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Ask Slashdot: Teaching Chemistry To Home-Schooled Kids? 701

First time accepted submitter mikewilsonuk writes "I have a 10-year-old grandson who has shown an interest in chemistry. He is home educated and doesn't read as well as schooled kids of his age. He hasn't had much science education and no chemistry at all. None of his parents or grandparents have chemistry education beyond the school minimum and none feel confident about teaching it. My own memories of chemistry teaching in school are of disappointment, a shocking waste of everyone's time and extreme boredom. I think there must be a better way. Can anyone suggest an approach that won't ruin a child's interest?"
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Ask Slashdot: Teaching Chemistry To Home-Schooled Kids?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 07, 2012 @04:21PM (#40248947)


  • One word: Explosives (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Maximum Prophet ( 716608 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @04:23PM (#40248971)
    My early chemistry researches were finding household chemicals that could blow things up. I found them. YMMV
    • Pretty much. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by NeutronCowboy ( 896098 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @04:31PM (#40249087)

      At that age, I would suggest to show them what chemistry can do: blow things up (safely), make things turn different colors, make things smell bad, or burn things (again, safely!). Then go into why the stuff is doing what it is doing. Finally, once you explained why it is doing what it is doing, see if you can change things up to come up with different effects.

      Leave the boring shit about valence electrons to later. Just show him what chemistry can do. If that doesn't hook him, move on.

      • Re:Pretty much. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mcmonkey ( 96054 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @04:47PM (#40249361) Homepage

        On the same note, combine chemistry and home ec. I'm guessing it's harder to be bored when you can eat the results of your experiment.

        Some cooking is biology (e.g. yeast and fermenting) but most is chemistry. What are baking soda and baking power used for? What gives foods different flavors (sweet, sour, salty, etc.)? Smell as a whole is why too advanced for that age, but you may want to look at specific odors, such as almond or banana. What is it that makes a banana smell the way it does vs. what you get in banana extract of flavoring used for cooking.

        Another thing on the practical side, but not as much fun, is cleaning. Why do we use acid (bleach) for some cleaning tasks but base (ammonia) for others? Definitely cover why you don't mix the two (bleach and ammonia).

        There's tons of home experiments, even with the post-9/11 issues with getting certain chemicals. Take a cup of every liquid in the fridge, put a small piece of meat in each. What's happens over the next week?

        When you get the electrons and valence and that stuff, go to fireworks. Read & observe--this is not a field for home hands on experimenting. What is added to fireworks to get different colors? Why do different things have different colors when they burn?

      • Well, here's my experience with a home schooling experiment, for what it's worth.
        When my son turned 5, I expected him to go to Kindergarten like any other kid. It turned out my wife had different idea, she decided to home school him. I didn't have an issue with this initially because of his education, as she was in fact an elementary school teacher for years, but was now a stay-at-home mom. My initial objection was because by then I'd expected her to return to the work force because we needed the mone
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 07, 2012 @04:48PM (#40249377)


    • by History's Coming To ( 1059484 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @05:04PM (#40249611) Journal
      As is very common. I was asked to give a general science lesson to a class of Nepali schoolchildren, about 25 of them around 14 years old. I was only in for one class as a bit of a novelty for them, so I asked what they wanted to learn in the hour. The first response, and a very enthusiastic one, was "how do you make a bomb?"

      Finding bomb making chemicals in Nepal isn't exactly difficult, so I went with nuclear (fission) devices. That lets you cover the basics of atoms, radioactivity, E=mc^2, chain reactions, a whole bunch of interesting physics, but without the worry that they're going to pop out and buy some U235 or Plutonium.

      So I'd suggest a similar approach - find out why the kid is interested in chemistry and work from there. There will probably be a whole lot of "well, before you can understand X you need to know a little about Y...", but if the kid can see the end result of the study then it gives them a little more incentive and interest.

