What Makes Up Our Chemistry Curriculum

The following is an overview of what makes up my Chemistry Curriculum. The first time I went through this with my big kids, and we took an entire year. It was a breath of fresh air after struggling with an Apologia text book. Now three years later I am doing it again with my son. The only difference is that I don’t do a full year of any one science anymore. Charlotte Mason says, “The study of natural history and botany with bird lists and plant lists continues throughout school life, while other branches of science are taken term by term.” (vol 6 pg 220) In our house this looks like Natural History/Botany/Nature Study always, and a term at a time of Modern Biology, Chemistry, Physics and any other field we wish to study.

I may not know exactly what I am doing, but I am determined that we at least try to do this in a CM fashion. I hope that by sharing what we are doing, others might feel confident enough to jump in there and try it too.

Living Books

Charlotte Mason said, “Books dealing with science as with history, say, should be of a literary character, and we should probably be more scientific as a people if we scrapped all the text-books which swell publishers’ lists and nearly all the chalk expended so freely on our blackboards.” (vol. 6, pg 218) Therefore, the first step was to choose what living books we would use.

1. Spine Text

Crucibles: The Story of Chemistry From Ancient Alchemy to Nuclear Fission by Bernard Jaffe
This is what we are using as our “spine” text. (I considered several living books before feeling certain that this was the right one.) Each week we read one chapter, or half a chapter if it is long, and use it to direct our focus for that week.
We are using the Dover Edition, first published in 1976, which is a revised and enlarged republication of the work originally published in 1930.
I bought the Dover Edition online from Alibris.com for a very reasonable price. Google Books also has a preview of the Dover Edition that you can check out.
The original work is available free online at Archive.org, but it is missing the following chapters, and is not as complete as the Dover Edition:
  • Ch 3 Becher
  • Ch 9 Avogadro
  • Ch 14 includes Thomson, but not Rutherford
  • Ch 16 includes Langmuir, but not Bohr
  • Ch 19 Nuclear Energy Today and Tomorrow

2. Free Reading

In addition to reading the spine text, I have my students choose living science books from my collection of chemistry free reads. This page will give you some ideas of what to stock in your library. Some are longer than others and some harder than others. By allowing each student to choose their own they can pick something suitable for their level and interest. They will read these books for a certain period of time each week, and when they have completed one, they can pick another.

Mendeleyev and His Periodic Table by Robin McKown

There are several GREAT chemistry biographies, but I must recommend this excellent one about Mendeleyev.
3. Other Books about Specific Topics
Other short living books will be required from time to time to expound on the week’s principle topic.  Examples are:
Biography of an Atom by Pursell
Matter, Molecules, and Atoms by Bertha Morris Parker
Millions and Millions of Crystals by Roma Gans

Charlotte Mason also clarified for us that, “The only sound method of teaching science is to afford a due combination of field or laboratory work, with such literary comments and amplifications as the subject affords.” Vol. 6, pg 223 The next several items are used as an effort to fulfill these requirements.

Experiments

Each experiment is pulled directly from the topic being considered that week.

One of my very favorite resources for chemistry experiments is Off The Shelf Chemistry. Each experiment is fun, simple to understand concepts, and easy enough to do. You will need real chemistry equipment, but I was able to get completely stocked for a year worth of experiments for $90 through Home Science Tools. I supposed this is the trade off for getting our “text” for $1.99!

Videos

I have chosen short videos at times to clarify a principle topic. Some are explanatory, and some are just fun.

I originally found a great BBC video series called A Volatile History on YouTube which covers the history of chemistry and paralleled the spine text very well. Unfortunately, those videos are now unavailable. I have read that it is is periodically re-run on BBC4, so if you can set your DVR you might get it recorded one of these days.

Notebooks

The kids will keep a science notebook. From what I understand, Charlotte Mason advocated one notebook that included all subjects. In other words, if we dissect a flower for a botany lesson today, we can diagram that in our science notebook. Then if tomorrow we study Binary Compounds of Metals with Fixed Charges, (see below,) we can enter than on the very next page.

Worksheets

I use worksheets sometimes to help the kids narrate ideas or to clarify a tricky idea. Here is an example:

Work through the top of this page on Binary Compounds of Metals with Fixed Charges, and try the first set of practice problems. Recorded them in your science notebook.

Current Events

This can be tricky because a lot of science news is read by honest-to-goodness scientists, and can be too difficult to understand for high school students. Therefore, we have to find resources that will work for the level of our students, and be of interest. I have found that Scientific America is a good source. It’s useful to subscribe by email, so that when a good current event shows up, you can share it.
Other notes
It can also be valuable to “set-up” the readings and thereby facilitate narration by including definitions of words that might be unknown, pronunciation guides for names, and quotes that might be interesting or fun to include in a notebook.

