Charlotte the Unschooling Chemist


Charlotte comes into my room to say goodnight and have an end-of-the-day chat.

“Mum, can I tell you about the chemistry video I was watching today?” Her eyes light up as a flood of interesting facts come spilling out of her. I feel excited at Charlotte’s obvious delight in chemistry. She has a passion for the subject. The girls have started calling her The Nutty Professor. I call her Charlotte the Chemist.
 
I tried to teach my older children chemistry and failed. They all got bogged down in facts and figures and lost interest and we gave up. But Charlotte… she is teaching herself. All I’m doing is strewing interesting resources her way.
 
I have stolen the following story that Charlotte wrote recently. I think it illustrates her pure delight in chemistry. At the end of this post I will list some of the resources she has been using in case anyone is interested.

The Nutty Professor
 
Written by Charlotte Elvis

Chemistry to me means explosions. I know there are other ways to use chemistry. Neon lights don’t explode. Neither do mobile phones. I think everyone would be very surprised if things like that started happening. But I like the exploding sort of chemistry best. What’s better than seeing an innocent bowl of water explode when a tiny itty bitty piece of sodium is chucked in?

I’ve been watching videos about the periodic table and love it. (I didn’t know before that I liked chemistry but now I do. Funny the things you find out.) That was interesting, but it was all watching and no doing. So Mum got me a chemistry kit. It came with litmus paper, tiny plastic cups and everything that an evil scientist would need to destroy the world.

“Why don’t you give Sophie and Gemma-Rose a chemistry lesson?” Mum asked.

“Um,” I replied, sounding incredibly intelligent. “Er, yes.”

“When do you want to do it?”

I scrambled for a day.

“Wednesday?”

That left me enough time to actually work out what I was doing. Wednesday dawned. I planned to devote a good part of the morning to planning my amazing chemistry lesson. I would dazzle Sophie and Gemma-Rose with my chemistry knowledge. What actually happened? The morning disappeared. We went running. Imogen and I went for haircuts. Then lunch interrupted my planning. So the morning passed without me doing a tiny bit of planning.

I was determined to get some planning done before the girls came for their lesson. I wasn’t going to turn up, grin foolishly and tell them that I hadn’t got a clue what I was talking about. So I grabbed my trusty chemistry text book and got thoroughly confused. Out of my kit I had picked the litmus test. So I had to look up acidity and pH. But the chemistry book was so confusing. I just wanted to know about the litmus test and what acidity actually is. But they wanted to tell me who defined acidity when and how an acid is named. Some time later I dumped the chemistry book. This wasn’t getting me anywhere.

“What will I do?” I wailed to Imogen.

“Search the Internet,” she replied calmly.

Filled with new hope, I searched the Internet. Almost immediately I got results in a form I could understand. Grabbing my trusty notebook and pen I started scribbling. Interesting facts popped up. Hydrogen ion causes the acidity, blue litmus paper goes red in acid, fish will die if the pH in the water goes below five. Finally I felt prepared.

Armed with my notebook, a pile of plastic cups, some strips of litmus paper and a whiteboard, I headed for the kitchen where my two students waited. I started with explaining acidity, but we soon dealt with that and got onto the exciting part of the experiment.

“Get some lemon juice, Sophie,” I said. “We need some tea, Gemma-Rose.”

The girls scurried around the kitchen fetching ingredients. It looked as though we were going to cook something truly horrible. I marked cups and the girls poured in water, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice and bi-carb soda.

“Er, tea is next, I think.”

Gemma-Rose brought the tea bag and we began to make tea. Then we made an important life changing discovery. You can’t make tea with cold water. We soon fixed that though. Our little plastic cups sat lined up, each with it’s name written on the side. But still there were two little cups left empty. At that moment Mum walked past.

“What else could we use?” I asked her. “What about milk?”

“Milk is a good idea.”

I looked around the kitchen. A bottle of Fanta caught my eye.

“Could we use a tiny bit of that for our experiment?”

The last cup was filled. The whiteboard was ready for noting down the results and so we started. The girls took turns dipping the litmus paper and working out the pH against our chart. All was going well, my lesson was turning out beautifully when we hit a slight problem. We were working on balsamic vinegar. Sophie lifted the strip out. It was a lovely shade of brown.

“I’m not sure what that pH is,” I said, putting the stained litmus strip away.

We dissolved into giggles.

“Why don’t we use some other vinegar.”

The rest of the experiment went perfectly except for the time I accidentally used a permanent marker on the whiteboard and we found that permanent markers can be removed using some Gumption. With seven or eight soggy strips of paper lying on the kitchen bench and our results written down, the experiment was over.

“Now you may drink the fizzy drink and milk. Although,” here I grinned evilly, “I’ll let anyone who wants to drink the vinegar.”

Sophie and Gemma-Rose hastily grabbed the little pots and started sipping. For some strange reason, they didn’t want to drink the vinegar. I can’t imagine why. So my lesson did go well after all and Sophie and Gemma-Rose requested another one. But what was really fun? Getting to do real chemistry.

I’m the nutty professor.

Chemistry resources
If I desired to be a chemist, I’d want to study at the University of Nottingham with this delightful passionate-about-chemistry team. How could they fail to inspire young would-be chemists?
Dr Schwarcz writes about the fascinating chemistry of everyday life. His books bring chemistry alive.
Dr Joe Schwarcz’s blog Chemically Speaking
A big chemistry kit such as a Thames and Kosmos kit are on Charlotte’s wish list

This kit arrived in the post this morning and Charlotte’s eyes lit up!

Follow Sue Elvis’s board Unschooling Science on Pinterest.

 

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