I love chemistry, both because our models work so well to explain how substances react, and because chemistry problems feel like fun puzzles.
I can show kids how to figure out the valence electrons using the periodic table, and many of them will see why some elements tend to form ionic bonds while others will form covalent bonds.
Still, I feel like I'm teaching Clever Hans the Math Horse how to count--I might be able to get Hans to pound the ground a few times with his hoof, but no way is he comprehending why.
A few of my freshmen will paw at the ground to make others happy (and some have been conditioned to enjoy being correct without knowing why), but that's not science.
Oh, well, we're preparing them for the real world, industry, where they'll be expected to manipulate data. Aherm, discipline, aherm, aherm. They need to know how to produce, yes, or else they'll be flipping burgers, yes, aherm, aherm.
Clever Hans, it turns out, was not so clever, but at least he got his daily oats.
Anybody have ideas how to put the cart before the horse and truly teach chemistry to freshmen taking physical science before they can shave?
I don't need dog-and-pony ideas. I can blow things up, make them fizz, change colors, and stink up the whole science wing. I can be the Razzmatazz Master, make kids say "wow!", and create the Rockwellesque scene perfect for the bulletin board on Back to School Night.
How can I get a 14 year old to grasp orbitals and particles and waves in a way more challenging than the Paw-the-Ground-and-Neigh-When-I Smile method?
(I'm not sure I can. Not sure anyone can. And if we cannot, how much harm are we doing pretending that we can?)
Photo of Clever Hans from Animal Intelligence.