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Chem for those who do not like it

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Morgan Bell Morgan Bell 390 Points

I am an education major in my last 2 semesters.  I have always had a hard time with chemistry and really did not enjoy it.  Has anyone found a way for those who are not good at chemistry to want to be engaged and do well?

Casey Moskau Casey Moskau 180 Points

I always do an inventory of my students' interests at the start of the year and then try to tie concepts to their interests. We read an article on the first day about chemistry all around them. I've also had them write questions that they want answered about their world (for example: why does orange juice taste differently after brushing your teeth) and use those student-generated questions as guides to reach those students who don't show as much interest in Chemistry. Here is a link to the "Why Study Chemistry?" article.

Christine Herald Chris Herald 1825 Points

To add to the other good points already shared, since chemistry is so abstract, I try to use models and online simulations such as Weekly hands on experiments are a must! Check out American Chemical Society’s resource at for simple explanations.

Pamela Dupre Pamela Dupre 92369 Points

Morgan, you might be interested in one of NSTA's books, it is 15.96 for members. I have the one of Forces and Motion and it breaks everything down so that even I can understand physics. [color=#144e69][size=6][font="Helvetica Neue", Helvetica, Roboto, Arial, sans-serif]More Chemistry Basics: Stop Faking It! Finally Understanding Science So You Can Teach It[/font][/size][/color] Some of the chapters are a free download: [url=][color=#144e69][size=3][font="Helvetica Neue", Helvetica, Roboto, Arial, sans-serif]Chapters Available Individually (Not all are available)[/font][/size][/color][/url] [ul] [li][size=1][font="Helvetica Neue", Helvetica, Roboto, Arial, sans-serif][url=][color=#33aab8]Electro-Luminescence[/color][/url] [url=][color=#33aab8]Dèjà Review[/color][/url] [url=][color=#33aab8]Dynamic Atoms[/color][/url] [url=][color=#33aab8]The Name's Bond ... Pi Bond[/color][/url] [url=][color=#33aab8]Special Reactions[/color][/url] [url=][color=#33aab8]Half a Life is Better Than None[/color][/url] [url=][color=#33aab8]A Little Organic[/color][/url][/font][/size][/li] [/ul] You also can use the Explore All Resources tab at the top menu and search for Chemistry. You can click on the tab for User Collections and find elementary, middle, or high school articles, podcasts, and book chapters. There is such a wealth of information on NSTA that you can add to your library. I am also an Essential Elements Certified Instructor. You can visit: There are You Be the Chemist Guides and there is probably a Certified Instructor or more in your state.

Amitoj Kahlon Amitoj Kahlon 20 Points

Hi Morgan, In a middle school or high school chemistry classroom it is more than likely that not all students will enjoy the content of the class and it may be a difficult course for many. I too remember having a hard time understanding the content in the chemistry classes I took in my secondary schooling. However, one way in which my high school chemistry teacher kept his students engaged was by relating the mundane content to phenomena in real-life or by using analogies to relate concepts that students were familiar with in their everyday lives in order to make the content more relatable. For instance, in order for students to get a better understanding of the microscopic ideas associated with the subatomic particles present within an atom, protons, neutrons, and electrons were drawn parallel to some make-believe characters of a fictional story created. Another way in which content may become comprehensible is if students are given the opportunity to engage with it hands-on, instead of being presented information through direct instruction. For instance, when learning about what chemical combinations creates a solution that produces heat, assign students an inquiry-based project in which they are asked to create a "hand-warmer". In this way students engage with the content with a purpose in mind, rather than having to memorize chemical make-ups that produce a warming reaction. Lastly, if a teacher himself/herself is passionate about a topic and displays this enthusiasm through his/her teaching, this promotes a more productive learning environment in which students may feel intrigued to learn what may seem at first to be challenging and uninteresting content.  

Emily Faulconer Faulconer 5755 Points

That depends on why they are not enjoying chemistry ... if they simply aren't interested, maybe try to emphasize the transferable skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, and quantitative reasoning. That gives a non-chemistry goal to work towards in the course. 

If someone is not enjoying chemistry because they do not have the prerequisite skills, backfilling that missing knowledge can increase confidence and motivation. 

If chemistry is just too 'hard', break down the work into smaller more attainable chunks so that confidence is built. 

Jody Foster Jody 725 Points

When I think of chemistry, I think hands on. Students enjoy learning and understand learning by doing the investigating themselves. Providing them with the right resources will be beneficial in them enjoying and understanding what is being presented to them.

Alicia Salazar Alicia Salazar 1174 Points

I personally was never a fan of chemistry. However, when I got to college, I took chemistry and realized that more hands-on activities and watching some videos on youtube to further my knowledge helped me a lot. I also made lots of flashcards for vocabulary or compounds to help me memorize it better by going through them multiple times. It also helped me because of math, I am good at math and chemistry has a lot to do with mathematics. Also, knowing the period table is very important. I frequently asked lots of questions and also had a tutor who explained it in a way I can understand the material better.