9 thoughts on “What Makes Up Our Chemistry Curriculum

  1. Cynthia

    "In our house this looks like Natural History/Botany/Nature Study always, and a term at a time of Modern Biology, Chemistry, Physics and any other field we wish to study."

    Is this how you treat Science with all terms or just the upper ones? Thank you for all your helpful posts! 🙂

    Reply
  2. Nicole Williams

    Thank you for your question, Cynthia. It's been four years since I wrote this post, and I've learned SO MUCH since then, but I still think this is the correct way to do it. To specifically answer your question, as to when I begin this rotation, the answer is middle school. It is applied lightly in grades 4-6, but natural history is going to be your primary focus in those grades. I intend to write about elementary science soon.

    Reply
  3. Jess

    Hi Nicole,
    I would like to implement some, or most, of your Chemistry curriculum ideas for my 11th grade son this coming year and I have a few questions. He will be involved in a lab class (not a co-op, but taught by a science teacher) that meets twice a month, for labs only. All other assignments, living books, tests (if we use them), etc., will be chosen by me. If we stretched this out for a whole year, which is what we will probably be doing because the lab classes are set up for one school year, would you recommend that we simply add more living books, simple experiments at home, biographies, etc.? I not looking forward to him missing any nature study we do as a family, so I don't want to overload him, but, I think if we take away the textbook (other than for reference), he will have more time to read/watch youtube videos, etc. The lab class is about 2 hours long (he's had this teacher before so he knows her style) and they fill out lab sheets in class. But, I'm looking for his time at home spent in living books, not so much the text we have. Hope I'm making sense. My health is keeping me from being able to plan out more myself and I can't read like I used to so I'm grateful to have found your blog! We have been following Charlotte's methods for many years, but not being able to read myself has really taken its toll. Last year for Biology, we used a text book (apologia) and a few living books, but I don't really want to repeat that again this coming year. My health has caused me to have to resource out more than I would've like to, especially because of the time/energy it takes to plan. I *think* I can do a better job of planning this year, but I will still be a bit limited.
    Any other suggestions you may have?? Did you find that you were able to complete what you wanted to in the time you allotted for chemistry??
    Thank you in advance. I appreciate you time.

    Reply
  4. Nicole Williams

    I would definitely still include him in your family nature study time. He can also make use of special studies to further his biology and botany knowledge.

    The lab class is equal to 1 hour per week of experiments, which is fine, but you need to count that time in your schedule for his school week. I usually schedule 30 minutes each day for science, which totals 2.5 hours per week.

    With your remaining 1.5 hours I would likely schedule Special Studies (30 min), a biography (30 min) and a “spine” text (30 min). Crucibles is both a spine and a compilation of biographies, so if you use it, then you could do it twice a week, or do it once a week (30 min) and add current events and other resources (like videos, etc.) with narration (30 min).

    I hope this helps.

    Reply
  5. Jess

    Breaking up the amount of time like you did is very helpful. Thank you.
    In the past, I read along with my kids, or read up on what they are studying somewhat, but I had a head injury 19 months ago and reading/comprehension has been slow going. It's very frustrating when you can't comprehend what a text book is explaining or keep straight a living book that your child is reading, so I greatly appreciate moms like you who have shared your choices, schedules, etc. I have tried to pre-read some of the chemistry books I've purchased but it's really no use. But, I am skimming them and will have discussions with my son as much as possible.

    Many thanks!

    Reply
  6. Jo

    Thank you for this!
    QUESTION
    So after reading the spine with everyone all together as a read aloud – then what? They then narrate (oral or in book depending on age) so the other things like videos, experiments, 'free reads' are they timetabled to be done the same week but on their own? (so chemistry would have more than one slot on your weekly timetable) – just trying to picture how it pans out in a 'real' week. Or do they read these free reads in afternoon free time?

    Reply
  7. Jo

    Also, you do one term of each of the sciences (chem, phys, bio) but in your breakdown of the week your chemistry lasted two terms – so do you advise to keep on a subject – i.e. chemistry, until the spine book is finished regardless if it is more than a term? or do you stop after a term and next time chemistry comes around again next year, you pick up where you left off?

    Reply
  8. Jo

    Also, you do one term of each of the sciences (chem, phys, bio) but in your breakdown of the week your chemistry lasted two terms – so do you advise to keep on a subject – i.e. chemistry, until the spine book is finished regardless if it is more than a term? or do you stop after a term and next time chemistry comes around again next year, you pick up where you left off?

    Reply
  9. Jo

    Thank you for this!
    QUESTION
    So after reading the spine with everyone all together as a read aloud – then what? They then narrate (oral or in book depending on age) so the other things like videos, experiments, 'free reads' are they timetabled to be done the same week but on their own? (so chemistry would have more than one slot on your weekly timetable) – just trying to picture how it pans out in a 'real' week. Or do they read these free reads in afternoon free time?

    Reply

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