31 August 2009

Chemistry Begins!

When our homeschool materials order arrived, I planned on looking through things to see if I wanted to return anything. Well, I ended up reading through The Mystery of the Periodic Table and going to bed at one am!

Chemistry was something I 'got through' in high school. But this book was so engaging and interesting, and so clearly laid out the development of modern Chemistry, that I was unwilling to put it down. It is written in a conversational tone, and speaks directly to the reader. It makes the early alchemists and the later chemists into real people with real investigative passions.

There were two things that I really appreciated from this book which sort of surprised me: First, it was made evident that an intelligence was behind the elements. The book points out many ways that Chemistry is orderly, exact and not accidental. He doesn't say, "God invented the elements and their properties" but he has at least three paragraphs full of exclamation points and sentences which express wonder at the perfection that the chemists were astounded to find.

Second, the author repeatedly describes how the chemist had the wrong idea but experimented the right way; or he had just the right idea, but made the wrong conclusion. I found these instances very encouraging, especially for the young scientist, because it explains that trial and error is a crucial part of finding out facts of science. I don't want my kids to research a question, make a hypothesis, do an experiment, get an unexpected result, and count it a total failure.

The author also goes into some effort to show how the chemists of days past stumbled in a group effort spanning centuries to come to what is presently known as the Periodic Table. Until I read this book, I thought that the Periodic Table was just a reference guide, and now I know it is a historical, methodical, even beautiful and interesting diagram.

I began reading this book to my third grader today, for her second lesson of Chemistry. First, I had to request it back from my father because he borrowed it. I asked Claire, "Guess when was the first time I heard about elements and atoms?" She said, "5th grade?" When I told her I was in "tenth grade!" her eyes grew wide and she beamed at her apparent brain power.

In a few years, when we cycle back to Chemistry in seventh grade, she can read it on her own. I think it is an excellent value. I know of no other product like it that includes all the chemists and their experiments, sketches of their apparati, and how they worked off each other's contributions and change each others outlooks. It includes updates up to almost present day. It is an excellent explanation of many basic chemical elements; a few experiments; entirely comprised of biographies; easily God-glorifying; written in an exciting manner which carries the reader along.

(Reader: I was sure I had posted this a few months ago when I earned $10 from RR, but I couldn't find it anywhere in my archives. Sorry if it seems familiar.)

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