Tag Archives: high school chemistry

Outline for a High School Chemistry Class

Need to complete a high school chemistry class with a wet lab? We did and that is how this blog was born. To help you get started, we have put together an overview of a high school chemistry course with links to posts about the lessons and labs.

I. Getting a High School chemistry lab kit.

We chose the The Home Scientist for our hands-on chemistry lab kit.

Of those offered, we used the CK01A Standard/Honors Home School Chemistry Laboratory Kit

The kit comes with most of the equipment and chemicals you need for a high school chemistry wet lab that you can do at home. It also comes with a free .pdf manual to download with complete, extensive lab instructions. (Link on this page). You will have to supply some materials, which are common household items for the most part. You will also need a place to store the chemicals away from small children and pets.

II. Choosing a High School Chemistry Textbook:

The text we used was Introductory Chemistry (4th Edition) by Nivaldo J. Tro. The book the textbook reading assignments in the lessons refer to that text. We chose this text over the Essentials version because it has three additional chapters at the end which could be used as reference material. We used chapters 1-16.

As typical with the textbook industry, there is now a newer edition.

Introductory Chemistry (5th Edition) by Nivaldo J. Tro

We liked the tone of the text and the great illustrations.

Another text that is commonly used in high school chemistry classrooms is:

Chemistry by Steven S. Zumdahl and Susan A. Zumdahl

Want more information? Don’t forget to check the links in the Online Chemistry Textbooks page and our Choosing a Chemistry Textbook post from the beginning of the class, which has more options.

III. High School Chemistry Class Outline

The following are links to the blog posts we used for the class. I split some of the chapters in the Tro text, so we ended up meeting for 22 weeks.

I have left out the sidebars, which were posts about some more information on questions the students found interesting.

Keeping a Chemistry Laboratory Notebook

Lesson 1: Introduction to Chemistry

Lab 1 Density of Liquids: Soft Drinks and Water

Lesson 2: Measurement and Problem Solving

Lab 2 Density of Solids and Measurement Challenge

Lesson 3: Matter

Lab 3: Separation of Mixtures

Lesson 4: Energy

Lab 4: Heat Capacity

Lesson 5: Atoms and Elements

Lab 5: Chemistry Unleashed

Lesson 6: Molecules and Compounds

Lab 6: What we did

Lesson 7: Calculating Chemical Composition

Lab 7: Finding Moles and Molecules

Lesson 8: Chemical Reactions Part 1

Lab 8: From Topic I, Recrystallization and Salting Out

Sidebar: Lab 8 Update

Lesson 9: Classifying Chemical Reactions

Lab 9: Topic III, Classifying Chemical Reactions

Lesson 10: Quantities in Chemical Reactions

Lab 10: Double Displacement Reactions

Lesson 11: The Electromagnetic Spectrum

Lab 11: Photochemistry

Lesson 12: Electrons, Atom Models, and the Periodic Table

(Note: For the lab, we did models of atom orbitals using Model Magic modeling clay. Let me know in the comments if you would like details.)

Lesson 13: Chemical Bonding

Lab 13: Conductance of Ionic and Molecular Solutes

Lesson 14: Gases

Lab 14: Gas Properties and Laws

Lesson 15: Properties of Liquids and Solids

Lab 15: Viscosity and Other Physical Properties of Liquids

Lesson 16: Solutions

Lab 16: Solubility and Solutions

Lesson 17: Acids and Bases

Lab 17: Investigating pH
Lesson 18: Rates of Chemical Reactions

Lab 18: Chemical Kinetics

Lesson 19: More About Rates of Chemical Reactions

Lab 19: Effect of Catalysts on Reactions

Lesson 20: Oxidation and Reduction

Lab 20: Sweet Redox Reactions for National Chemistry Week

Lab 21: Electrochemistry

For Lab 22, we had a review with activities and tasks from throughout the course.


If you would like to know more about any of the materials or coursework, please feel free to leave questions in the comments.

Lesson 2: Measurement and Problem Solving

For this lesson we’re going to learn about scientific notation, significant figures, and units of measurement. If you have taken other science courses in the past, you are likely to find at least some of this section to be a review. For those of you who have never experienced these techniques and concepts, this is undoubtedly the most tedious section in the book. Give it your best effort, however, because once you’ve learned it, you will be able to apply it to many fields.

Textbook Reading:  Chapter 2 Measurement and Problem Solving (pp. 11-44)

Helpful practice:
Please do Skillbuilder 2.4 at the top of page 17 (answers on page 53).
Be sure to read and understand Examples 2.18 – 2.25 on pages 40-42. If you struggled with the density calculations in the last lab, look at examples 2.27 and 2.28 on pages 43-44.
Also, do Problem 42 on page 46 (answers for even numbered problems are in the back).


Still unsure about scientific notation after reading the text? Math is Fun has a scientific notation tutorial where you can type in your own examples to test (optional).

This video goes over significant figures (like in the textbook), and then gives a cool shortcut to use at the end.

(If the video player doesn’t work, link to YouTube)

Finally, this video gives a laid back review of measurement and units. You can zone out when he mentions accuracy, precision and percent error, as those are not covered in the Tro text.