      Chemistry experiments I enjoyed as a child:
      Growing copper sulphate crystals and/or crystal gardens.
      pH testing
      Custard powder bombs (under supervision!)
      Non-Newtonian fluids (custard again)
      Acid/Alkali reactions (the usual volcano)
      Producing Hydrogen by reaction or electrolysis and making it go POP!
    • My early chemistry researches were finding household chemicals that could blow things up. I found them. YMMV

      True that! These days I would have been locked up in Gitmo before I was 14, and I was a Boy Scout. Do you know how many interesting things a 12 year old can do with a nearly unlimited supply of carbide? I knew how to generate hydrogen for explosive balloons using household chemicals such as Drano. I learned about oxidizing agents using KClO3 fertilizer, which was pretty easy to get. I didn't learn how to make thermite until I got into high school though. That's the kind of stuff that got and kept me i

  • by Abraxas26 ( 68609 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @04:26PM (#40249019)

    A good place to start is "The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments" by Robert Brent. Some of the material is a bit dated but the overall presentation is great.

  • by cpu6502 ( 1960974 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @04:27PM (#40249025)

    Via these magazines he can learn to read AND learn science at the same time:
    http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/prior/ [clarkesworldmagazine.com]
    http://www.astronomy.com/ [astronomy.com]
    http://www.sciencenews.com/ [sciencenews.com]
    AND audio/video courses on chemistry (a lot of this stuff you can download for free off isohunt.com) http://www.thegreatcourses.com/tgc/search/search.aspx?searchphrase=chemistry [thegreatcourses.com]

  • by ZeroSumHappiness ( 1710320 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @04:29PM (#40249069)

    This sounds like one of those classic cases where the client thinks his knows what he wants but doesn't realize he's wrong.

    First, why isn't the child in a regular school system?

    Assuming that he's not in public school for some reason, what system is the parents using for education? There exist full homeschooling packages that are intended to give students all the necessary resources to learn.

    Assuming he's using one of those and the parents find that the chemistry in it is lacking, why not part-time enroll the child in a local school? From what I understand this isn't all that uncommon for home-schooled kids to get science instruction.

    Assuming that's entirely untenable, what about hiring a private tutor for science education? Is there a local university you can contact for resources on this?

    Finally, why are you asking Slashdot and not a homeschooling community?

    (I'm attempting to avoid any assumptions as to the reason for home schooling.)

    • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportlandNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Thursday June 07, 2012 @04:42PM (#40249289) Homepage Journal

      It's hard to find a home schooling group. Sure, there are a lot of friendly one, but the vast majority are doing it for either:
      Religious beliefs.
      Ignorance about the schools system.

      I say hard, but frankly I haven't found one that doesn't have some crazy illiteracy bouncing around. From young earth to anti-vaccines.

      And of course actual science and teaching are disciplines, not something you read from a book.
      Personally, My kids go do school during the week, and then I sneak home schooling in under the guise of fun science.
      Well, my kids are much older now, so there really isn't any guise about it anymore.

    • by SirGarlon ( 845873 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @04:49PM (#40249393)

      All you need is a five-minute conversation with a bad school administrator and you will never ask "why isn't this child in school?" again. :-)

  • Sadly... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CanHasDIY ( 1672858 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @04:30PM (#40249077) Homepage Journal
    Bill Nye [netflix.com]


    Beakman's World [netflix.com]

    Hey, can't be any worse than the "education" he's received up to this point...
  • by E_Ron.Eous ( 2521544 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @04:33PM (#40249127)
    to learning anything.
  • Teach them what can be made with fertilizer.

    • by hawguy ( 1600213 )

      Teach them what can be made with fertilizer.

      That sounds more like an agriculture class than a chemistry class...

