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MicroChem Kit Review by Donna Campos

Dr. Frank Eshelman
Quality Science Labs, LLC
P.O. Box 159
32600 Highway 24
Lake George, CO 80827

The MicroChem Kit from Quality Science Labs, LLC, offers a full year of laboratory experiments for high school chemistry in one package. Seventeen experiments are included and the supplies to complete each experiment up to five times are neatly organized in one plastic shoe box style storage box. The MicroChem Manual is a convenient 6 x 8 " inch size, including the comb binding, and has 105 pages of instructions for all seventeen experiments. The contents include 4 metals, 4 solid chemicals, 18 chemical solutions, one manual, the plastic storage box, and 27 pieces of equipment. They even include material otherwise considered household items like cotton swabs, a 9-volt battery, rubber bands, and a ruler, alongside the more particular items like various pipets, chromatography paper, beakers, reaction plate, and test tubes. Designed for homeschools, private schools, and small classrooms, the labs coordinate with products from A Beka, A.C.E. Ministries, Alpha Omega, Bob Jones, Federal Chemistry, and Glencoe Science, and the program teaches at a college-preparatory level for a full year Chemistry course. The kit is designed to be used with a standard chemistry course text and is intended to fulfill only the laboratory portion of chemistry coursework. Based on the Microscale method using 1/100 of the chemicals a typical lab would consume, the chemical solutions are pre-mixed and in dropping bottles that give constant drop size. By eliminating the need to mix solutions, the microscale method greatly reduces spills and reduces set-up time. Additional items are called for and are listed in an organized list in the MicroChem Manual and include: sugar, table salt, vinegar, distilled water, food coloring, graph paper, and various other easily obtainable household items. A few more difficult to gather supplies, that are not included in the kit, are a digital voltmeter with clips (which is available for purchase on their website), a stopwatch with a secondhand, and a heat source for bringing water to a boiling point. The only other necessary materials are a safe testing environment, an interested student, and a chemistry textbook. The textbook does not have to be listed in the coordinated textbook list. Although it will make following the experiments easier, it is not a necessity.

The Table of Contents goes through an Introduction, Supplies, Microscale equipment, supplies not included with the kit, and a safety disclaimer before listing out all seventeen experiments and then the solutions to all of the experiments. Pictures of the various materials are included with the listed explanations and are incredibly helpful to novice science students. The included result pages in the manual may be photocopied for use with the kit, making evaluating results even easier. The start of each experiment lists the items necessary that are not included in the kit, seriously reducing preparation time. Background information for the experiments include, where applicable, things like the original purpose of the experiment, pertinent definitions, what the experiment can help us determine, it's modern purpose, and more. Charts are included and set up for each experiment along with the questions that pertain to the particular process. The Results section includes completed tables and answers to the various questions along with equations. Even the laws that pertain to a particular experiment are noted on the tables. An insert is included in the Ziplocbag with the MicroChem Manual that outlines the suggested experiment orders for the various curriculums listed that coordinate with the kit. Details include page numbers, suggested experiment, and chapter in the corresponding textbook. An insert is also included listing the other laboratory kits offered by Quality Science Labs, LLC, and a few notations are made regarding additional experiments from other kits that may be appropriate with a particular portion of a curriculum. The packaging of the entire kit is excellent and includes a chemical box with names at the bottom of the box and a cardboard grid frame to keep them organized and returned correctly. Solutions are also listed on the interior of the box lid. Safety precautions are listed in the manual and safety goggles are included, although if parent and child plan to complete the experiments together, an additional safety goggle purchase is wise. Quality Science Labs, LLC, does offer a larger "Classroom Kit" that includes two manuals and two pair of safety goggles, but the same amount of all other materials, ideal for two students, or parent and child, working together.

The MicroChem Kit has been created to aid in smaller school classrooms to enable students to complete necessary basic laboratory experiments without the extensive laboratory environment. Following the assigned order in the insert for the various curriculums that have been noted, will allow a course to follow the order of the textbook and complete laboratory experiments accordingly. Physical completion of each experiment is fairly easy to follow by reading through the instructions in the manual. The information supplied is specific to the particular experiment, and therefore, blends into the various curricula while offering the actual lab experiment in detail. Experiments begin with a list of Goals and a Background that includes any equations or reactionary information, before moving onto a list of materials and equipment necessary for the experiment. The procedure for each is straightforward and listed in a numbered format of steps, with blank Results pages following, including various questions. Answers are listed at the end of the manual for all of the experiments rather than listing them right after the instructions. Chemistry textbooks include background information and formats for the various experiments, but basic necessary information is included in the MicroChem manual as well, making the process convenient. Basic chemistry knowledge of safety factors, the periodic table, and the scientific method should be fully grasped before beginning laboratory experiments. Recording data is part of the process and is facilitated by the included tables and various questions included for each experiment.

