Educational Philosophy, Home Education

What Worked for 11th Grade: A Review of Discovering Design with Chemistry (Homeschooling High School)

June 18, 2019 by Brandy Vencel

I always swore high school chemistry was one of the subjects I wasn’t going to teach. In that dream world I built when my children were younger, I was going to spend their high school years teaching all the subjects I loved, while passing off all the ones I didn’t. I wasn’t sure how this would be accomplished, but I assumed online classes or local tutorials would both be options.

Fast forward to last year when my oldest had an opportunity to join a great books tutorial. It was wonderful. It also consumed our entire homeschool budget for 11th grade (and then some — my son paid for part of it himself). Naturally, I couldn’t turn around and hire someone to teach chemistry. I even had time to teach it because I wasn’t teaching much else.

When I was speaking at Great Homeschool Conventions in Ontario, California in June of 2018, my husband and I wandered the vendor hall, examining every high school chemistry curriculum we could find. There was one author present there — every other text was represented by salespeople. Naturally, this was Dr. Jay Wile, who always seems far too enthusiastic in the vendor hall. He baffles my introverted self.

I flipped through his text and noticed it was written in the first person — a teacher giving instruction, yes, but also helpful advice (and necessary warnings) about the experiments. Dr. Wile beamed at us, “If I could spend my whole day helping kids learn chemistry, I would!”

I had heard of Dr. Wile, but I looked him up: his Ph.D in nuclear chemistry assured me he was a qualified authority on the subject.

We contacted Dr. Wile and asked him if we could get review copies of his text, Discovering Design with Chemistry, and he agreed. Here we are. We finished chemistry with flying colors and no regrets — I even understood stoichiometry this time around!

What We Added

I added Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood by Oliver Sacks alongside Wile’s text, and the year ended up being quite pleasant for this mom-who-wished-to-avoid-chemistry! Sacks was a delight to read and added quite a bit of interest along the way.

I felt like reading Sacks helped me understand Wile’s text better. My son, on the other hand, did not. Here’s what E-Age-Seventeen has to say about all this:

Discovering Design with Chemistry is an excellent book. Wile does a good job explaining difficult concepts, and the example mathematical problems he designed are very helpful, as are the many pictures and diagrams.

The labs are well-designed and relevant to the concepts introduced in the textbook. I also appreciated that Wile incorporated mathematics into them. I highly recommend this book.

Uncle Tungstun did not help me much in understanding Wile’s book. However, I enjoyed Sacks’ descriptions and the feel of his intimacy with chemistry and its beauty. It cracked open the door to the mysterious world of psychology, at least for me.

It’s interesting how two people can read the same good book and get something different out of it!

What Lab Supplies Are Needed?

If there is one thing homeschooling high school has taught me, it is that kits are the cheapest path to science experiments. Piecemealing supplies adds up so quickly.

Lucky for us, the folks at Berean Builders created a coordinating lab kit. We also already owned the Chem C3000 Chemistry Experiment Kit. We’ve owned the latter for years, and we did use a bit of it along the way, but we could have pulled off the labs with only the cheaper lab kit designed by the publisher plus a few supplies from around the house or the grocery store.

How We Used Discovering Design with Chemistry

As usual, I did all this in a Charlotte Mason style. I didn’t do tests because I test using narration and lab reports. Can a student clearly and accurately narrate all the major points in the chapter without help? Can he explain his experiment in his lab report? If so, the test has been passed.

Yes, we spend hours narrating a large text like this. It’s time well spent. I’m realizing more and more how superior narration is to comprehension questions, tests, and quizzes. I took honors chemistry in high school and got an almost perfect score in the class. I passed all my tests and got decent results on all my labs.

And I never remember feeling like I understood what was going on at any point during the class.

Tests and test scores are overrated, in my opinion. Give me narration every time!

Now that you know we skipped testing, you’ll be happy to find I’ve created a downloadable schedule of what we did. This includes reading assignments in Discovering Design with Chemistry, labs, and reading assignments for Uncle Tungstun. The schedule shows exactly what we did and when we did it. We do 36 weeks of school per year, so I staggered the books a bit. If you have a shorter year, you’ll have to tighten up our schedule before you can use it.

Fill out the form below to download the schedule:

Do I recommend this plan?

The short answer is YES. I wouldn’t have offered you a schedule if I didn’t!

We learned a lot of chemistry and we enjoyed it. The text made sense. I can’t say it was easy, but that’s not really the goal for upper level college-prep science, now is it? Our goal was to understand what was taught, and we think we did.

I also wanted us to enjoy the process and learn to appreciate chemistry — to increase how much we cared about chemistry. Mission accomplished! If you’ve got a college-prep high schooler interested in science, I think this is a great — and simple! — plan to get you there.

I know that, within the Charlotte Mason community, there is a fear of science textbooks out there. However, I find that many of the living books approaches I’ve seen aren’t satisfactory for a college-prep diploma. They don’t cover the required scope and sequence, a lot of the required lab work is missing or disorganized, and in order to bring it up to state standards (and give my child a real diploma), I’d have to do a lot of work.