  • Elementeo (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Krishnoid ( 984597 ) * on Thursday June 07, 2012 @04:34PM (#40249149) Journal
    This [elementeo.com] was recommended to me at a technical conference. It's like Magic, but with elements and compounds. Not a formal education, but I think it would be a good way to test the waters regarding his interest and aptitude.
  • Listen, Chemistry is not like Reading Riting and Rithmetic. Chemistry is a complex science. It cannot just be suddenly dropped upon an interested 10 year old and hope it sticks. The child needs to fully understand advanced mathematics like Algebra. He must also have proficient reading comprehension because Chemistry texts are not light reading. A basic understanding of Biology would also be greatly helpful. Then there's being able to conduct basic lab experiments to help the child grasp what actually

    • by tmosley ( 996283 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @06:05PM (#40250419)
      Actually, you are completely and totally wrong. They used to sell chemistry sets for surprisingly young audiences (I'm thinking 7 or 8). Further, you don't really need any other skills to learn chemistry. Chemistry is more like a language. The sooner you start learning, the better. The system of prerequisites we have built up in this country is foolish; nothing more than an attempt to curb liability in the case of accident.

      I am a chemist, and for 90+% of chemistry (especially at that level), you don't need any math beyond fractions and the ability to count to eight.

      Yes, it is better to be taught by someone that knows what they are doing, but the notion that you need advanced math to teach basic chemistry is ludicrous. The notion that biology is "helpful" is even moreso. The level where the two intersect is extremely advanced, and won't be taught to ANY homeschooled kid prior to at least the tenth grade.
    • by Belial6 ( 794905 )
      It sounds like your are making the mistake that is often made when discussing educational topics. You are thinking that subjects start at college level and move up from there. Cooking IS chemestry. 10 years old is plenty old enough to learn to cook, and plenty old enough to understand why most of what happens is happening. The level of chemistry that you seem to be discussing is a level that pretty much doesn't happen until college, and then not everyone takes it.

      The kid is 10. That means at best th
  • If you want to keep him interested and enthusiastic, expose him to as much chemistry as you can, while educating his teachers. Buy him chemistry sets and beginner books, and have his parents research more advanced things so they can accurately answer his questions as they come up. Take him to Science museums, the hands on kind if you can. Look for summer programs and other focused "day-camp" style STEM programs, im sure you could find some that have a chemistry focus. Even just taking him on tours of nea
  • by Tanuki64 ( 989726 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @04:35PM (#40249159)

    Can't be too difficult to teach the kid about fire, water, earth, and air.

  • ...you should take about 20 paces AWAY from his workstation whenever he starts his "learning".

  • School (Score:4, Insightful)

    by V-similitude ( 2186590 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @04:37PM (#40249187)

    This is an obvious failure of home "schooling". Send the kid to school. Let him learn to socialize for one, and get a well rounded education his parents apparently lack. The fact that he's had minimal science education for the first 4-5 grades of his life, is really a sad testament to this type of education.

    And just because *you* hated your chemistry education doesn't mean it was bad. People tend to say things are "a waste of everyone's time" when they really mean "it's something I had no interest in / aptitude for".

    • "Socialization" (Score:4, Insightful)

      by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @04:50PM (#40249405)

      Let him learn to socialize for one, and get a well rounded education

      By "socialize" you mean, get taunted for his slowness in reading, and get beaten down by the kids until all interest in anything dies.

      Sounds awesome.

      As for a well-rounded education, that's exactly why you would homeschool. The public schools teach to tests, not to understanding, or learning how to learn.

    • by Velex ( 120469 )

      Hmm, public school sure did me some good. After about 8th grade I stopped making friends, and after years of talk therapy (if I were autistic, I think someone would have said something, but not even ass burgers), now that I'm nearly 30, I've started to be able to make connections with people again. Ironically, discovering synthetic marijuana was one of the catalysts of that. Woke up something I'd buried deep inside back before everything went horribly wrong in middle school.

