Curriculum Review

A Review / Opinion Carbon Chemistry by Ellen McHenry
July 20, 2010

Carbon ChemistryWe recently finished the wonderfully engaging science program: The Elements by Ellen McHenry. You can read my review of that science curriculum here. Now we are moving on to the 2nd half of a 31 week chemistry schedule I created in which Ellen's 2nd chemistry curriculum Carbon Chemistry plays the biggest part.

Carbon Chemistry is intended to follow The Elements and was designed for grades 6-9 although Ellen states, " could also be adapted for use with either gifted
upper elementary or with high school. The level of science is highly suitable for high school; it is only the manner in which it is presented that is geared to junior high. It is within reach of very motivated elementary students if the teacher is actively involved with the students and can discuss the concepts that are presented in the student text." Otter is just starting 6th grade and while the material is perfect for him, I can see that I personally am going to learn a lot from it as well. Ellen has a gift for taking complicated subjects and not only making them understandable, but fun.

We're excited to start using it! We had such a great time with The Elements and learned so much. Otter can't wait to expand his chemistry knowledge and start digging deeper now that he has a good grasp on the basics.

We have the CD version which comes with 2 CD's. The first CD has a 176 page PDF. The first half of the PDF is an 83 page reproducible student booklet. The rest of it contains a detailed answer key and a teacher's section chock-full of experiments, games, printables, online video suggestions and more - as well as instructions for a "polymer party" to wrap up your study. There are eleven chapters that cover a variety of topics. Here are some of them:

  • Carbon and allotropes of pure carbon (diamonds, graphite, etc.)
  • Alkane hydrocarbons
  • "enes" and "ynes"
  • Alcohols, carboxylic acids, ketones, esters, ethers
  • Sodium benzoate, nitroglycerin, soap, prostaglandins, pheromones
  • Plastics
  • Rubber and silicones
  • Carbohydrates
  • Fats
  • Proteins
  • The carbon cycle

As with all of Ellen's materials, there are easy to understand explanations and a variety of memorable activities. Some of the activities include:

  • Make marbled paper using alkanes
  • Play the functional group game (complete with printables)
  • An experiment with acetic acid
  • Taste test some esters
  • Enjoy some benzaldehyde (a recipe)
  • Charles Goodyear skit
  • Make slime
  • Sing the DNA song
  • Make glue using a milk protein

There are tons more though!

The PDF also contains comprehension self-checks at the end of each chapter. These checks help to make sure your student is understanding the material with fill-in-the-blank sentences, questions and online research questions are also available to further each topic. Amusing and helpful black and white illustrations are scattered throughout the text and little cartoon thumbprint people add in some kid-friendly appeal. There are puzzles, worksheet type activities and review pages included with activities like: draw the bonds between the letters, figure out the code, match the words with the diagram, etc.

I love the mix of information and the presentation. Sometimes concepts are presented in a visual way via drawings and diagrams. In other sections there are interesting and memorable stories, like one about "saving the lac bugs (how the world's first plastic was created) as well as another that tells about Percy Julian, a black man and chemist born around 1900 - emphasizing not only his scientific accomplishments, but also his excellent character. There is also some history thrown in like how in World War II, Japan blocked the Allied countries from receiving shipments of latex rubber and the resulting discovery and other tidbits about accidental chemical discoveries- who made them and when.

If you are looking for a science program that breaks out of the boring textbook mold, incorporates a hands-on element and caters to all the different styles of learning, I highly recommend you take a look at both The Elements and Carbon Chemistry. By using these two programs and supplementing with a variety of "living books" we've had one of our most memorable science years ever. Now I just wish Ellen would write more!! smile

As I go through the program, I'll be posting pictures of some of our projects and experiments. Take a peek here on my blog to see what we are up to!

Official site for Carbon Chemistry
Download the first chapter by clicking here.
Download one of the games (organic molecules card game) for free.


*Note: All our reviews reflect only our personal opinion(s) of materials. We aren't experts! We're just a homeschooling family with 3 kids and ideas of our own about what works and what doesn't for US. smile




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