Academic journal article Science Scope

Chemistry beyond the Chemicals

Academic journal article Science Scope

Chemistry beyond the Chemicals

Article excerpt

Most middle students have a very narrow definition of chemistry. They think of chemistry as the study of artificial compounds created in a lab that have long, complicated names, and indecipherable formulas. Students believe that "real" chemicals must have funny names, come from bottles on the science stock room shelf, and have a special sheet of precautions attached to them. They think that chemical reactions only take place in beakers, test tubes, or strangely shaped glassware--and only in laboratories, never inside plants, animals, or the human body. Things have to bubble, fizz, change color, suddenly explode, or be dangerous in order to be chemical reactions. Most do not associate chemicals and chemistry with everyday events such as digestion, photosynthesis, respiration, rusting, rotting, food preservation, changes of phase, or with the many compounds and processes that we need for daily living.

Middle level teachers need to show students that chemistry is not just about blowing things up or memorizing the periodic table of elements. We should help them see that chemistry involves living organisms as well as nonliving objects and is much more than a school subject or the industrial production of materials. We must lead students to realize that since all matter is made of elements, the components of the human body, the foods we eat, the things we touch, smell and see around us could all be classified as "chemicals" as easily as anything listed on a product label or created in a laboratory. …

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