Discovering Design with Chemistry, on the other hand, was simple, affordable, and thorough. Adding Uncle Tungstun lent our study some added charm and interest. In short: yes! I recommend it!

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17 Comments

  • Reply Julie June 23, 2019 at 4:41 pm

    Wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing the schedule! I think this should work well for us in a couple of years.

  • Reply Carolina June 22, 2019 at 7:49 pm

    Could you describe what narrations look like at this level? My soon to be 11 grader is not a child that enjoys science and especially dislikes the apologia texts we have used so far for physical science and biology. Do you know how similar this would be to the apologia text since Dr Wile first authored those books? What my son most dislikes is that he says the apologia texts have too much fluff and he wishes it would just get to the point. I am trying to make science more palatable this year and perhaps narration is a better way to go but how does that look with a subject like chemistry? Could you more specifically describe the process? Thank you.

  • Reply Heather June 22, 2019 at 4:21 pm

    Thanks! I am looking into chemistry this year for my second son. My first son assured me most of his knowledge if chemistry come from the book: The Disappearing Spoin. I liked it, too.

  • Reply Roxanne June 22, 2019 at 3:02 pm

    This sounds really interesting. I’m definitely going to check it out. Thank you for the schedule!

    Do you read each week’s scheduled reading ahead of your student so you can discuss it with him? Do you prep the labs or do you make your student do the work?

    Science (especially labs) seems to be the thing that falls off my radar over the course of the school year, no matter how hard I try to keep on track. I’m trying to figure out what I can do to make it easier for us to keep on schedule — especially as we are starting our high school years.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 25, 2019 at 9:09 am

      Yes, I read each week’s reading ahead of time, usually just over the weekend prior to the assignment. I did NOT prep the labs! I figured at 16/17 he should be able to do it himself because they were well-described and we made sure to have most everything on hand. The few things that needed to be purchased from the grocery store (like fresh red cabbage) were opportunities for him to learn to plan ahead. 😉

      In general, I think handing over everything you can to your high schoolers is beneficial not just to YOUR sanity, but to their development of personal responsibility. I waited until junior year to completely hand over scheduling, but by junior high — freshman year at the latest — I think most students are capable of managing at least some of their own time and then just checking in with you for narrations and other forms of accountability.

  • Reply Carla June 19, 2019 at 12:36 pm

    Question (without getting political): It seems (from what I read on his blog) that Dr. Wile does not believe in human-caused climate change. I hold a different opinion. I wouldn’t think so given the topic, but do his opinions on climate come out in this text? Years ago I reviewed his Physical Science text by Apologia, and couldn’t really get passed this issue in that text. I’m not opposed to my kids reading books of different view points, but, given the price, I’d rather know if it is sprinkled through-out this text. Thanks 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 19, 2019 at 3:45 pm

      Admittedly, without knowing his stated position for sure, I probably agree with him — I mention this because it means I wouldn’t be on the alert the way you would be. With that said, I don’t really remember much discussion of climate at all. I just asked my son, and he said he thinks climate issues were mentioned once? I’m sure you could ask the publisher to be sure, but we don’t remember it being something that was focused on or taught either way.

      I hope that helps, Carla!

  • Reply Kendall June 19, 2019 at 12:14 am

    I enjoyed reading how you used Dr.Wile’s chemistry book. Did you have your son do the comprehension check questions throughout the chapters or the review at the end? Thanks for sharing your schedule too.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 19, 2019 at 3:39 pm

      Hi Kendall!

      I completely forgot about those things, which is why they weren’t in my review. I had left it up to him — to use them when/if he felt he needed them. So I just asked him and he said he always did the comprehension check questions but he never did the review.

      I feel the need to add: this is a kid who *really* wants to know his science. I wouldn’t necessarily give that much freedom to a less motivated student.

      • Reply Kendall June 19, 2019 at 6:22 pm

        Thanks. This helps with my planning for next year. Thank you for the schedule and living book suggestion.

  • Reply Carol June 18, 2019 at 10:08 pm

    Hi Brandy, I have his older, Exploring Creation With Chemistry, which I think is very similar. I read that the new book you’ve used ‘discusses spectroscopy more and environmental issues less.’
    Anyhow, we heard him speak over here when my eldest was about 14 & we were impressed with him generally & also his positive attitude to home education. My dd ended up using the chemistry text in highschool & later applied for a degree where chemistry was a pre-requisite. I was surprised when she told me that most of her class had to do some remedial labs even though they’d done chemistry at school with all the bells & whistles, labs & teachers & she’d got by with Wile’s text & the kitchen. It helped that she had a solid maths foundation.
    I really enjoyed Uncle Tungsten – so many random connection!

  • Reply Sarah June 18, 2019 at 12:11 pm

    This is gold, Brandy. Thank you.

  • Reply Julie June 18, 2019 at 11:14 am

    I really appreciate this, Brandy. I plan on using text books for science from 7th grade up, adding living books to increase how much we care, just how you did here. I only have a 7th grader now, but I am saving this schedule for the future 🙂

  • Reply Julie Salazar June 18, 2019 at 10:40 am

    Perfect Timing! I just bought this to use with my 10th and 12th graders next year. Thank you for the schedule and living book addition. So glad to hear you had a good experience!!

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