How I Taught 7th Grade Chemistry, by Jane-Emily

Middle School Day


Last year I had a twelve-year-old in seventh grade and a nine-year-old in fourth.  For science, I wanted to concentrate on chemistry — one of my very favorite sciences!  It’s the recipe book for the universe! — I wanted to make sure that my twelve-year-old would be very well-prepared to take AP Chemistry, or some equivalent thereof, later on.  I searched high and low for materials that would make it possible for me to teach a solid chemistry course without too much math.  I also invited another kid along for lab days; I find that it is more fun if we have an extra kid or two along for the ride.

For a text, I found Friendly Chemistry, a course designed for homeschoolers with plans for larger groups.  Friendly Chemistry is quite clear, and it teaches a lot of chemistry, from atomic structure to stoichiometry to ideal gas laws.  There is some math and it sometimes got difficult, but together we figured it out.  There is not much of a lab component; it’s limited to easily-obtainable home items.  It has quite a few games to aid in memorization of elements, ions, and so on, and several of them are well-designed.  There are a few typos, but otherwise my only problem was that the solutions in the back of the book did not provide help with working out the problems. Only answers were given, and sometimes we got stuck.

I wanted lots of lab work, so I ordered the biggest chemistry set Thames & Kosmos stocks: the C3000, containing instructions for over 300 experiments designed to take the student from basics to more complex organic chemistry.  T&K being a German company, I did find that a few extras it required were hard for me to find, such as hartshorn/baker’s ammonia and so on.  Of course the experiments followed a completely different logic than the Friendly Chemistry did–it is all practical chemistry–but we didn’t have too much trouble with that.   The variety was nice, and all of us appreciated the fun of setting things on fire.  I needed more glass test tubes than were provided, and I came perilously close to running out of a few chemicals.

Meanwhile, my nine-year-old came along for the ride for much of this.  She had the Real Science 4 Kids Chemistry text, which was OK but not wonderful.  I would have preferred something else, but I didn’t find anything I loved.  She and I worked through those chapters together, and otherwise she played the games, participated in the experiments, and did just fine.  I am confident that she absorbed plenty of chemistry for her age.

Our schedule was as follows:

  • Tuesday, read the chapter for the week.  Start exercises and finish by Thursday.
  • Thursday: lab from 12:00 until at least 2:00 (with extra child, who was also doing the same text at home).  Go over the week’s lesson and make sure exercises are understood.  Do any activities from the text.  Do a section of experiments from T&K set and talk about them.
  • Friday: give the chapter test.  And make sure to practice memory work through games throughout!

Some of my favorite activities included:

Element/Ion Bingo: this was at the very beginning of the year, when we needed the kids to learn the elements and their symbols.  I filled large bingo cards with all the most difficult symbols.  After a couple of weeks of that we changed to ion bingo so they could practice distinguishing sulfate and sulfide, etc.

The Doo-Wop board: this is a proprietary game from Friendly Chemistry that helps students understand the structure of the atom.  I found it quite helpful myself!  We would pick an element and fill the shells with electrons until we had it right.  (The electrons were white and chocolate chips, which made it a very popular game.)


Lego chemistry: I found this to be a great help with stoichiometry (which is figuring out how much of what goes into a substance).  Get a large tub of plain Lego bricks, and assign each color an element.  We had fun making them appropriate, but you can’t do that with all of them.  Carbon = green, sulfur = yellow, calcium = white, etc.  We made tiny white bricks be hydrogen.  You can then build each molecule.  Build ions first and then attach them.  You can make this work pretty well for molarity, even.  It is a great way to visualize everything and work out the formulae if you’re finding it confusing. The main trouble with this activity, of course, is getting more distractible kids to pay attention to the molecules instead of the really great spaceships they’re building!

We did some really great chemical experiments too, such as producing hydrogen by mixing aluminum with sodium hydroxide (lye), burning various substances to see the colored flames (a good time to talk about fireworks!), and so on.  I wished for a lump of sodium to blow up, but I never got one.  Someday!  I videotaped one of our experiments, and here it is for you.

I also love popular bookPeriodic-Tales-Williams-Hugh-9780061824722s about chemistry. Here are some titles that you might enjoy; you can tell the stories as you teach, or you might have an older student who will like one.

This is a reprint of an article we ran in October 2013.

Janejane-emilyEmily homeschools two daughters in California.  She is a librarian who loves to quilt and embroider, and she’s a Bollywood addict.  Her favorite author is Diana Wynne Jones. She blogs about reading at Howling Frog Books.


Real Science 4 Kids, Focus on Middle School: Astronomy Review

Middle School Day

by Jen W.

