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.
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