Spectrum Language Arts

Every once in a while, you come across a product that you wish you could have had when you were growing up, and those were exactly my feelings when I reviewed Ellen Johnston McHenry's introductory chemistry course. Geared for the upper elementary to junior-high age students, it introduces chemistry gently, comparing the elements, the ingredients of our world to common kitchen ingredients we use everyday to make many very different baked goods. The analogy kicks off the first chapter, where they learn about the more common elements such as carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, analogous to flour, sugar, and salt, which are used in nearly everything we bake. More uncommon elements such as berylium, gallium, and selenium are compared to fruit, spices, and other add-ins that you might only use in special recipes. The periodic table is then introduced, in the more simplified (and less intimidating) format of the "Kitchen Cupboard of the Universe). The basic concepts of chemistry are introduced in each chapter, in a very simple, understandable format, and avoids bogging them down with details that will be covered (much more exhaustively!) in high school or college. The approach appears to work well, with protons, neutrons, electrons, the electron cloud model, orbitals, bonding, spin, and more covered in just the very first few chapters. Fun and interactive activities are featured at the end of each chapter, to review and reinforce what was covered in the chapter, before moving further on. The activities are a good mix of hands-on experiments, and model-making, puzzles, fill-in-the-blanks, and of course short answer to write electron configurations, Lewis diagrams, chemical compounds and more. The hands-on activities have been well-chosen and illustrate well the concepts that have been learned. Constructing balloon electron cloud models and edible chemical compounds, creating carbon dioxide bubbles, and electolysis are several examples. Several songs are included, for those who are more auditorily oriented. Several more involved activities include making periodic-table pillowcases to play a game on, creating your own "collect-'em-all" chemical elements card deck, and performing several short skits on the discovery of several of the more common elements of the periodic table. Students are also challenged by the author to memorize as much of the periodic table as they can, to help make life easier when they revisit the subject (as well as impress their relatives at get-togethers). At only 70 pages of lessons, this is a fairly brief, but effective introduction to chemistry that could be easily worked into the academic year with any style of curriculum being used. Patterns, outlines, activity sheets, experiments, games, skits and more are included in the Teacher's Section in back half of the book activity packet. And, to make things easier on Mom, most of the materials are easily found, either around the home, or at your local Wal-Mart. (No poring over science supply catalogs trying to decide how many moles of a chemical to order!) A CD is included with the book which contains songs and a digital copy of the book.

All in all, this is a very well-done introduction to the basics of chemistry, and whatever your students take with them from this course will be well applied to more advanced chemistry, making their journey into more advanced chemistry all the more manageable. Plus, I think students will definitely be impressed with themselves for being able to complete some college-level chemistry by Chapter 3 of the book! Personally, my first real experience with chemistry was my senior year of high school, followed by the four semesters of chemistry required by my major, and I think both high school chemistry as well as introductory college chemistry would have been much easier to understand had I had some experience with these concepts at an earlier age. - Jess




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