With more than 40 years of experience teaching high school chemistry, Richard Risbrudt has learned what students need to succeed in chemistry and be well prepared for college level chemistry courses. He created ChemExlained.com to provide a complete chemistry level course that should work well for students learning independently. While a teacher or parent needs to check their work, online podcasts do all of the teaching and even go over test questions.
The course is based upon the popular text Glencoe Science Chemistry: Matter and Change. Risbrudt follows the chapter arrangement, teaching the material in the text, but students do not need to get the textbook. As with the textbook, there are 20 chapters covered in this course. The course covers all topics required by state and national standards for high school chemistry.
While Risbrudt teaches all of the standard topics, he emphasizes understanding of key concepts as well as the math required in chemistry since he believes that lack of a grasp of key concepts and inability to use math in chemistry are two key reasons why students fail college chemistry courses. While Risbrudt teaches and walks students through the math, there are many more math applications than in most high school chemistry courses.
While this is a rigorous, math-based course, it is designed so that all students can succeed. The website FAQs explains how to use the course for what they call Honors, Traditional, and Foundational students. Honors students will complete all chapters. Traditional students will cover 15 to 16 chapters. Foundation students might complete only 12 or 13 chapters. Once you are logged in, click on the calendars tab to access calendars showing schedules for all three options.
Instead of reading the textbook, students learn from 345 streamed video lectures and printed notesheets. Students download and print the PDF notesheets and worksheets for each chapter. Then they watch the video, filling in blanks on the notesheets as they watch. Sometimes students might need to pause the videos if they cannot write quickly enough to keep up. Each video runs from eight to twelve minutes. Risbrudt uses a desktop showing each notesheet as he talks. He fills in the blanks, sometimes writing additional information or diagrams on the sheet. Occasionally, other illustrations are inserted as is appropriate for each lesson. The presentation isn’t fancy; it feels much like a classroom experience.
As he lectures, Risbrudt highlights terms on the notesheets that need to be memorized. Lectures include additional information and illustrations that are not on the notesheets, but notesheets contain a great deal of information and should be sufficient as a source for students to review course material. They contain everything upon which students will be tested. Obviously, this is much more efficient than having to review through a textbook.
Each of the twenty chapters is taught with a number of video lectures. Notesheets show the starting point of each video with a star. Notesheets also tell students when they are to complete the worksheet for a section. The process of filling in blanks during the video lectures forces students to pay attention to the material. Students might even want to make additional notes of their own as they fill in the notesheets.
Worksheets differ from notesheets in that they present questions to reinforce and review selected information. There are a number of worksheets for each chapter, but each worksheet covers a number of videos and sections of the notesheets. There are 120 worksheets in all, which averages six worksheets per chapter. Students might answer in a few words or with a sentence or they might answer multiple-choice questions. Students should use their notesheets as they complete worksheets if they need to.
There is a test for each chapter with three extra tests for three lengthier chapters that have been broken down into two parts—chapters 2, 14, and 17. Tests include different types of questions: multiple choice, true/false, fill-in-the-blanks, matching, and math calculations. A separate video goes over each test with students, explaining answers as needed. Keys for the notesheets, worksheets, and tests are available to the teacher or parent. You need to print out student pages so they can write on them, and you might want to print out answer keys as well, although you don’t have to. Notesheets and worksheets should be checked before students attempt to take each test.
Students can access the entire first chapter of the course for free without signing up. Parents or teachers will have full access to answer keys and tests for the first chapter as well. After that, you need to subscribe for yearly access.
Risbrudt has created ten lab activities that can be safely done at home to make this a full lab course. There will eventually be 20 labs from which to choose, but ten is sufficient. These are provided at no extra cost through tabs on the web site. Click on teacher or student tabs, scroll to “Lab Resources,” and enter the lab. In the student lab section, you will find videos and downloadable lab worksheets.
The teacher lab section has lab worksheets with answers. A Master Lab Equipment and Material List for ChemExplained.com is linked on the teacher page before you enter the lab so that it is available for those who want to preview the list before purchasing the course.
While it is possible for students to just watch the experiments on the videos then write up their lab report from that data, ideally, they should do the experiments themselves. Doing experiments themselves means that families will need to purchase lab equipment and supplies. The list of lab equipment might be a bit daunting since it includes a microscope along with items such as a laboratory balance, graduated cylinders, test tubes, beakers, and various chemicals. (A less-expensive microviewer can be substituted for the microscope.) Risbrudt tells me that thus far, many families subscribing to ChemExplained.com already have some of the equipment, so they are not selling a complete kit. (I think that you should be able to order lab equipment and chemicals from sources such as Nasco, Home Science Tools, and Carolina Biological Supply Company.)
PDF files provide lab worksheets that include safety precautions, objectives, lists of resources needed, procedures, space for data entry, and questions to answer.
Students will watch the beginning of each lab video, but they are instructed to pause the video early on so that they can try to complete the lab following instructions on their lab worksheets. Lab sheets sometimes direct students to the internet for information or research.
Labs are designed to acquaint students with basic lab equipment and techniques for using both equipment and chemicals. A few times, students are directed to watch the video rather than perform the lab themselves since chemicals involved might be too dangerous for students to use at home.
I mentioned previously that there are calendars for Honors, Traditional, and Foundational levels of difficulty. You definitely want to refer to these calendars since they show when to use each lab.
While the cost of the lab resources might be a problem for some families, it is possible to have students only watch lab videos and complete lab worksheets. Students who actually perform the labs should be well prepared for future lab courses.
ChemExplained.com should work well for students who need a teacher for chemistry—that is, most students. The website interface is super easy to use. In my opinion, the combination of video lectures and notesheets should maintain student attention better than the traditional textbook approach. The notesheets also make it easy for students to identify key information and study for tests. Parents need not be involved other than to check student work. In addition, the lab work is suitably challenging. All of this makes the course very convenient for both students and parents while ensuring that students receive a high-quality course in chemistry.