Science can be an intimidating area for homeschools to teach, and as availability of curriculum and supplies improves, our comfort level has increased as well. For our family, creation science and the aspects of physical science subject matter has become less daunting, but the idea of completing chemical experiments in a chemistry course continued to intimidate me as a teacher. The MicroChem Kit enables students to complete experimentation done only in large classroom laboratories only a few short years ago. The microscale method is an excellent approach and fits incredibly well with homeschooling. The ease of the instructions even drew in my daughter, who has been much less than interested in any scientific subject matter. The coordination of the kit with various available science curriculum readily used in many homeschools is excellent. I encourage families to check the website when purchasing this kit to see whether their chemistry choice has been linked to the kit, but even when they haven't, the kit is very adaptable. When working with Alpha Omega Chemistry for Grade 11, the various labs are listed in order of the Lifepac Units. The order of the kits in the program is not the same for any of the curriculum, but the listing of the seventeen experiments is easy enough to follow. We did note that, generally speaking, most of the single digit experiments were completed at the start of the various curricula, with later numbered experiments completed later in each curriculum. We also pulled a few general textbooks from the library and our home library and found that the experiments can easily be utilized with many chemistry textbooks. We enjoyed several experiments, once I got over the idea of using the kitchen stove as a heat source, and found the instructions easy to follow and the supplies readily available. My daughter is an organizer at heart, and so stressing the scientific method and completing the information in the given tables drew her into the program and made chemistry fun! The minute amount of the chemicals involved offers a great deal of comfort in feeling like even if you make a mistake, you aren't going to blow up the house. The manual is quick to point out that the solutions in the kit are quite dilute, but certainly the small amounts comforted this teaching mother's mind. The many other various scientific supplies made the experiments fun, and actually owning the items helped us jump past the fascination with the materials and enabled our whole family to delve more deeply into the true experimentation and concepts.

The small amount of chemicals in the MicroChem Kit are an incredible asset to the usefulness of the program, but the small lab pages were a bit disappointing. I would love to see full size printable pages available on the website or included in the kit, as photocopying the small manual pages was annoying at best. The comb binding of the manual allows it to lie flat when working, but a spiral binding would have offered even more flexibility. For use in the home, I would have appreciated more specific safety details about a proper work surface or preparation and clean up. We worked at both the kitchen counter and the dining room table, neither of which are typically accepted areas for laboratory research because of the food preparation exposure. We had no problem working on a plastic or newspaper covered surface, but I would have liked to see more ideas on proper scientific etiquette regarding these issues. The course is very usable with non-main stream curriculum or standard chemistry textbooks, which is not commented on enough in my viewpoint, but we are very thankful the company went to the trouble of researching many available options for use with the kit. It should be strongly stressed that the MicroChem Kit is most definitely NOT a chemistry course that will stand alone, and there is very limited value in completing any of the assignments without the framework of a good chemistry course beforehand and throughout the experimentation process. The company stresses this fact, but I wanted to be sure to be firm on that aspect as well. Do not use this product alone or for fun, the educational value will be sorely lacking, and why experiment if you aren't going to understand the outcome? Educate yourself thoroughly when using this kit, it will have an even greater value dependent on how prepared you are for the laboratory experiment process. There are plenty of opportunities to tie history into the various activities, and with a little planning, a unit study could be formed around most of the experiments, but if you are looking for reference to God or any Biblical aspect from the MicroChem Kit you will not find it; it is not here. We also noted that we did not find any evolutionary reference. You will need to rely on your full chemistry curriculum of choice to fulfill the Creator based aspects of your science education. This kit is a supplement, and should be treated accordingly.

As a less than savvy scientist, I found the MicroChem Kit a very thrilling addition to our homeschool supplies. The fantastic organization of the supplies and direct instructions made the completion of the experiments easy to do. Having enough materials to complete each experiment as many as five times, boosted our confidence and offered the additional educational value of being able to repeat experiments to further our knowledge and be sure we grasped the information. And of course, if we made a mistake, we didn't run out of supplies, not that I'm admitting to making any mistakes, but it was nice knowing we wouldn't lose an entire experiment over one spilled test tube. The curriculum coordination guidance will allow families the flexibility of working with a resource that fits most comfortably in their homeschool while still completing necessary Chemistry experimentation. This kit fills a huge need found in many of our homeschools and I am thrilled to encourage others to utilize the resource. Before using the components, I was disappointed that the company did not offer refill chemicals. After actually using the supplies, I would encourage families to buy another full kit if additional experimentation is necessary or you have more students or have them spread over more years, rather than re-using the pipettes, trays, and other items repeatedly. The price is more than reasonable when considering you are completing full laboratory experiments and exposing your student to an incredible educational value with the hands on component. In most large high school classrooms, the students incredibly interested in science, those with confidence, or simply those rude enough to control experimentation, are often the only ones truly witnessing the process and completing the mixing and measuring of laboratory items, while more studious students are left making notations. The MicroChem Kit allows your student to manage every part of the scientific method and record the aspects of God's creation rarely understood by many science students; what an awesome opportunity! I strongly encourage every homeschool high school chemistry class to invest in the MicroChem Kit and truly enjoy a laboratory class in a homeschool environment.

Product review by: Donna Campos, Senior Product Reviewer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, June 2008.