Conceptual Chemistry seems daunting at first glance. This 575 page-book weighs more than three pounds. But as I started reading it, I was amazed to find myself really engrossed in it because I was learning about new developments in chemistry and their practical application. A quick look at the brief table of contents (p. v.) looks like most science texts with its chapter headings: “About Science,” “Particles of Matter,” “Elements of Chemistry,” Subatomic Particles,” and so on. But the full table of contents (beginning on p. vi) gives you a hint that this text might be different since every chapter begins with a simple hands-on chemistry experiment or activity like “The Quantized Whistle” or “Circular Rainbows,” and every chapter concludes with a Contextual Chemistry article on a very practical topic such as “Global Climate Change,” “Extending the Human Life Span,” and “Fracking for Shale Gas.”
However, it’s not only the beginning and ending parts of each chapter that are interesting. The lesson material in between is presented quite differently from other textbooks. Author John Suchocki aims to provide practical chemistry knowledge for the liberal arts major in college that will be useful in life, but he also wants to help students become better thinkers in general. Consequently, Conceptual Chemistry stresses concepts and applications of chemistry, sometimes in a storytelling fashion. Conceptual understandings is so important to Suchocki that he includes “Concept Checks” every few pages with questions like “Does technology come from science or does science come from technology?”(p. 10). Answers follow immediately afterward, but the Concept Checks challenge students to stop and apply some critical thinking to what they have been reading. The text is loaded with purposeful full-color illustrations that often add information that furthers a student’s understanding of a concept.
Conceptual Chemistry teaches chemistry by continually making connections to modern technology, current events, and personal applications. Suchocki often integrates concepts from chemistry with other scientific disciplines.
At the end of each chapter are quite a few questions grouped under different headings: “Reading Check Questions” (comprehension), “Confirm the Chemistry” (one or more hands-on activities with questions), “Think and Solve” (questions requiring some math calculations), “Think and Compare” (analytical questions), “Think and Explain” (questions that require students to synthesize information), “Think and Discuss” (questions that require evaluation), and “Readiness Assurance Test/RAT” (a 10-question quiz). Answers to the odd-numbered questions (all except the RATs) are at the back of the textbook. Answers to RATs are online at conceptualchemistry.com.
While less math is required by the text than by other college level chemistry texts, students still need to know fractions, percentages, and basic algebra. Most chapters include a “Calculation Corner” section that teaches a math application, often in the context of a particular situation. A few questions follow. Answers for Calculation Corners are the end of the chapter. Even though the math is less intensive, this is still a challenging chemistry course.
Conceptual Academy Self-Study Course
Conceptual Chemistry shares publishers with Conceptual Physics, the first book published in this series, although they have different authors. Both books were written for college students but will work for high schools students as well. The texts are published by Pearson for use in classrooms. Consequently, teacher manuals and other ancillary resources are expensive. The authors of the “Conceptual” series textbooks have joined together to create www.conceptualacademy.com where they provide free videos as well as other helpful resources that eliminate the need for homeschoolers to purchase teacher manuals, tests, or answer keys. Homeschoolers should be particularly interested in the Conceptual Academy self-study courses which can be accessed for a subscription fee.
There are four self-study options for Conceptual Chemistry. One course, titled Conceptual Chemistry is the "full version" covering the entire textbook. The second option, titled Contextual Chemistry, has an environmental emphasis. It cuts out some material to offer a course that will be a little less time consuming. The third chemistry course, Life Science Chemistry, is designed for students with an interest in the life/health sciences, while the fourth course, Preparatory Chemistry is designed for math-oriented students likely to pursue a college degree in a physical science. Any of these courses should be able to be completed in one school year and will satisfy requirements for high school chemistry. You can read details for each self-study course here.
The self-study courses were created by Suchocki, the author of the text. The courses serve as lesson guides that walk students through lessons (called "classes"), presenting videos and quizzes that correlate with them. While the Conceptual Chemistry course follows the order of the book, the other three courses rearranges lessons into a somewhat different order than in the textbook.