      Although I reailzed at one

  • by GodBlessTexas ( 737029 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @04:37PM (#40249191) Journal
    My home school kids of MS/HS age are learning chemistry from a PhD chemist through our local home school group co-op. Barring access to a home school co-op, there's plenty of information and fun experiments available that should interest a 10 year old, either from online sources like youtube and google, or from books at Amazon. If you have a local science museum, you can contact them about any local science clubs/groups that cater to children that age. But unless he is more than just interested, most official curriculum is going to be at the high school level and a bit over the head of a 10 year old.
  • There is a free educational package that is good fun - NetLogo - http://ccl.northwestern.edu/netlogo/ [northwestern.edu] It has some models for chemistry in there. Basically it shows chemistry as a complex system using agent based models. But for a ten year old, it's fun because it's visual and intuitive. An idea.
  • Saddened :( (Score:5, Insightful)

    by michrech ( 468134 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @04:38PM (#40249201)

    I'm glad to see, judging by all the "Anonymous Coward" comments, that I'm not the only one who believes that parents that aren't specifically trained to replace the teachers their children would normally encounter in a public/private school *shouldn't* be allowed to home school. You are doing nothing but a HUGE disservice to your child(ren) by keeping them from their peers, sheltered from the world, and away from opinions that are different from yours. We all *NEED* these kinds of interactions in order to better cope with the world when we become adults and move out on our own.

    If the parents that do this to their kids use the "schools aren't safe", "schools aren't teaching what I think they should be", or "schools are failing our children" excuses should *get involved* in their local school, and encourage all other parents to do the same. If their schools really are falling behind in some way, it's *THE PARENTS FAULT* for not being involved.

    I specifically left out any of the varied religious excuses, as I don't believe they're valid -- religion has zero place in a publicly funded school, and should be reserved exclusively for church and home. If parents want their child to have some schooling with religious content, they need to pay to send them to such a school.

    I also don't want to hear any of this "I don't have the time to get involved in (insert public school function) here" excuses. If you don't have the time to raise your kid(s) properly, DON'T HAVE THEM.

    • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @04:57PM (#40249527)

      You are doing nothing but a HUGE disservice to your child(ren) by keeping them from their peers, sheltered from the world

      Sheltered? Who is more sheltered, a kid that interacts with adults every day learning in the real world, or one that simply lives to avoid attack by the pack of adolescents they are forced into?

      On Slashdot of all places we should welcome and embrace the idea that kids may well and truly be better off being with adults more often than children, until they reach a more mature age. But I guess it depends on if you want a mature mental state, or a childish one...

      I was home-schooled all through junior high and high school. It let me figure out what I wanted to do before college. It gave me a sense of self-esteem that I did not have in school before. It gave me willpower to make my own choices instead of doing what everyone else did.

      That was invaluable, and I maintain that every single child that can be home schooled should be. There is literally NOTHING a parent could do worse than most public schools will do with kids minds, and with the internet to help you with coursework you can easily equal a public school education.

  • by JosephTX ( 2521572 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @04:38PM (#40249207)

    It doesn't sound like you or his parents are suited to school him, then. Send him to school before you ruin his life. You and/or his parents should be ashamed.

  • Start simple (Score:5, Informative)

    by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportlandNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Thursday June 07, 2012 @04:38PM (#40249217) Homepage Journal

    Explain basic reactions. Don't get into Moles, or math.

    Give him the tools, get him to ask question and experiment.
    When something happen and he want to know why, don't tell him. Show him how to find out. My kids are quite internet savey because often when they wan to know something, I'll find a good page, and read it with them. You're not lecturing, they are digging. I never said 'just cause' to my kids. when they wen through their Why phase I answered everything as accurate as reasonable, and if I didn't know, we looked it up. Every time I hear parent create a disengenious answer I cringe a little. ITwill be so hard to gte that piece of bad information out of their head.

    If he is into something, have a goal related to that that can be solved with what you want to teach, in this case chemistry, then do that.

    For example, maybe he is into trains. Well, what chemicals can you get to have him experiment with to make smoke?
    Volcanoes? well , that's an easy one.

