Homeschool Science: Ionic Bonding

My fourteen year old daughter has been working through the Middle School Chemistry course available online from the American Chemical Society. She was working on a section featuring Ionic Bonding. It’s a pretty good little program with multimedia and experiments or activities for almost every lesson. Because we do a lot of Science at our house, we’ve covered some of this before, so we tend to mix it up and expand a little bit sometimes. We also have a membership over at the Happy Scientist which we use to supplement when we can. Nothing over there on ionic bonding specifically, but there’s some simpler stuff about molecules if you need it.

One of the activities was to make molecule models, one of NaCl, and one of CACl2. These are usually made with styrofoam balls and toothpicks. Last time we did a molecule unit, we used gum drops, because we are simply not a styrofoam ball sort of family. We didn’t have any gumdrops on hand, so my daughter used fondant to make her models. She dyed the fondant various colors to represent different elements. Green for Sodium, Yellow for Calcium, and Blue for Chlorine. You can make your own color choices when you make your own.

Top: NaCl Bottom: CaCl2

And then she ate them. . .

Fondant is fairly good for molecule modeling. You can dye it with food color and it’s reasonably easy to make, at least by the recipe in our gingerbread book. Here’s a Similar Fondant Recipe. A lot of sites have crazy looking recipes that do indeed look difficult. I’d avoid them and stick with the simple version. NB: Don’t substitute margarine for the butter. It will make the fondant clay too soft. For an edible clay that dries harder and can be kept longer, use Pastillage or Marzipan.

If you really don’t want to make sugar clay, you can buy it:

Wilton makes pre-colored fondant, but it’s even more expensive than this 2lb tub.

Premade marzipan is also available, but also is expensive.

Gumdrops also make fine molecules. Buy large and small size for best effect.

The best thing about these edible clay/candy options is that you don’t have to worry about storing or disposing of them after the lesson is done!

Homeschool Supplies: Scientific Supplies

Here’s my list over on of Homeschool Supplies that we’ve found very helpful over the years. Looking over it, I see the two major categories are art and craft supplies and scientific paraphernalia. There are a few musical items, and I also added in a collection of DVDs of ballet and opera that’s appropriate for children. These are things that we’ve had and used and enjoyed. These are only suggestions! Your kids aren’t mine; your house and homeschool might be larger/smaller/different. Today I’ll do Scientific supplies that we’ve found useful. You can click through on the pictures below for more info since I embedded them Amazon Affiliate style.

Scientific Supplies
While reading about Science is fun, the best Science is hands-on. Try not to spend a fortune on left-handed can-openers (i.e. items that only do one limited thing), but do try to aquire enough tools to make real science possible for your kids.

Safety Equipment
Goggles. if you buy nothing else, get goggles or safety glasses in kid-friendly sizes. Disposable gloves, which you can get at a beauty supply store, are also very good to have. These keep you safe from chemicals, bug goo, and other unsavory stuff.

You can squeak by with kitchen measures if you must, but if you can possibly afford it, a good basic glassware kit for chemistry (not on my Amazon list as I saw nothing suitable over there) is a really useful item. Also, get a small scale of some sort. A good little digital kitchen scale will work most of the time. Many experiments work better with precise measures. I don’t suggest buying one of those mega-kits or any chemicals until you come upon an experiment you want to do that requires them. Fresh items are the best for chemical experiments, and many great experiments can be done with substances found in your kitchen, bathroom, laundry, or cleaning cupboard.

A decent, but not too expensive microscope and some prepared example slides are great investments. Also, specimen-catching equipment– nets, bug boxes, jars for water samples. If you like to combine Biology with nature walks, get a nature journal with a sturdy, waterproof cover that’s small enough to tuck into a day pack or pocket. We especially got a lot of mileage out of our bug catching box with built in magnifier.

Decent telescopes are expensive. Get the best reflector you can afford. If they’re totally out of your budget, make friends with the local Astronomy club. It’s a good idea even if you can afford a telescope, because they can help you get the best use out of your telescope and advise you on what to buy as well. A pocket star wheel can be very useful to help spot constellations and stuff with the naked eye. Bring a flashlight with a red lens! An optics kit with various lenses and prisms is also a wonderful learning tool.

Little picks, trowels and hammers are great for geology field trips. Also, a sturdy little canvas or nylon sack to bring home prize rocks is really great if you have kids who are collectors like mine. Always check with the property owners or local authorities before taking anything home with you.

Why You Don’t Need A Homeschool Science Curriculum

My soon to be seventeen year old son just cruised through the first unit of his online high school AP Chemistry (advanced placement Chemistry) class. So far he has an “A” in the class. He finished 6 weeks of work in just under one week. Is he a genius? Not really. Don’t get me wrong. He’s a very bright kid and I admire him greatly, but he’s not a prodigy. He’s been studying Science at home since he was five. I’ve bought very little in the way of Science curriculum over the years. We’ve bought a couple of the MPH Science books from Singapore Math company. We’ve done a couple of the Great Science Adventures units. My kids took an Environmental Science unit study from a guy who modified material from an out of print college text. Those are the closest encounters with straight up “curriculum” my kids have experienced so far.