Kristina Nguyen Kristina Nguyen 560 Points

I was a chemistry major undergrad, and at any level, chemistry is hard to grasp without the proper instruction. Like many above have commented, exploring the interests of the students is a great way to keep them engaged. I also frequently as them if the concepts we are learning in class is present in their life. For example, I remember that I never really understood the endothermic reaction until my high school chem teacher told me to hold ice. She said this was an endothermic reaction because the ice melted by taking heat from my hand, which was why I felt cold. This made the concept seem less abstract and more concrete. Another way would be to make it fun with celebrations, if appropriate. For example, you could celebrate Avagadro's day on October 23 or June 2, depending on when your students are learning stoichiometry. I personally have celebrated it with a puzzle of stoichiometry questions and cookies and cupcakes. When a question was answered correctly, then I got another 'piece' to the puzzle.

Cristina Welch Cristina Welch 410 Points

Yes!  Every topic ideally should have a direct way that it impacts students outside of the classroom.  It's our job to draw that connection. Here are a few of my ideas:

  • nuclear chemistry - create a show questionnaire/quiz for students to ask an adult in their life related to the pros and cons of nuclear energy
  • Redox reactions - observe the effect of soaking an iron nail in various salt solutions overnight.  Remind them that this is what happens to their car when they don't wash it regularly!
  • Batteries - ask them to document all of the places where batteries are used in their lives.  Have them create a battery, and then challenge them to make it better (last longer, high voltage, etc)
  • combustion rxn/exothermic rxn - burn a potato chip and calculate the calories it contains based on your data
  • Kinetics - rxn rates are affected by temperature.  Will the rxn that inflates your car airbag cause it to deploy slower in the winter?  why or why not (an electric igniter is used)
  • thermochemistry - beach folks know that the sand and the boardwalk wood heat up differently.  Why does the sand heat up faster
  • reversible rxn - red blood cells receive oxygen, and then release oxygen; sarin gas attacks in Syria (sarin gas makes a body rxn irreversible)
  • acids - how do they effect our teeth?  what is the chemical equation?

Chemistry can be tough, but as many have shared below, using visuals or interactive videos/activities can be very useful to help not see chemistry as a difficult subject. 

Beverly DeVore-Wedding Bev DeVore-Wedding 6668 Points

Chemistry is like Geometry, very applicable to authentic real-world events. First, I survey my students' interests, and then I bring in connections or ask the students to find the connections. I give students real-world issues that can be solved chemically. I give students choices in project-based chemistry learning And most importantly, I do not let me students know if I do or do not like a topic or content area. There is so much to learn and apply in chemistry-my goodness, our entire life-systems depend on chemistry to exist. 

Chemistry in the Community is a good curriculum to build interest and understand the chemistry content. There are other chemistry curricula that builds on everyday, authentic and relevant chemistry.

Hope you discover the fun and excitement of chemistry!


Sydney Murillo Sydney Murillo 3315 Points

In my experience, doing hands on projects makes the content more relatable. I enjoyed everything that I could be creative and involved with. Research shows project based learning leads to deeper conceptual understanding of content.

Jessica Holman Jessica Holman 2170 Points

Hi! I think you have hit the reason for NGSS right on the head! The phenomenon approach to learning is what drives those students in the classroom. When teachers engage their students with phenomena they have a true curiosity or interest in the interest levels in the classroom drive up. Students are shifting from this rote memorization or even just learning content in isolation; to having a role and a mission of trying to figure something out. Chemistry is especially daunting in isolation. When you give students a task, then build a story around that task where now they need to know this information to complete the task. They will be more engaged. The hardest part is choosing a phenomenon that fits your students. You should figure out what are they interested in. What are things that would hook them? Once you get to know your students more you will know the types of phenomenon’s that will drive them.

Hina Anwar Hina Anwar 345 Points

Chemistry can be a tough subject. I think the best way to get student engaged is by making it relevant it them. Little kids especially are engaged once the topic is around something they know about. Weekly hands on experiments or even demos are a fun touch to add because it can make your lesson more lively.

