Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Baking Soda and Vinegar

The other day, the kids and I did the old vinegar and baking soda experiment. The kids ooh'd and ahhh'd over the fizzy bubbles pouring over the sides of the cup from adding the two together. We then looked on the Internet for more examples of how different liquids react when mixed together. They loved the big explosive clips of vinegar baking soda bombs. And so there was their introduction to Chemistry.

Chemistry, was my most hated academic subject. Which is odd, because I actually find it very interesting. I'm fascinated by the molecular level of things and quantum mechanics is the most intriguing thing to learn about. However, the academic version of Chemistry, absolutely made me an anxiety-ridden mess in high school and especially college. It's the one topic that kept me from doing what I had wanted due to the lowered GPA that was the consequence of the many Chemistry courses I had to take.

I'm convinced it doesn't need to be that way. I don't think it was me (anymore). I've talked to so many who were in the same boat.

The kids absolutely loved their first look at chemistry in the kitchen mixing ingredients together. Their eyes lit up!
I remember, vaguely, doing the same in a Chemistry lab in school. Only, I really didn't get that it was simply vinegar and baking soda. When I walked in the labs, the test-tubes were pre-filled with liquids and labeled with their chemical names. The whole place is so sterile and orderly. I was given directions to be followed exactly. "Mix tube number 3 with powder number 1. Record your observations." Which I did. There was no hint of real-life in those labs. It was completely detached from reality. Efficiently packaged up into a neat little curriculum to be presented to a class full of students, and with the least mess or teacher involvement. It seemed completely unrelated to what was taught in the lecture. And both lecture and lab seemed completely unrelated to the problems on the tests, which often sent me off in tears after I had completed them.
These timed tests not only had the chemistry problems, they also required the memorization of all the conversion equations. When I worked as a dietitian at a care center, we used conversion equations daily. If we forgot one, we looked it up in the folder. We weren't fired or docked pay, we weren't doubted or scolded, we looked it up. Because that is what you do in real life.
Why does school punish kids if they forget a memorized fact? Why do smart kids "fail" because of this?

So enough with the Chemistry rantings, I could go on forever about the problems I have with how things are "taught" in institutionalized schooling. The fact is, I want my kids to keep their sparks of interests without having them dulled out. I want to show them early on about how fascinating life is. I doubt the schools teach much about atoms and molecules in preschool and kindergarten, but that's the beauty of homeschooling. If they're interested, we learn it, we do it, we see it. And we can see it all around us. Not just in an expensive clean laboratory.

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