Kids' Chemical Solutions

Capturing Early Eager Learners with Chemistry Comics

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Learning Chemistry Across the Ages: Fostering Family-Wide Fun

By Colleen Kelley, Ph.D., and Hewitt Learning

How can learning chemistry foster family fun? Well, learning chemistry is a lot like learning music. Can you remember learning a song together as a family? Or perhaps you have several family members who play musical instruments together. In any case, the process of learning music can be fun for the whole family. Well, the same is true for learning chemistry – it can be fun for the whole family!

Learning music and learning chemistry may seem like two entirely different things, but they share more similarities than you might think. Both require the ability to interpret and understand symbols, the ability to become fluent in a new language, a deep understanding of fundamental principles and concepts, and the ability to apply those principles to new situations.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the ways learning music is like learning chemistry:

  • Chemistry is based on symbols like “Ag” for the element silver or -CH3 to mean a methyl group. The translation of a symbol to a concept is also present in music. For example, the Treble Clef looks like a fancy letter “G” and indicates the higher range of notes, and a Bass Clef looks like backwards letter “C” and indicates the lower range of notes on a sheet of music. It takes time for anyone to become fluent in the understanding of symbols and is best learned through consistent repetition.
  • Both music and chemistry require an understanding of patterns. In music, you must recognize patterns in melody, rhythm, and harmony to create a cohesive piece of music. In chemistry, you must recognize patterns in the behavior of atoms and molecules to predict chemical reactions and properties. The ability to recognize patterns is a valuable skill in both music and chemistry.
  • Chemistry also has its own language, with terms like “valence electrons,” “electronegativity,” and “enthalpy” that require repeatedly using these terms in the context of problem solving to understand completely. Similarly, music has its own language, with terms like “chords,” “scales,” and “arpeggios” that may be unfamiliar to beginners. Learning to speak and understand these languages is a crucial part of both fields.
Just like in chemistry, where understanding the fundamental concepts like the Periodic Table, atoms, and molecules is essential, learning music requires a solid foundation of musical theory. The basics of music theory include scales, chords, rhythm, and melody. Without a thorough understanding of these fundamentals, it’s difficult to progress to more complex concepts.
While the fundamentals of music and chemistry are important, both also require a level of creativity to truly master. Musicians need to be creative in their compositions and arrangements, while chemists need to be creative in their problem-solving and experimentation.
In both music and chemistry, practice and repetition are key. Musicians need to practice playing their instruments for hours to develop muscle memory and improve their skills. Similarly, chemists need to practice drawing molecules, writing formulas, and solving problems to gain a better understanding of the principles they are studying.
Learning music and chemistry both require patience. It takes time to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to master either discipline. In music, it can take years to become proficient at an instrument. In chemistry, it can take time to develop the skills of balancing a chemical equation or solving an equilibrium problem. Both disciplines require a commitment to the process and an understanding that mastery takes time.
In both music and chemistry, collaboration can be beneficial. Musicians often play in bands or orchestras, working together to create something greater than the sum of their individual parts. Similarly, chemists often work in teams to tackle complex problems and share their knowledge and expertise.
Now that you recognize how learning chemistry is a lot like learning music, let’s look at how learning chemistry is a great activity for the entire family to enjoy. We have created a comic book-based curriculum called the M.C. Detective Agency which are filled with colorful characters and exciting storylines that translate complex chemistry into comic books. These comic books turn the periodic table into a playground of chemical adventure and have allowed students ages 8 – 108 to master concepts often taught at the college level.

The comic books created as part of the M.C. Detective Agency series were carefully scaffolded to align with the learning objectives found in a 100-level college chemistry course. The juxtaposition of college-level chemistry learning outcomes with cute, funny, characters in a comic book format then begs the questions, “Who is the intended audience?” and “What age group are these comic books for?” The answer to both questions is that these comic books are intended for ANYONE who wants to learn fundamental concepts in chemistry that are traditionally taught in advanced high school courses or introductory college courses.

We encourage families to learn chemistry together using our comic books and embrace adopting a “beginner’s mindset” as the best way to do this. What is a “beginner’s mindset”? The term “beginner’s mindset” refers to a state of openness, curiosity, and eagerness to learn that characterizes someone who is new to a particular subject or skill. This mindset can be incredibly valuable not just for beginners, but for anyone seeking to grow and develop a deeper understanding. So, whether you are a 10-year-old just beginning chemistry, a 13-year-old who briefly learned about the Periodic Table, a 16-year-old who has completed a course in chemistry, or a parent who took chemistry eons ago, you will need to start from the same place.

With this in mind, our comic-book based curriculum takes learners together through our creative, fun, and robust stories. Some of our stories include little-known historical facts and others are a parody of familiar fictional stories, making them interesting and entertaining for the whole family.

Using stories is one way to level the playing field so that learners of all ages can start at the very beginning. The beginner’s mindset has several advantages for learners:
When we approach a new subject or skill with a beginner’s mindset, we are more open to new information and perspectives. We’re less likely to dismiss ideas that seem unconventional or challenging, and more willing to experiment and try new things. As a result, we may learn more quickly and comprehensively, and gain a deeper understanding of the subject.

A beginner’s mindset can also be incredibly useful when it comes to problem-solving…which is the whole premise of solving the mysteries in our M.C. Detective Agency series. When we’re new to a subject, we haven’t yet formed rigid ideas about how things “should” be done. Instead, we’re more likely to approach problems with fresh eyes and an open mind, looking for creative solutions rather than relying on established methods. This is helpful in our curriculum where we dislodge antiquated descriptions of atoms and molecules, for example, and replace them with accurate and correct descriptions.

A beginner’s mindset is associated with greater creativity. When you are not bound by preconceptions or biases, you are free to explore new ideas and solutions. This can lead to innovative thinking and problem-solving.

The stories, games and activities contained in the M.C. Detective Agency chemistry curriculum can be enjoyed by everyone and can create memories that will last a lifetime. One of the key benefits of The M.C. Detective Agency is that it provides an opportunity for everyone to disconnect from their screens and devices while engaging in learning chemistry. By spending time together and participating in learning as a family, parents and children alike can build stronger relationships, improve communication, and learn new things about chemistry and each other.

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