Rebecca Austin-Datta Rebecca Austin Datta 3530 Points

Please explore the "Living by Chemistry" (LBC) curriculum, by Angelica Stacy, published by Bedford, Freeman & Worth. (N.B. I have no financial/other interest in advocating for LBC, I am just sharing). [color=#363940][size=2][font="Source Sans Pro", "Helvetica Nue", Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif]Student lab activities[/font][/size][/color][color=#363940][size=2][font="Source Sans Pro", "Helvetica Nue", Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif] are safe, interesting and well explained. The teacher resource materials are the best I have ever experienced (any subject). Lesson plans follow a logical progression and build a strong foundation.[/font][/size][/color] I found the LBC resource exhibited at the 2011 NSTA Conference, tried some of their activities with my inner-city HS chemistry students, and was so excited by the level of student enthusiasm that I got funding for my school to switch to the full LBC curriculum in 2012. My students' level of engagement went from apathetic to awed, and their end-of-course grades went through the roof, from about 34% pass rate (Year 0) to 99% pass rate (Year 3). I have a super graphic I made to illustrate this, see attached. Chemistry became the favorite subject for many of my students once we switched to LBC, attendance improved for days they had chemistry, and tens of my students went on to major in chemistry, bio-chemistry or related majors in college. The publisher BFW quotes on their website: "[color=#363940][size=2][font="Source Sans Pro", "Helvetica Nue", Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif]Living By Chemistry makes rigorous chemistry accessible to all students" and this is SUCH a true statement. I made a short video explaining why I think this curriculum is amazing, this is based on the 1st printed edition, book cover has changed for 2nd edition see: [/font][/size][/color][color=#363940][font=Source Sans Pro, Helvetica Nue, Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif][size=2] [/size][/font][/color] [color=#363940][font=Source Sans Pro, Helvetica Nue, Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif][size=2]Best wishes, Rebecca[/size][/font][/color]

Jody Foster Jody 725 Points

This is a excellent response! You probably didn't like chemistry for a reason! I think it's important to think about why it wasn't liked, and modify it so that it can be understood and enjoyable! 

David Pyle David Pyle 155 Points

Chemistry is definitely a hands on topic. Too much lecture and not enough lab tends to make chemistry a boring subject.

Emphasizing those who have said hands-on, but even more so, connect chemistry to place-based projects. I included our state's River Watch in chemistry as we could use it for solutions, gas content, learning about ions, even the periodic table and tie all of the chemistry content to clean water for humans and other organisms. The students who were fishing fanatics were encouraged to relate the chemical properties of the water to the fish residing in parts of the stream; the need for specific conditions for macroinvertebrates and relating that to fishing; students involved in agriculture were able to understand chemical run-off and how to save money by applying less fertilizer or adjusting fertilizer and pesticide applications to keep water cleaner & decrease costs; chemistry became more real with visits to the waste treatment facility and then students wanted to know where our town's water really came from and how it was treated.

Often during a content section, students would ask a question that we could often and sometimes immdeidately relate it to a lab they had done or were preparing to do that also related to their personal interests or family livelihood. 

I even had a local cosmetologist come in and talk about hair products and beauty products which connected to chemistry nicely. There is so much potential when you can connect to your community and your students' interests.

Justice Taylor Justice Taylor 1155 Points

I have never enjoyed chemistry, it has always been very difficult and confusing to me. However, in my case hands-on activities helped me stay engaged thorughout my chemistry course. It also helped me understand what was going on to a certain point. 

Bradley Clark Bradley Clark 190 Points

I have always enjoyed chemistry and one of the things that got me hooked was labs. If you can find a way to have in class demonstrations or if you have a lab at your school site, if you teach high school, that could definetly help. It is a good way for students to get out of the room and have some fun in a lab as long as they are being safe.

Alexandra Castro Alexandra Castro 1300 Points

Hello Bradley,

Do you remember any labs that seemed captivating to you? Which were your favorite ones?

Christine Aguilar Christine Aguilar 210 Points

I would reccoment attempting to understand how you elarn best. The same way teachers must always take into consideration their students leaning styles, we ourselves must also do so. I for example do not enjoy chemistry but i found that i elarn best by drawing out what i learned as i write notes. It is very helpful!

Brandon Cooke Brandon Cooke 250 Points

It seems that the general consensus of this forum is to connect it to what the students are interested in and to be more hands-on. I also want to say that presenting a phenomenon is a really good way of getting students invovled. When it is interesting, the students want to participate and find out why the phenomenon is occuring.

Brian Hamilton Brian Hamilton 2280 Points

I have found that shifting my course and focusing on literacy has helped reach students who may not find chemistry intrinsically interresting or too difficult. So for example, many students struggle with constructing written responses to questions being asked and so I give them sentence starters to help them organize their answers. I also have the students memorize around forty (40) of the most common element's names and symbols. Having the symbols and names memorized increases their fluency and reduces the stress around interpretting chemical formulas and equations. I also make sure to point out places where standard English and scientific English differ; for example, in standard English accuracy and precision roughly mean the same thing, but in scientific English they refer to different things. While it may seem that a focus on literacy would not help those student who don't like chemistry, once they understand what they are reading and how to construct arguments with the frame of chemistry, they begin to find the subject engaging.

Dennis Ma Dennis Ma 70 Points

The chemistry department at the University of Cambridge puts on an annual public lecture that is highly engaging. For inspiration, take a look at the 'Fire and Flame' lecture which can be found on, and which includes many spectacular demos (with firefighters discreetly on standby!). There are several other lectures posted there, and of the ones I've seen, they're just as engaging. 

Disclaimer: I'm not a teacher, but I liked chemistry. My 5th grader and 7th grader are now keenly interested in chemistry, after watching the above lecture. I could imagine a teacher using short snippets of video from these demonstrations to bookend the beginning/end of each class to motivate, engage, and reward students in a highly memorable way. 

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