The full course presented lessons under six units: Elements of Chemistry, Atomic Particles, Atoms and Molecules are Sticky, Chemical Reactions, The Chemistry of Life, and Environmental Chemistry with five to seven classes per unit. Contextual Chemistry has only four units: Chemistry in the Environment, Energy Resources, The Chemistry of Water, and The Chemistry of Life. Unit headings in the other two courses also change to reflect the differing emphases. Despite the unit headings, all courses cover all of the basic information on elements, particles, bonds, etc.
There are a total of 35 classes in the full course, 31 classes in Preparatory Chemistry, 30 in Life Science Chemistry, and 26 for the briefer Contextual Chemistry course. So for high school students, the various course options range in the rate at which students must move through the material from slightly less than one week per class to a little more than one week per class.
The format of classes is the same in all courses. Each class begins with an introduction—the "FYI page" in the class schedule. It is vital that students read the FYI page since this is where they are told about quizzes and other assignments. On the first FYI page Suchocki directs students to complete the "Confirm the Chemistry" hands-on activities at the end of each chapter in the text. He also recommends that students use the MicroChem Kit (from Home Training Tools) for more in-depth lab work. You are on your own to correlate the MicroChem Kit activities with the lessons. If you follow Suchocki's suggestions, students will satisfy the lab requirements for a college prep course.
On the FYI pages, Suchocki also points out chapter sections to which students need to pay close attention and highlights other parts of the chapter’s course work. After reading the FYI Page, students click on each section of the class for lesson material to be completed that week. Generally there are from three to six sections within each class. Each of these sections directs students to read a section from the textbook, watch the correlated videos, complete activity pages, and take the online quizzes.
Videos vary from just a few minutes to about ten minutes in length, but there might be up to three or four videos for a section—and sometimes there are none. Videos might feature the author teaching a concept with animations on a screen; the author performing an experiment in his lab; the author filmed on location somewhere; a Hawaiian couple, Kai and Maile, interviewing a scientist about his work; Kai and Maile performing an experiment; or something else. You might expect videos for college student to be somewhat serious, but these videos are purposefully silly and casual, even corny. Some are more scientifically interesting than others, and some are fascinating. While you can access the videos for free, it would be very difficult to figure out when to use them without the self-study courses.
For each class there are a Class Reading Quiz and a Video Quiz, both of which are taken online and scored automatically. The printable activity pages have various types of questions that assess comprehension as well as deeper thinking. Activity pages are PDF files linked to on the FYI page for each class, so these two or three pages are used for the entire week. Answer keys for the activity pages are in a file linked to on the FYI page for the second chapter of the first unit. The activity pages are attractively formatted, and they are much more appealing than just answering questions from the text. Nevertheless, Suchocki also sometimes assigns selected questions from the textbook as well. In addition, Suchocki presents a Poster assignment that will require a good bit of research plus presentation to an audience.
Unit exams and answer keys are included at the end of each unit. Suchocki presents a very unusual approach for taking the exams that you can read about when it’s time for the first exam.
While the four courses that I've described are ready to use as is, there are also tools that allow co-op instructors to transform any one of these self-study courses into their own “instructor-led” course, which they can modify as they see fit. They will also be able to monitor student performance through a class grade book.
Homeschoolers can use the Conceptual Chemistry textbook on its own since there are answers to enough of the chapter questions as well as the RATs for parents to assess their knowledge. However, there are no cumulative exams with this option unless you invest in the pricey ancillary resources.
I think the self-study courses make the most sense for homeschoolers since they make it easy for students to benefit from the videos, and they also provide questions in an appealing format along with quizzes, exams, and answer keys. I love the options for tailoring a chemistry course to suit the student's interests rather than having every student complete the identical course. In addition, parents should appreciate that they do not have to buy a separate teachers manual or tests.
Either way, Conceptual Chemistry is a great choice for homeschoolers who want serious chemistry coverage that is up-to-date.
Note that Conceptual Academy also has self-study courses for physics and astronomy, and plans to add additional topics.