(Direct link)

Please let me know if you have any questions. We will be going over examples at our meeting.

A Chemistry Sidebar:

mL vs ml

Have you seen milliliter abbreviated mL or ml and wondered which is correct?

According to the U.S. Metric Association (USMA):

“The symbol for liter (or litre) may be either a capital el (L) or a lowercase el (l); both are correct. In the U.S., Canada, and Australia, the capital el (L) is preferred, but most other nations use the lowercase el (l).”

So there you have it!

Lesson 1: Introduction to Chemistry

For this lesson we’re going to learn what chemistry is, what the scientific method is, and why we should study chemistry.

Textbook Reading:  Chapter 1 The Chemical World (pp. 1-8)


In this section each week, I’ll add materials to supplement your readings, as well as propose some questions we will discuss in class.



Now that you are in a chemistry class, you might be wondering exactly what you will be learning. What is chemistry exactly?

You probably already have some ideas about what chemistry is from your past experiences. Do you visualize ball-like atoms, scientists in white coats, and/or beakers full of colorful liquids? How about loud explosions?

If you have studied biology, you may have learned it is “the study of living things,” a definition that seems pretty clear. In contrast, chemistry is quite difficult to define and there isn’t one, fixed definition used by everyone. In fact, some sources say chemistry is now changing so fast, and is part of so many other sciences, that it is impossible to define.

In the textbook, Tro gives the following definition on the bottom of page 3:

Chemistry is the science that seeks to understand what matter does by studying what atoms and molecules do.

Let’s examine some of the vocabulary he uses more closely.


The first thing we need to be clear about is what matter is. By definition, matter is anything that takes up space (or saying that in another way, has volume) and has mass. Many times you may hear matter defined as “stuff,  as in matter is all the stuff around us, and even the stuff that makes us up. Stuff sounds a little vague, so perhaps it would be clearer if we looked at what is not considered to be matter.



In this illustration the light socket, the light bulb, and even the chain are matter, but the electricity coming to the outlet and the light produced by the bulb are not. Things like sound, gravity and time are also not considered to be matter.

Atoms and Molecules

Matter is made up of particles called atoms. In the textbook, Tro introduces atoms as very tiny particles. Molecules are two or more atoms bonded together. We will learn a lot more about atoms and molecules in future chapters.


If you have taken other science courses before, you are probably familiar with the scientific method. If not, here’s a quick review:


First a scientist makes some sort of an observation, perhaps while out on a walk on the beach or in the lab while doing other experiments. That observation may generate a question in the scientist’s mind, which he or she might eventually use to formulate into a hypothesis (tentative explanation). If the hypothesis is testable, as it should be, the scientist will design and carry out an experiment, or even series of experiments, to test it. If the results of the experiment(s) work out, it confirms the hypothesis and the scientist may publish his or her work to communicate it to others.

If the experiment does not work out, the scientist may revise the hypothesis or throw it out altogether.

Throughout the experiments the scientist may make further observations, which lead to more hypotheses. The scientific method is not a linear, step-by-step process, but may be a complex and convoluted one.

Over time, as more and more scientists throughout the world test and confirm a given hypothesis or set of hypotheses, those may become a law. If the hypotheses and/or laws become well established and are deemed to have a sufficient power to explain phenomena, then they are “promoted” and considered to be theories.

Perhaps it would be easier to understand with a concrete example:

Fossil evidence suggests that dinosaurs became extinct rather abruptly approximately 65 million years ago. In 1978 Luis Alvarez, his son Walter Alvarez, and their coworkers made the observation that a thin layer of sedimentary rock formed 65 million years ago that contained unusually high concentrations of iridium, a rather rare metal.



Figure 1. Luis and Walter Alvarez are standing in front of a rock formation in Italy that shows the thin white layer of iridium-rich clay deposited at the time the dinosaurs became extinct. The concentration of iridium is 30 times higher in this layer than in the rocks immediately above and below it. There are no significant differences between the clay layer and the surrounding rocks in the concentrations of any of the 28 other elements examined. (b) Microphotographs of an unshocked quartz grain (left) and a quartz grain from the iridium-rich layer exhibiting microscopic cracks resulting from shock.

example of scientific method


(Click on the illustration to enlarge it.)

Further observations and experiments led them to suggest the iridium came from an asteroid hit that the Earth near the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, resulting in the extinction of the dinosaurs.

(These illustrations were from General Chemistry: Principles, Patterns and Applications, adapted by The Saylor Foundation under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License without attribution as requested by the work’s original creator or licensee.)

 Why we should study chemistry



Many chemists and others consider chemistry to be the “central science.” To understand what is going on in virtually all the other sciences, one must understand the atoms and molecules that make up matter. It is basic to what is going on in the universe.

Chemistry is a science that is central not only to other sciences, but also to many other fields. We need it to understand how the spark ignites hydrocarbons in an internal combustion engine, what to add to the mixture of pigments we use to paint the wall, or what are ways to make a better shampoo.

Think chemistry isn’t relevant to you? Check out these cool chemistry life hacks:


Discussion challenge:

Why do you want to study chemistry? Why might learning chemistry important to your life and career?

Think about it and we’ll discuss it more in class.

Congratulations, you made it through the first lesson!