When I tried to cobble together a biology course for my then 9th grader, I discovered that the part that worked best for us was the living books. So this year, his 10th grade one, I declared that I would not be swayed by outside pressures but would keep living books as the center of our curriculum. I plan to use the same selections (with just a few tweaks which I’ll explain below) for my second child next year.
Living Books for High School Chemistry
Life of Fred Chemistry We love the Life of Fred series. It started as a math curriculum but has expanded into early readers, high school chemistry and more. This year my 10th grader was using no less than 4 of the LOF books. When I saw they had a chemistry one, I couldn’t resist. As with the whole LOF series, this book tells the story of Fred, a 5-year-old genius math professor. All the books incorporate the subject matter in Fred’s life. There are 36 chapters and each has a problem set with answers at the end. I let my son work through this one on his own because he can check his own answers (and he’s pretty trustworthy about such things). Because it is only 36 lessons, I had him do it once a week. Mondays were for LOF, the other days for his other books . . .
The Joy of Chemistry: The Amazing Science of Familiar Things by Cathy Cobb and Monty L. Fetterolf We used this book as kind of second spine book in addition to LOF. I chose it mainly because it has experiments which are relatively easy to do with relatively accessible supplies. For Biology, my son did a 2-day lab intensive course with Landry Academy. It looked like we would not have their chemistry lab in our area this year so I wanted something else that involved labs for him. As it turns out we will be able to do the chemistry labs in October. We were really happy with the biology lab last year and I would recommend their lab intensives if you have one in your area. Since my daughter will be able to do the chem lab in October, I will probably have her skip this book. I did like it though. It is well-written and easy to read. It is really directed at an adult who wants an introduction to chemistry. The supplies for the labs were not too difficult to find. I made a list of all we would need, bought whatever I could from Amazon and the rest at my local supermarket or hardware store. I also had my son lead the labs himself. His ten-year-old sister was his audience/class so he had to read a chapter, figure out the lab and then lead her through it and explain it to her. He also used this book once a week through the whole year.
Exploring the World of Chemistry by John Hudson Tiner I didn’t have my son read this one but it is one I am considering for my daughter next year to replace Joy of Chemistry (see above). We have used Tiner’s books in the past and I have found them easy to read. Though they are thin and are perhaps more of a middle school level, I find that they contain a fair amount of info and that my kids retain them well. A thin book retained well beats a thick one that the child can’t remember in my estimation. My daughter is also less of a science-y type so I don’t mind going a little lighter with her.
The Periodic Kingdom: A Journey into the Land of the Chemical Elements by P.W. Atkins Now we get into the living books which my son read. The Periodic Kingdom treats the periodic table as a land with different countries within it. This paradigm allows the author to explain the landscape of the periodic table and the relation of the elements to one another. I’m not big on memorizing things like the elements and their characteristics but this book allows one to get the lay of the land, if you will, and to see how it all fits together very nicely. My son did a great job narrating this book and seemed to enjoy it. An alternative to this book which I looked at was The Mystery of the Periodic Table by Benjamin Wiker and Jeanne Bendick. It seemed a simpler book along basically the same principles. It could also work for younger children.
Crucibles: The Story of Chemistry from Ancient Alchemy to Nuclear Fission by Bernard Jaffe As it name suggests, this book takes a historical approach to chemistry, showing its developments through time.
Napoleon’s Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History by Penny LeCouteur I love how chemistry can be approached through different lenses. Napoleon’s Buttons looks at a number of molecules and tells their stories. An alternative which I looked at but didn’t like quite as much is The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean. If you are looking for an explicitly Christian book, you might want to check out Elements of Faith by Richard Duncan.
Two I didn’t have time for but considered look at the chemistry in specific processes: The Chemical History of a Candle which I believe is a series of lectures by famed scientist Michael Faraday and That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles by Joe and Joseph Schwarcz.
Lastly, another one I wish we’d had time for: Molecules of Murder by John Emsley looks at the chemistry in crime, specifically at poisons.