Category Archives: Chemistry Curriculum

Blowing Up Balloons Chemically Experiment

In this experiment the objective is to determine what observable factors are changed in a chemical reaction and what factors remain constant.

Chemicals Used:
Part one calls for 50 ml hydrochloric acid (you will need to buy 2 of the linked to product,) and 8 grams of zinc.

You can also buy the Hydrochloric acid at someplace like lab or at a commercial cleaning supply company under the name “muriatic acid”, but you want it diluted to 3 M for this lab.  I chose to buy it from lab.

Part two calls for 50 ml acetic acid (vinegar) and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda).

I bought these two items, only because I didn’t know that I had them in my pantry!

Equipment Used:
250 ml flask
Balance – We didn’t have a balance, so we went on without it, but because we want to consider the Law of Conservation of Mass, it would have been a valuable tool to have.

Safety Considerations:
You are using acid this week so use proper safety precautions for hydrochloric acid! Please be sure to use goggles, gloves, and possibly some protective clothing.

You should do part one of this experiment outside.

Things Considered:
In an exothermic reaction energy is being released by the reaction, therefore the system becomes warmer.
In an endothermic reaction energy is being used by the reaction, so the system becomes cooler.

Watch the Experiments:
Here is a video of part one being demonstrated.

What Happened?
Here is an explanation of what happened in part one (that’s hydrogen gas in your balloon – be careful,) and part two (it’s just carbon dioxide in this balloon – your plants will like it.)

Ronnie used a funnel to get the zinc powder into the balloon.


The balloon has to be securely over the mouth of the flask.


We did part one inside, but the smell bothered us, so we moved outside.


We were much safer doing part two outside, but it was harmless.

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 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, 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.


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!


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.


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.


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.

Our First Chemistry Experiment

We tackled our first chemistry experiment last week! It was great! It didn’t work exactly like we expected, but still, it was great!
In this experiment we were amateur alchemists, trying to turn base metals into gold. Our desire to do an experiment of this kind came from our reading about Bernard Trevisan, one of the original alchemist.  But we didn’t spend our entire life and family fortune is search of the Philosopher’s Stone, just an afternoon and 3 pennies.
We began inside, but quickly moved it all outside.
We added our pennies and hot dipped galvanized nails to drain cleaner.
The wind kept blowing out our Bunsen Burner, so we rigged up a wind break.
It’s doing something!
Taking out the pennies to see what happened.


Proverbs 17:3
: The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the LORD tests the heart.