Real Science 4 Kids (RS4K) is a wonderful science curriculum designed by a scientist and homeschool mom, Dr. Rebecca Keller. As of this writing, there are 5 complete subject areas to study in Elementary and Middle School levels: Biology, Astronomy, Geology, Physics and Chemistry. There is also a course in High School level Chemistry. Each book and corresponding lab book is designed to take a semester to complete. However, each book is presented in a  well organized fashion that makes them easy to beef up and extend for a full year, if desired. Homeschoolers following the four year science cycle of life science/earth science/physics/chemistry will find it easy to plug these books into their homeschool plans.

If you are starting science late or have recently pulled your child out of school and feel their science education has been lacking, then you will be glad to note that Gravitas Press offers several alternate sequences on their website (found under their FAQ). Homeschoolers may also appreciate the fact that the books seek to take a “neutral worldview” and specifically mention that some scientists disagree over scientific facts such as the age of the earth. Due to this fact, many parents will want to fill in the blanks a bit using other resources.

Middle School Astronomy (previously titled Astronomy Level One) is a book that appealed to me because astronomy is a subject that is often given the short shrift, considering its importance to science as a whole. The book first discusses what astronomy is, then expands its topics from earth to the moon and sun, to other planets and so forth until it investigates galaxies other than our own. The language is simple enough for middle school students, but the concepts are solid and complex. There are colorful pictures and diagrams that help keep students engaged. The labs are mostly easy to complete with household items, but truly help students grasp the concepts presented within the text. The lab book makes it easy for students to learn how to record their science experiments.


Gravitas Press offers their own supplemental materials such as the “study folders,” which would particularly appeal to people using these books in co-op settings who are looking for engaging material that is easy to expand for multiple students. Downloadable quizzes and lectures via CD-ROM are also offered for this course, which can help a busy homeschool parent or co-op teacher. The “Kogs” workbooks are designed to help students make inter-disciplinary connections between science, history and other areas, which is something that might particularly appeal to parents with students with strong interests in other areas to help pique their interest in a subject less naturally appealing to them.

If you were to use this book along with Geology in order to study one year of Earth Science, then you would only need a basic science encyclopedia to fill in some blanks and expand the reading. Parents who wanted to use Middle School Astronomy for a full year’s worth of science would need to supplement a bit and can find a list of suggested resources at the end of the article.

Sample of Middle School Astronomy

FAQ on the Gravitas Press website

Dr. Keller discussing the issue of world view and her books.

Purchase the text and lab book here:

Focus on Middle School Astronomy Text

Focus on Astronomy Middle School Workbook

Focus on Astronomy Middle School Teacher Book

Suggested Additional Texts:

The Usborne Internet-Linked Science Enclyclopedia

Suggested resources for expanding the course into a year long course:

The Usborne Internet-Linked Science Enclyclopedia

Janice VanCleave’s Astronomy for Every Kid: 101 Easy Experiments that Really Work (Science for Every Kid Series)

How the Universe Works

Science in a Nutshell, Destination Moon

Science in a Nutshell, Planets and Stars

Helpful YouTube Channels:

NASA Spitzer (includes the series “Ask an Astronomer”)


National Geographic

PBS Astronomy videos

Ohio State University Department of Astronomy

Khan Academy

Audible books:

Don’t Know Much About the Universe: Everything You Need to Know About the Cosmos

iPad apps:





List of NASA apps

Jen jen_wW.– Jen is born and bred Sooner who has spent twenty years following her military husband around the world. Jen started on her homeschooling journey when her eldest daughter learned to read at three years old, and she decided that she couldn’t screw up kindergarten that badly. That child is now a senior in high school, and they have both survived homeschooling throughout. Jen has two more children who are equally smart and have also homeschooled all along.

Science and History: Hand in Hand, by Lynne

Teaching Science at Home


I am a history nerd. I’ve always enjoyed history classes, historical fiction, and historical documentaries. I never considered myself a science nerd, though. As I’ve said before, The Well Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer changed my life. Of course, I knew that science and history did not happen independently of one another. And, of course, I knew that history influenced and inspired scientific discovery. I also knew that certain events in history often discouraged scientific advancement, such as when Mongol invaders destroyed libraries and universities during their rampages. What I didn’t know until using the four year history and science cycle described in the book was how much sense the history of science would make when studying science in conjunction with history.

“We divide the four years of science into subjects that roughly correspond to the history periods. First graders, who are studying the ancients, learn about those things the ancients could see — animal life, the human body, and plants. . . Second graders collect facts about the earth and sky, a division designed to go along with the medieval-early Renaissance period, when Copernicus and Tycho Brahe observed the heavens.”  (The Well-Trained Mind pp. 157- 158.  2009. W. W. Norton & Co.) The book goes on to describe how third graders learn about chemistry while learning about great chemists of the early modern period, like Robert Boyle. Fourth graders learn about physics and technology while they are studying the history of the modern age and all its exciting scientific and technological developments.

