Hi, I’m Dr. Scott!
I would like to share with you how to go about getting started with learning science and in particular, chemistry. Maybe you’re interested in learning about chemistry, maybe you’re a
parent that has a learner interested in chemistry, you’re wondering how to go about getting started, you’re not an expert in chemistry, like I happen to be. So, what are you going to do?
First of all, it’s okay, you don’t have to be an expert in chemistry to learn chemistry, to teach chemistry to a child. The thing that’s important when learning chemistry, is to understand that it’s about patterns. Science and chemistry are about learning patterns in nature, it’s not about memorizing a whole bunch of individual details. So, when you’re starting with chemistry, a good place to start is learning how to read a periodic table.
Now, first of all it’s a table, it’s meant to be read. I suggest you print it out! I’ve kind of written all over mine, I’ve even got a little cartoon set up from a problem I was working out, and that’s how we as chemists use the periodic table. We print it out and we write all over it because there’s lots of good information there. You don’t want to memorize all those numbers, it’s not a list of things to memorize! Rather, it’s a table that you want to learn how to read and use.
So, I suggest that you get yourself a simple black and white, printer friendly copy of the periodic table. Print out about half a dozen copies again, so that you can write on it and when it starts to get a little busy, you can just put it aside and get a fresh clean one. I’ll have some information at the end, where you can find a good printer friendly periodic table, if you don’t happen to have one already.
Now, there is a lot of elements on the periodic table and again, you don’t want to get lost in the detail, it’s not really about knowing all the individual elements. The reason the periodic table is arranged into rows and columns as it is -kind of a grid-, is because the elements that are in a vertical column, they all share some common characteristics; if elements are in a in a horizontal row, they also share some characteristics. And it’s kind of nice to know what the columns mean, what the rows mean on the periodic table. This is this is what I mean to learn the patterns in the periodic table: It’s about grouping elements by column, by row and knowing that the close two elements are on that periodic table, the more they’re going to share in common.
As far as individual elements -there’s lots of elements on the periodic table-, I suggest you’re going to want to stay to the top of the periodic table and the sides of the periodic tabl; especially when you’re getting started learning, those are where the patterns are most obvious and it’s a lot easier to learn about chemistry.
So, as far as elements to know, if you know the first 30, that’ll pretty much cover it. But you know there’s a few more elements like lead, gold, silver and tin, that are a little bit buried in the bottom of the periodic table, so there’s a few other elements to know; but if you know the first 30 and if you know some common things like gold, lead, tin and silver, that’s going to cover probably 90% of the elements that you’re ever really going to encounter in the real world. So, you want to focus on the chemistry that you’re going to see in the real world.
As you get to the bottom of the periodic table, the elements become a little rare, a little exotic. It happens to be that there’s up to element 92, Uranium -or the quote naturally occurring ones-. Now, there’s over a hundred elements of most periodic tables and some periodic tables even have different numbers of elements at the bottom and that might seem a little confusing. But you want to keep in mind that those elements don’t actually occur in nature, so they don’t really exist. I kind of refer to them as the fake elements, and I don’t think there’s much point on focusing on that stuff in the bottom of the table, because you’re not going to experience or encounter in real life.
Those fake elements, as I call them, they were synthesized in laboratories. They’re really unstable, maybe they lasted like a second or so and they kind of collapsed under their own weight or vanished, gone forever. That is why I don’t see a lot of value in studying that stuff at the bottom of the periodic table, at least until you have the basics covered and again, you want to stay to kind of the top and the sides of the periodic table.
Now, another interesting thing about the periodic table, is it shows how elements combine to make the matter that we’re used to being around us. We’re not just surrounded by pure elements, but by combinations of elements. What you want to know about elements combining, is there’s kind of two ways they can combine: There’s ions and then there’s covalent bonding, kind of also referred to as molecules.
You’ve probably heard the word molecules and interestingly, not all chemical compounds are molecules. There’s molecules with covalent bonds and ionic compounds, you want to learn the difference between the two. The ionic compounds have things from both sides of the periodic table, the covalent compounds just have elements from the upper right of the periodic table. They combine in different ways and as far as getting into these compounds, there’s really just two you want to know.
As far as the ionic compounds go, you want to know good old table salt (NaCl sodium chloride), you want to understand why it’s NaCl, not NaCl3, for example. If you can understand table salt NaCl, you’ve got a pretty good basis to kind of move forward with understanding more chemistry.
And I mentioned there’s a second type of compounds, the molecules you want to just focus, there on water, good old H2O; understand the bonding structure of water or why there’s two bonds and also two pairs of electrons floating around, as well. If you can understand water, you’ve got a good basis to kind of further your knowledge of chemistry.
So, again, just to summarize, you want to focus on the patterns in the periodic table, focus on ionic compounds like NaCl (table salt), focus on molecules knowing H2O (water) and that’s honestly enough material to get you going for a month or two.
Now, I do happen to have a free course on my website, it’s got all this information plus some hands-on activities included and it’s also got that printer-friendly periodic table in a PDF format. So, if you’re just looking for the periodic table, feel free to join the class, you can download, print it out. It is yours to take!
All right everybody, I look forward to hearing your comments about your experiences teaching yourself, your family, chemistry.
This is Dr. Scott, have a great day everybody!