If you’re looking for Science curriculum in the homeschool world, it can be a real struggle to find anything that is truly secular. Even sources that claim to be secular are sometimes simply avoiding issues like evolutionary theory in order to not alienate their base. The majority of homeschoolers are religious homeschoolers, after all, and even among the homeschoolers who state that they are “secular”, many of those are strongly religious people. They might not want their children’s Math lessons to be presented through the filter of “How would Jesus multiply?”, but neither do they want what they would consider “secular humanist speculation” in their kids’ Science texts.

None of that is why we rarely use prepared Science curriculum at my house. I have issues with the way Science tends to be presented in most elementary and middle school Science text books. These books for the most part load on the dry facts in an overview style that plows through “science” as a generalist topic. There’s never enough hands-on work to make me or my kids happy, and never enough thinking work to make me happy. The whole basic approach of generalist Science overview is unpleasing. While various types of science are deeply related, “Science” is a terrible topic.

Chemistry is science, Biology is science, Physics is science. You can further subdivide those. There are some top level things to be learned, such as acids and bases for Chemistry, Classification for Biology, basic laws and tools for Physics, for starters. Beyond the basic concepts, science gets really engaging when you specialize. Another example: Pond Biology is a microcosm of Ecology that’s accessible for all ages. You can cover a mountain of Biological and Ecological issues while studying a pond and running pond-related experiments, all while doing stuff. The “doing stuff”, as opposed to “reading stuff and filling out worksheets” model is what makes Science come alive.

You can indeed find wonderful lesson plans and materials to help you with this sort of study, but you’re unlikely to find them in a generalist Science book. I avoid the generalist curricula in favor of topic-built study. For a long time, I simply went to the library and got topical books and assembled my own Science lessons. Recently I discovered NASA’s (not just for Space!) wealth of educational materials. The world wide web also has come a long way since we started homeschooling in 1999. Now I use videos from YouTube and other things I stumble across with the help of Google. I’m still pretty much DIY with Science, and I can’t claim that it isn’t work. I don’t mind because I love Science, and it’s work that pays off with kids who are falling in love Science too.

<== The one Science book that I think everyone needs!

8 Archived Comments

  1.  Siggi

    We are all about “hands-on = brains-on” science here, too, with nary a science curriculum in sight (of my kids, at least – I have one on the shelf for reference!)

    So glad you found my blog so I could find yours; I look forward to getting caught up!

  2.  tlryder

    I am very much enjoying your blog and the other great homeschooling blogs I’ve found recently. Google+ seems to have a lot of homeschoolers too!

  3.  Diane

    You know, I have to tell you that the one similar thread I see in all of my favorite home school blog sites is the above-average intelligence of the ‘teachers’ IE parents. My children were school taught. They did all right, though I wish I knew then what I know now about home schooling. But now, my daughter, worried about my crumbling brain (her words, not mine) has bought me mind-exercising games so that I won’t slide into Alzheimer’s or some other brain-degenerating condition. My point is: If I had done home school with my children, I would have kept learning and growing. Like all of you ‘teachers’. It really is noticeable to those of us with our faces pressed against the glass. I mean it when I say that you are an example to us all. One we wish we could emulate.

  4.  redseamom

    Can’t wait to check out that book!

    Our secular homeschool co-op has had a Science class, and it has been such a downer for my science-loving younger one, who wants to DO and experiment, not read and repeat information. Meanwhile she is all but tearing the house apart because she’s not waiting for permission to be a chemist or an engineer.

  5.  tlryder

    The thing I love about “9 Crazy Ideas” is that it does a pretty good job of explaining scientific method. It really pushes the critical thinking skills. Besides covering the concept of falsifiable, it also gets into researcher trust and bias, all while being highly engaging and fun.

  6.  Ashley

    The reasons you stated are why I have such a difficult time finding history books. Most of them suck all the joy out of a subject that is truly fascinating if done correctly. Back to science: I just received The Story of Science by Joy Hakim and I can’t wait to dig in. If it lives up to its reputation it will be a wonderful resource for our homeschool.

  7.  Mgcurran

    Interesting…that’s what my 13yr old daughter is finding with maths – the more you specialize, the more engaging it gets.

  8.  Bpbproadrunner

    We are sticking to Citizen Science Work. Its good field work and it’s all hands-on. So it’s always fun, and a bit of an adventure, and we keep scrap books and journals of our work so we always have something to show for it. Because just as you said, finding good secular HS Science material is not easy. *sigh*