. He’s loving a free program, Middle School Chemistry, which I’ll review soon.

  1. I’m using the same texts you are for Chemistry for my rising 10th grader. Where did you find quizzes and exams ? Or did you make your own? This is not an area of any confidence for me.

    • I created the exams, mostly using questions from the Zumdahl book and study guide, but also using some from Chang and some from the top of my head. Teaching this course provided me a chance to relearn what I’d known so long ago. It was, quite honestly, fun. The labs were terrific.

      • Thanks! I purchased both Chang and Zumdahl but got the ones for the AP course instead of the first course. I now have a nice supply of Chem books here. I didn’t know there was an answer guide for the labs! I found a link and subscribed to get them.
        And for physics? Derek Owens is wonderful! My son took the class this past year and loved it.

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