These cycles of history and science together are then repeated again in the logic and rhetoric stages, building on the facts learned during the grammar stage.

Before we started homeschooling, I had been afterschooling my kids in history by having us all listen to The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer in the car as we drove all around.  My younger son was in Kindergarten at the time, and my older son was in first grade — the year students study ancient history. The next year we were homeschooling full time, so I decided to move ahead with history and study the medieval period. Therefore, we didn’t do life sciences the first time around in our four year cycle. We went straight into earth science and astronomy.

I was amazed by the resources my public library had on these topics, so I didn’t even purchase a curriculum for science that year. We read dozens of library books about weather, geology, the solar system, etc. We also did experiments from Janice Van Cleave’s 201 Awesome, Magical, Bizarre & Incredible ExperimentsWe made a rain gauge and kept weather journals. We went to the planetarium and learned about the constellations. We searched for different kinds of rocks and labeled them.  We even put together our own models of the solar system. As we learned about the rotation of the planets in science, we were learning in history class about Hans Lippershey inventing the telescope and Galileo being excommunicated for his radical scientific views.  How cool is that?


In our second year of homeschooling, we were studying chemistry in science and the early modern era in history. Now, you could not have prepared me for the enthusiasm my older son would have for chemistry! I was not a fan of chemistry in high school, so I never imagined that my kids could like it so much.  I purchased this beautiful deck of element cards, and my older son would sit with them, and pour over them, and read information from them to me. We even used them to build a giant periodic table on our sunroom floor. In addition to the Janice van Cleave experiment book, we also used Real Science 4 Kids Chemistry Pre-Level I. This book was a great introduction to basic concepts in Chemistry, and my kids really liked how atoms were drawn with arms to show how they linked to other atoms to form molecules. The atoms were drawn with the same number of arms as they had available spaces in their outer electron shell. Such an easy way for elementary kids to understand the concept of how atoms could join with other atoms! There were numerous advancements in science during the early modern period, and it was interesting to see how the advancements in science instigated changes in world politics and history. The study of chemistry and physical properties of matter were at the heart of these advancements.


Our third year of homeschooling corresponded to the fourth year of the history/science cycle- the Modern Age. This year, we used Real Science for Kids Physics Level I.  We also used the corresponding lab book.  I liked how the lab book had students conduct their experiments by using the scientific method. We learned about electricity and simple machines. The kids took a class at the Metroparks about how light and sound waves work.  We learned that there was such a thing as nuclear physics. We had interesting conversations about the historical implications of nuclear physics, such as the devastation caused by atom bombs, and (an event my kids remember) the damage caused by earthquakes to the nuclear reactors in Japan. We also had some laughs when a physics discussion would be prompted by a family TV night watching The Big Bang Theory.

This year, we are in the Logic Stage and have gone back to the first year of our cycle. We are studying Biology, using Pandia Press R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Biology 2. This is a fascinating book, with lots of hands on experiments and many chances to look at things under a microscope. We are also taking a second look at ancient history.  So much was happening in life sciences during the ancient times.  Egyptians were mummifying bodies, Hippocrates was busy establishing the study of medicine in Greece, and people in India were busy working on a classification system.

Obviously, during all periods of history, all kinds of science was happening in all sorts of areas. The study of chemistry wasn’t limited to the early modern period any more than astronomy was limited to medieval times. People have studied the world around them since the dawn of time. You can’t have biology or physics without chemistry. It’s all interconnected. So, even though this four year cycle breaks down the different disciplines of science to correspond with different eras in history, it doesn’t limit us to these four designations. If you are studying modern times, you are going to learn about the newest discoveries of the latest satellite or Mars Rover, right along with your physics lessons. The four year cycle just provides a consistent backbone to pursue historical AND scientific scholarship simultaneously. When my kids had to temporarily go back to public school this fall, giving up this four year cycle was, honestly, the biggest regret I had concerning their academics.  I am relieved we get to continue on this path, and so are the kids.

Lynne–Lynne has enjoyed homeschooling her two sons for the past three years, after their brief lynnestint in the local public school.  Her older son is a humorous fellow with high functioning autism who thrives in a home education environment.  Her younger son is a sensitive soul with a great deal of patience. The boys, Mom, and Dad, along with the two guinea pigs, live in Northeast Ohio.  Lynne holds a Master’s Degree in French Language and Literature.  She is also a Harry Potter fanatic, enjoys line dancing and Zumba, spends hours scrapbooking, and loves organic vegetables.  You can visit her soon-to-be revitalized blog at