The Kids’ Chemical Solutions: M.C. Detective Agency series is a set of four comic books and activity packets. These comics are designed to teach introductory chemistry to students in fourth grade and above through time-travel adventures. The comics feature Grandma Eve and twins Poppi and Ray, along with an ingenious cast of characters. They get alerts from a mysterious radio from the 1930s, called M.C., then it’s time to head off on a time-travel adventure to solve a problem.
Along the way, Poppi and Ray learn about the periodic table, the structure of atoms, elements, atomic mass, molecules, compounds, isotopes, ions, anions, electrical charges, quantum mechanics, and much more. Students are introduced to famous scientists such as Marie Curie, Niels Bohr, and Albert Einstein. Serious education is leavened with witty storytelling and humor.
Ten files are planned for the series, but four comics are available thus far, and they are sold as a combo set. Within M.C. Detective Agency: Files 1-4 are files titled:
- File 1: The Case of the Deadly Dials (radium poisoning in the 1920s)
- File 2: The Case of the Missing (Atomic) Model
- File 3: The Case of the Pillaging Pirates (with some hilarious references based on The Princess Bride movie)
- File 4: The Case of the Vanishing Van Gogh
Note that File 1 and File 2 are also available in Spanish.
The comics need to be used in order because they gradually build upon one another.
Students can’t just zoom through the comics. They need to spend time studying the periodic table and learning the properties of the elements, and the activities are specifically designed for that purpose.
The companion activity packet for each comic is intended as the starting point for each lesson. I think it’s easiest if you purchase the printed Files 1-4 Activity Packet because it contains all the activities, including Reading Guide questions, and shows exactly which pages correspond to pages in the comics.
The activity packets have lesson plans telling parents when to use which course components. Completing one comic book with activities requires eight to eleven sessions that run about 20 to 90 minutes. There are 39 sessions altogether for the four comics, and four of those are cooking activities. You might break up longer sessions, and playing the optional games will require more time.
Activities teach chemistry through the study of the periodic table (a page to be cut out or printed), “Ray’s Rules” instructional information, “Tell Me More! Tenny” sections with biographical information about famous scientists and brief histories of some scientific events, “Poppi’s Puzzles,” Reading Guide questions, “Purposeful Daydreaming” sections where students reflect on what they’ve learned and what they are curious about, games, and recipes. (The recipes relate to the stories and are mostly for enjoyment rather than critical content.) Poppi’s Puzzles use many different formats and are a surprisingly important teaching tool; answer keys for the puzzles are included. The Reading Guide questions cover every page or two in each comic book. The questions are purposely designed to slow students down as they read the comics and write answers in the space provided. There are no answer keys for these questions. Sometimes, you might use these for discussion rather than written work.
Note: The first activity for the first file involves a shower curtain with a detailed image of the periodic table. The instructions don’t explain this, but it becomes clear later that you need to purchase this on your own. (Here’s a link to one available on Amazon that uses colors somewhat similar to those in the comics.) Using spinners created from the activity packet, the shower curtain is used for a Twister® style game with the first comic and for a scavenger hunt with the second.
Beginner Lesson Plans
The Beginner Lesson Plans can be purchased as a 104-page printed book, but they are available as a free download if you buy the Molecular Literacy Packet I describe below. These lesson plans were designed for group classes. I think homeschoolers working within their families will find the lesson plans in the Activity Packets sufficient, but the Beginner Lesson Plans might clarify instructions that are not clear in the other lesson plans.
Some games are already built into the Activity Packets, but two other games were created for use with the series: Atomic Bingo and the Ionic Ooze card game. Atomic Bingo is printed from free files and should be used with File 2. The Ionic Ooze card game, for use with Files 3 and 4, features characters from the comics. The card deck has two wild cards, and the other cards are divided into blue cation cards with a positive charge and green anion cards with a negative charge. Players draw from the two decks to create correct formulas for ionic compounds. The games are not essential, but they fit beautifully with the design of the entire series and should be great for reinforcement.
Hewitt Learning is also in the process of creating online games that help children become more familiar with the periodic table. The first game is available in "draft mode" if you want to try it out.
Formats and Bundles
The four comics are bound together into a single printed book, M.C. Detective Agency: Files 1-4. The activity packets are available as free downloads to purchasers of the comics, but full-color, printed activity packets can be purchased for Files 1-2, Files 3-4, or for all four files. (The packet for all four is the best deal!) If using the comics with more than one family member, you might want both the printed activity packet and the download so you can print pages on which they need to write.
I highly recommend the Molecular Literacy Packet bundle that includes the two printed books containing all four comics and activity packets plus the Ionic Ooze card game. Purchasers can download PDFs for the activity packets, Beginner Lesson Plans, and Atomic Bingo for free.
A surprising amount of chemistry is taught if you use both the comics and the activities. The games and puzzles, along with the comic-book format, make what might seem like difficult concepts accessible to a wide age range of students. However, I’m not sure that young students will be able to understand all the concepts as the series progresses. According to Hewitt Learning’s flyer, “Once all 10 episodes are finished, students will have a grasp on the basic elements of introductory college chemistry….” The series doesn’t replace a college-level chemistry course, but it should make it much easier to learn (or reinforce) fundamental concepts.