Science Writing: Chemistry

Intro  |  Unit 1  |  Unit 2  |  Unit 3  |  Unit 4  |  Unit 5  |  Unit 6  |  Unit 7

Resources for Teachers

Introduction: Chemistry, Writing, and History

Many students find chemistry intimidating.  Although atoms are the building blocks of all matter we observe on a daily basis, the concepts of molecules and reactions can seem abstract.

In this course, students will be exposed to the basics of chemistry in a way that allows them to learn the content at their own pace.  Even without mastering the science, students can learn to appreciate the concepts while also developing their skills in creative writing and historical research.

This course will cover the first seven chapters of OpenStax Chemistry: Atoms First 2e.  These chapters cover the core concepts of elements, molecules, and chemical reactions.  Future courses may cover additional chapters involving thermodynamics, material properties, and nuclear chemistry.

Course Tracks

The chemistry workshops will offer three separate tracks.  Although students will attend common workshops for all three tracks, the projects will be done independently for each track.

Introductory Chemistry (Science with Content Focus)

Reflections on Science and Fiction (English with Writing Focus)


History of Scientific Discovery (Social Studies with Research Focus)

Unit 1: Essential Ideas of Chemistry

Chapter 1 from Atoms First

3 Sessions

Session 1

We'll look at how chemistry is connected with so many other areas of science, and then discuss the purpose and process behind the scientific method.

Key Terms from Chemistry in Context

Key Terms from Phases and Classification of Matter

Science

In this unit, you'll learn about the basic chemistry concepts such as phases of matter and how to measure quantities scientifically.

Homework: Selected questions from the problem sets at the end of the chapter and a vocabulary quiz.

English

During the workshop discussions, identify an aspect of daily life that's defined by chemistry.

Homework: Write a 750-word reflection on the element of daily life identified above.

Social Studies

During the workshop discussions, consider a researcher who helped redefine everyday chemistry.

Homework: Find 3 sources describing this researcher and their work.  Write a 500-word description of what this researcher accomplished.

Unit 2: Atoms, Molecules, and Ions

Chapter 2 from Chemistry: Atoms First

2 Sessions

Science

This unit examines how our understanding of chemistry has evolved with time, and what this means for our material world.

Homework: Selected questions from the problem sets at the end of the chapter and a vocabulary quiz.

English

During the workshop discussions, look for a surprising application of chemistry.

Homework: Find a work of journalism or science fiction (about 5,000 words) involving that application.  Write 250 words describing whether you think the science is accurately portrayed.

Social Studies

The history of science is filled with not only discoveries, but misconceptions.

Homework: Find three articles describing a recent scientific discovery and compare how they describe the discovery:

Unit 3: Electron Structures and the Periodic Table

Chapter 3 from Chemistry: Atoms First

3 Sessions

Science

This unit shows how electrons define the structure and reactions of chemistry.

Homework: Selected questions from the problem sets at the end of the chapter and a vocabulary quiz.

English

Consider what you knew about atoms before this workshop, and how that compares with the Quantum Theory Model in section 3.3

Homework: Choose an example of a movie or book that uses "quantum-something" as a plot device, then write 750 words describing whether it has anything at all to do with electrons.

Social Studies

The Periodic Table is one of the most important charts in the history of science, but not everyone agreed on how to write it.

Homework: Choose a chemist from history, and then find three articles about that person.  Write 500 words about why people disagreed with this person's original research.

Unit 4: Chemical Bonds and Molecular Geometry

Chapter 4 from Chemistry: Atoms First

3 Sessions

Science

To understand the complex structure of molecules, we must see how electrons are shared between atoms.  We'll also discuss chemical notations and how they communicate the properties of molecules.

Homework: Selected questions from the problem sets at the end of the chapter and a vocabulary quiz.

English

Science fiction is filled with fantasic materials like Unobtanium and Vibranium and Kryptonite.

Homework: Create your own science fiction material.  In 750 words, describe what this material does, and then the types of bonding that take place in the material.  How does the bonding relate to the fantastic properties?

Social Studies

From pharmaceuticals to jet fuel, every new material ever developed comes down to electron bonds.

Homework: Choose a material or chemical from history, find three sources about its development, and then write 500 words describing how researchers found this material and then learned to manufacture it.

Unit 5: Advanced Theories of Bonding

Chapter 5 from Chemistry: Atoms First

3 Sessions

Science

Ah, if only the simple bonds described in Unit 4 could explain everything.  Now we look at how the shapes of electron orbitals affect chemical bonds.

Homework: Selected questions from the problem sets at the end of the chapter and a vocabulary quiz.

English

From polymers to glass, every material has a unique molecular structure based on electron orbitals.

Homework: Choose an item you use every day, and then research the electron orbitals present in that material.  Now pretend that the laws of quantum mechanics have changed, and your item now has different electron orbitals.  How does that change the item?

Social Studies

Over the centuries, there have been many disagreements about how electron orbitals work.

Homework: Choose a material or chemical from history that caused disagreements regarding its properties.  Find three sources, then write 500 words about why different researchers couldn't agree on the electron structures.  (Benzene is a good example.)

Unit 6: Composition of Substances and Solutions

Chapter 6 from Chemistry: Atoms First

3 Sessions

Science

Now we move into mixtures of molecules.  We'll consider the masses of different molecules and how to set up ratios for solution concentrations.

Homework: Selected questions from the problem sets at the end of the chapter and a vocabulary quiz.

English

Most works of fiction avoid the "boring" math of ratios.  Acids and other chemicals are often portrayed as "toxic death!" without any real reference to concentration.

Homework: Find a news article or a work of fiction that explains how the concentration of a substance made a difference in an event.

Social Studies

"The dose makes the poison."  Regardless of how harmful or "harmless" a substance may be, anything can be dangerous in the wrong quantities.

Homework: Find a moment in time when "too much of a good thing" turned in a major problem.  After finding 3 sources, write 500 words about what happened.  Some examples to consider:

Unit 7: Stoichiometry of Chemical Reactions

Chapter 7 from Chemistry: Atoms First

3 Sessions

Science

For our final unit in the class, we consider how write and balance chemical equations.

Homework: Selected questions from the problem sets at the end of the chapter and a vocabulary quiz.

English

Rockets require precise mixes of fuel and oxidizer to maximize thrust, and astronauts need air to breathe.

Homework: Let's plan a fictional trip to Mars.  Using online sources, find numbers for the quantities of fuel, oxygen, food, and water necessary for the journey.  Then write a 750-word discussion of whether you think the mission would be feasible.

Social Studies

Certain chemical reactions are named after the researchers who discovered them.

Homework: Find a specific chemical reaction that has changed society.  Find three sources about the reaction, and then write 500 words describing how it was discovered, how it is manufactured, and why it's important.