Saturday, August 27, 2011

Pausing for Chemistry

What are chemicals? What is chemistry?
One of the fun parts about homeschool is that you can switch things up if the child (or the parent!) needs or wants to.

We just finished an exhausting math unit, and we all felt the need to take a different approach for the next few weeks. We know we have to revisit some parts of math -- that is a non-negotiable. We also want to include some work habits work this go-around. But the actual content? That is up to him. So I asked Malik what he wanted to study, and he made a list (he ranked them, himself):

  1. chemicals
  2. dinosaurs
  3. fossils
  4. ores
  5. birds
  6. building (construction)
  7. plants
We are already studying birds through our science curriculum (Exploring Creation Through Zoology I: Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day), and can always use the Outdoor Hour Challenges to do some plant work (we actually had mapped out a study of the plants in the nightshade (potato) family, but just haven't started it, yet).

I was a science major in college, so I am always up for studying something new in one of the sciences. But I wanted a little guidance regarding how to introduce topics, so I did a quick Google search. I found this great article, "Making Chemistry Teaching Relevant", which is really written to address how high school and college chemistry classes are developed. In it, the authors stated that chemistry instruction shouldn't start with atoms, and work through matter, and so on (exactly the way I learned it, and exactly how I was going to teach it!). Rather, they contended that it should start with a real social, ecological or economic problem: What factors contribute to global warming? What's the best way to increase gas mileage in automobiles? What short- and long-term effects does the Exxon Valdez oil spill have on the ecology of the Gulf of Mexico? Etcetera...

We customize inexpensive, white 3-ring binders.
So tonight, we began by creating a science notebook (one of my son's favorite activities for homeschool -- creating his own subject notebooks). We printed out the basic science notebooking bundle from the Notebooking Treasury, punched holes and put all the pages (about 40) behind one divider in our notebook. Usually, we use Word to create a cover sheet and spine cover for our notebook, but Debra Reed's illustration for the Basic Science Bundle had beakers and flasks, and we both liked it, so we used that to cover our science notebook.  We labeled the first divider, "Chemistry," and put graph paper and lined paper behind two other dividers. We're ready to begin chemistry!

After reading the article about keeping science instruction relevant by focusing on inquiry, I asked my son what he wanted to know about chemicals, and what made him choose chemistry as his #1 topic of interest. His response was that he wanted to learn about acids and how the "burn through stuff." So I have to think a bit about what he really wants to know. Which of these topics might hit the mark?

What NOT to do with acids and plasma!
  1. types of burns (including chemical burns) and their treatment
  2. the use of acids in manufacturing
  3. digestion and indigestions -- acids and other chemicals that help us use our food
  4. pH: acids, bases and neutral chemicals and how to detect them
  5. chemical weapons and the history of chemical warfare
I guess I'll have to ask the child which he most had in mind, or if I've missed it altogether...

In the meantime, we have been reading through the basics of chemistry on Chem4Kids, which a ton of information, the basic vocabulary of chemistry, and little online quizzes after each section (Malik got a 10/10 on his "matter" quiz -- he was amped!). I learned that they've discovered two new states of matter since I was in college: plasma and Bose-Einstein condensates (when I declared this to my 24-year-old naturalist son, he chided me as being behind the times...). This is why I love homeschooling! You learn from your kids!

We started with a high-quality online site...
As we read, Malik takes "notes" on the journal page of his choosing (last night he chose a big illustration and a 2-sentence summary). I think his illustration gives a little window into what he wants to know about chemistry!

We will chronicle how we build this chemistry study on acids from scratch, for those of you who like to create curriculum. Stay tuned!


Did you know....

That there is a word that describes someone who teaches himself? You would call that person an autodidactic. Fans of the show, Criminal Minds, will be familiar with the genius character, Spencer Reed, who has several advanced degrees that he earned by teaching himself piles of stuff, just by reading books.