    When he figures something out, but wan'ts it to be better, then introduce to some more complex chemistry ideas.

    If you want to impress him, make some elephant toothpaste. Get your supplies from a chemistry supply place.

    Mentos at soda is another great way to get them to ask question.

    OTOH, if his homeschooling was done by lazy people, he may have had the why in him buried deep under a lie of belief. SO you need to gently get it back out.

  • Khan Academy (Score:5, Informative)

    by BadPirate ( 1572721 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @04:40PM (#40249255) Homepage

    http://www.khanacademy.org/#chemistry [khanacademy.org]

    Sounds to me like home schooling is letting the kid down a bit. I loved my public Chemistry / physics education... Making rockets, playing with Science Olympiad, Egg Drop contests. I remember on the first day in my High School chem class, the teacher demonstrated infra-red radiation and the speed of light by taking a bowl filled with soap water, and a propane tap, and creating (and then lighting on fire) propane bubbles. He pointed out that as soon as you saw the flash, you felt the heat, and then went into a lecture about wave radiation and the light spectrum.

    You can probably do that with your own kid, but there is something to be said about the benefits of learning something from someone who is passionate about the material.

  • Hmmm ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @04:41PM (#40249275) Homepage

    He is home educated and doesn't read as well as schooled kids of his age. He hasn't had much science education and no chemistry at all. None of his parents or grandparents have chemistry education beyond the school minimum and none feel confident about teaching it.

    At some point, someone might tell you that if you can't keep him up to the standards of the kids who aren't home schooled, he's going to need some remedial education and possibly be required to attend public school -- and possibly lose a year in the process.

    I had some cousins who were home-schooled ... and there was a curriculum they were required to have covered. And if they didn't, you weren't allowed to home-school any more and would need to transition to public school. I think for high-school or even a little before they all ended up going back to public school.

    So, are you helping or him or hurting him in the long run if you can't get him through what he needs? It's difficult to teach something you don't know enough about yourself.

  • by ryanisflyboy ( 202507 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @04:53PM (#40249453) Homepage Journal

    All of my children are in a home school program to specifically achieve the following:

    * Dramatically improved science curriculum over state requirements.
    * Aggressive reading and mathematics programs.
    * Enhanced educational environment (a quiet, well equipped classroom).
    * Teachers who really care, and want each child to be able to compete in a demanding global economy as adults. We love our students like parents should, because we are both.

    In order to teach my nine year old chemistry, I do not have to be an expert chemist. I simply have to know more than a nine year old does about chemistry. It really isn't that hard, and it has been fun for all of us to expand our knowledge. If you are going to engage in home education, you can't do it sitting on the sidelines. You have to educate yourself first. Then you can teach. Expect more from the teacher than you do the student.

    If none of the above is happening for your grandson, consider placing that child in public school. Many public education options are abysmal. If results from home education are worse than the public option, consider that a major red flag. Your benchmark should be a grade or two ahead in most subjects (unless the child has a learning disability).

    Teaching at home doesn't work for everyone. It isn't always the ideal solution. I wish I had a bazillion and one dollars to hire private instructors with decades of experience to do the teaching. There is no doubt, though, that what we are doing is working. All of my children, even the ones who struggle, placed in the top 5% in the last round of state required testing. They are not geniuses. They simply know how to work. Something their peers tend to have a hard time with.

  • by Tyr07 ( 2300912 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @04:54PM (#40249485) Homepage

    Unless he has physical developmental issues that affect his mental capabilities, send him to school, get his reading level up.
    I get it, ignorance is bliss and everyone wants to protect their ignorance and shrink their world as small as they need to, so they can make sure they
    stay right.

    He's clearly not getting the education he deserves, is falling behind everyone. Parents need to have major motivation and dedicate a lot of time to compete with a half decent school.

    The fact that you're on slashdot with a statement that he doesn't read as well as other kids his age shows the problem.
    It's great that you're trying to step forward and help, but yeah, send him to school.

