Chemistry is much more than a table
of elements, complicated theories, and experiments in the lab. Chemistry is the
foundation of literally everything we know. But for our children, chemistry is
at best a daunting subject, at worst downright boring. Mention the word
chemistry and they will run! That’s
why this year I chose to introduce my elementary and middle school apprentices
to the subject before it was too late.
Honestly, chemistry is no
more daunting than any other subject to be mastered. And chemistry is certainly
NOT boring! Developing an imaginative view of chemistry is the key to unlocking
Here are some ideas to
1. Transcend the Textbook
There are all sorts of
wonderful books available to help simplify this expansive subject. Chemistry: Getting a
Big Reaction, by Simon Basher, is a really good introduction for children.
In his book, The Periodic Kingdom, P.W Atkins transforms the periodic table to a
fictitious kingdom where we can explore the potential of its topography. This
is the perfect, albeit heady, way to move beyond the mundane and journey into
the wonderful territory of chemistry.
2. Go Digital
One of the best resources
available on the web is hosted by The University of Nottingham. Trust me, The Periodic Kingdom of Videos is AMAZING, crazy-haired scientist and all! Your apprentices will want to watch
every single video and once they do, they will never be bored by chemistry
3. Demonstrate Virtually
These ChemDemos from James Madison University help kids to visualize chemical concepts. (The Gummy Bear Sacrifice is particularly dramatic.)
Experiencing the wonders
of chemistry is to experiment. But keep it simple. Focus on the concept of
chemical reactions. Teach the budding chemist to hypothesize.
Or purchase a book of
experiment recipes like, Janice Van Cleave's Chemistry for Every Kid: 101
Easy Experiments that Really Work, by
Janice Van Cleave
The Elements Puzzle: 1000 Pieces, by Theodore Gray
The Periodic Table of Elements Magnets, by Smart
Elementeo Chemistry Card Game, by Alchemist Empire,
Periodic Table Playing Cards, by Les Entreprises SynHeme
6. Sing Along
7. Research and Make!
This past week I assigned each of my 22 science
apprentices an element to research. Each would write a three-part paper. The
research paper would begin like all good research papers should, by
communicating the history and basic scientific characteristics of that element.
The paper would move on to discuss the element’s purpose and uses in the wide
world. But I saved the best for last. The third section of the research paper
would move on to a larger discussion of what the element teaches human kind
about human nature. I helped them to begin this consideration by asking, “If
you were an element, what element would you be and why?” The group smiled and
the conversation got lively. Ultimately, this is the challenge that my
apprentices liked best of all because this is the sector of their research
where they were invited to engage imagination.
I provided each of my apprentices with a frame from
my local craft store—only $1.00 each—and gave them specific instructions to
stain the frame with a color that would best represent or compliment their
element (I, of course provided the watercolor). They were to put periodic table
information on the front of the frame and amazing facts on the back of the
frames. The frames would not only guide them in an oral presentation of their research,
but in the end become a larger than life game for our guild, “Scramble them up
and see how fast you can order them!”
Here are some wonderful resources to have on hand
during the research:
The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe, and The Photographic Card Deck of The Elements: With Big Beautiful
Photographs of All 118 Elements in the Periodic Table, by Theodore Gray, and The Periodic Table: Elements with Style! by Simon Basher.
PS – And just for a little more Periodic Table fun!