Fearing Chemistry

So, I’m not very good at Chemistry.  The only reason I got a passing grade in high school was for inappropriate reasons I won’t go into here, but with a semi-drunk teacher and an expectation to just “get” the formulas in the book and come back and produce results in the lab, I floundered a great deal.  I would have taken Biology for my science requirement, but I’d heard my high school spent the first month entirely on plants, and half the school year dissecting worms and other tiny critters.  I’d already run through a genetics course and dissected a fetal pig on my own in 7th grade, so I wasn’t too keen on taking several steps backward.

Instead, I ended up in a class where once in a while, whatever was in our teacher’s mug would push him past some line, and he’d say something like, “Everybody put your pencils down.  I’m going to tell you why nuclear power is the future . . .”  And we’d have to listen to him for 50 minutes as he droned on in some not-quite-coherent ramble about his opinions of politicians, the way things ought to work, and what would save our sorry asses.

To add to the confusion and the drunken slurs, during at least half the labs I felt either queasy or dizzy or both, and ended up being hauled off to the nurse’s office.  One time our principal was monitoring the class, and she escorted me herself. Having never been in trouble at that school (we won’t go into Holy Innocents’ Episcopal here), we didn’t know each other too well, and I could pass myself off as something other than what my classmates called me.  It was an awkward, touching, and anxious time as I tried to walk down the hall with her and not vomit on her school’s lovely carpet.

So when Squirelflight told me this summer that she was interested in studying Chemistry, I really, really wished she’d said she’d seen the light, and was ready to go back to Anatomy.  Because, I get anatomy, even if I’m rusty on all the terms and placements and such.  Heck, my co-teacher knows a great deal, having a keen memory from her studies and current work as a massage therapist. We have a copy each of the Anatomy Coloring Book for the four of us (two oldest children, two mothers) . . . but no.  And my step-father, the one with the doctorate in Chemistry, by the gods, is a good third of a world away from us and can’t be here to tutor and instruct.

Thus, we have books.  Books on experiments, a teacher’s guide, and a whole lot more.  And we have charts and tools and lab kits.  What we don’t have–or didn’t–was a me who was willing to get over her fear of this gaping ignorance, the fear that I’ll never be able to get Chemistry on a more-than-basic level in order to teach it.

But I think I’ve figured out a way to structure it so that we can learn together, and it’s all thanks to this video:

With a handy table of elements, a working knowledge of subatomic particles, molecules, and the atomic structure, and a wealth of knowledge of inventions, history, and uses for each element, I think I’ve come up with a plan.  If I can take one element at a time, link it with something manifest in the world (hydrogen bomb, matches, dirigibles/balloons (and the Hindenberg), table salt, breathable atmospheres, et al), we can get through this.  The basic physics of chemistry are easy enough for us to go through, and once we get to through the chart, linking things to real world objects and history, we might get ourselves to a place where we can look into experiments and understanding them.  Maybe even as we go along. “We learned about element X before, and now we’re learning about element Y, and I have this fun experiment for combining the two . . .”

Like all homeschooling, it’s a rather organic process, and this will be one of the biggest learning experiences in what works for us that I’ve yet to take on.  Linking things will make it easier for both of us to see how these elements impact our world, our societies, and what they can mean in a more tangible way than the theories of higher chemistry can offer beginners like us.  The real-world applications of chemistry, especially in fuel cell technology (a field my step-father sorely wants to be a part), can mean greater efforts for a more sustainable future, and hey, she’s the one who’s going to be living on this planet longer than me.  I’d like her to understand how to help it out.

I figure, if I can make it possible for me to see the relevance, then I can make it possible for her.  And heck, I always thought alchemy was cool, perhaps if I just view this as a more precise form .  . . it’s not like we’re trying to make gold from iron and sulphur.  Right?  😉


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