  • by Keyslapper ( 852034 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @05:09PM (#40249683)
    Skipping all the religious nut accusations, I'm going to focus on the one thing I think should be addressed RIGHT NOW for this child. Reading. You say he doesn't read as well as other children his age, and this concerns me. That is absolutely not typical of well home-schooled children. My niece was reading chapter books at 3, got her black belt at 12, and is enrolling in college courses at 15. She's an incredible artist, and has taken a number of community art courses. Her brother isn't far behind. He was reading chapter books at 6, got his black belt at 10, is very active in local little league baseball, and will be enrolling in college courses himself as soon as he decides what he wants to learn more about that he can't get at Kahn. Smart money says it'll have to do with Engineering.

    Before you ask, their mother (my sister) did not go to college, nor did she attend any secondary school. She didn't load up on extracurricular activities in school, and she didn't marry into an intellectual family. Her husband is an MBA, but he directs their learning far less than my sister. It's not impossible for a high school grad to learn how to do it right, but it's not easy to actually *do* it right. You have to be willing to let them go learn. Both children are far more outgoing with people of all ages and flavors than most adults I know. They are well spoken, polite, and fit well into almost any civilized conversation.

    Get your grandson to read. That's critical at this point. Throw the chores out the window if you have to, let him skip church to read, let him read all night in bed (for now), but put something in his hand that will engross him. Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Artemis Fowl, *anything* by Rick Riordon, just get that kid reading something besides the bible. Now is NOT the time to censor his reading, it's time to let it go. All the books mentioned above are great for pre-teens and young adults, though perhaps the Hunger Games could wait a year or so.

    And mark my words, if religious censorship is the reason he hasn't read these books already, then I'm guessing chemistry is not going to be a good choice anyway. Too much science, not enough faith.

    Home schooled children don't have to be idiot god-botherers, and they don't have to be idiot hippies. They can be very intelligent, creative, and amazing. But only if their parents *LET* them. Don't direct their learning, EMPOWER it. There's a big difference.
  • by PortHaven ( 242123 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @06:36PM (#40250759) Homepage

    1) Less than public school kids reading ability essentially equates to illiteracy. Considering how many of my classmates in public high school could not read beyond 4th grade level.

    2) Don't blame home schooling itself. Just as there are good and band schools. There are good and bad home schools.

    My wife was home schooled. She is now an RN. Her brother was home schooled. Earn a number of competitive scholarships. He was even on the TV show "The Scholar" and placed 3rd. Attended Dartmouth university and did quite well. My wife's sister, who was also homeschooled, just graduated from Dartmouth as well.

    Overall, I would say that 90% of the homeschoolers excel over the public school students. Yes, there are some failings. But far far less than found in public schools.


  • by peterofoz ( 1038508 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @06:48PM (#40250895) Homepage Journal
    The BSA has a lot of of great learning materials for all ages. For 9 year olds, check the Wolf and Bear book electives - all sorts of stuff in there. Also the Sports and Academics programs - belt loops and pins. For older kids, the Merit Badge pamphlets are terrific resources. Boy Scout Chemistry MB [scoutermom.com]
    Cub Scout Science [meritbadge.org] Some great chemistry experiments for young ones are:
    • Electricity from salt water
    • Non-Newtonian liquids (corn starch)
    • Slime (polymers)
    • Menthos + coke bottle rockets
    • Vinegar and baking soda bottle rockets
    • Strawberry DNA extraction
    • litmus tests using dyes from garden veggies
    • sugar crystal growing
    • magic rocks
    • surface tension (soap, oil, water, etc)
    • states of matter (ice, butter, dry ice)

    Keep it simple and stuff they can relate to. Be sure to talk about safety on dangerous reactions, acid and alkaloid burns, etc. Check out also the Khan Academy online - lots of good stuff in there. www.khanacademy.org/

I've finally learned what "upward compatible" means. It means we get to keep all our old mistakes. -- Dennie van Tassel