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MEL Chemistry; MEL Science Review by Debra Brinkman

Anglo House, Bell Lane Office Village
Bell Lane, Amersham
Buckinghamshire, HP6 6FA, UK

I love science. I’m a total sucker for any sort of science kit, as I think the hands-on aspect of science is simply incredible for students of any age.

I’m usually disappointed as most kits I’ve used are pretty light on the actual science instruction included, the materials included are often poor, and quite often the activities themselves just don’t work the way you expect.

When I read about MEL Science, I had high hopes that this would be different. It is different. The company was formed by a group of self-proclaimed science geeks. They all seriously got into chemistry, physics, or mathematics as kids, and they went on to do some pretty incredible things. But in raising their own children, they too saw the serious lack of solid science – especially chemistry – instruction out there.

So they built their own. A Chemistry Labs of the Month Club, actually. When you subscribe, you start by receiving a Starter Kit, and two science topic kits, Chemistry of Monsters, and Tin.

After that, each month, you receive three new kits for a year, or 36 topics in total. These include such fascinating titles as Chemistry of Christmas, Chemistry in Space, and Chemistry in Special Effects. It also includes a lot of less attention-getting titles, like Fiber, Corrosion, Copper, and Gases.

The kits include pretty much everything you need in order to complete 2-3 safe experiments per kit. Depending on the kit, you may need to provide some basic things like water or sugar.

So what do you get? In the first shipment you receive the Starter Kit. I was floored when I opened mine. This includes the non-consumables you will need throughout the year, and they are nice quality. Glass flask, nice plastic funnel, a great little solid fuel cooker, syringes with big measurement markings on them. Everything seems made to last and like it will continue to work long after the year is over.

In that first shipment, you also get two chemistry sets. These are fairly compact, and they include everything you need to do 2-3 experiments on the indicated topic. Each set is wrapped in plastic, and when you open up the box, the chemicals are in plastic bottles inside plastic zipper bags. Each chemical is labeled with the formula (NaHCO3), chemical name (Sodium hydrogen carbonate), and a common name, if applicable (baking soda). There are thick experiment cards in the kit for each experiment included, and those direct you to the website, where you can find more information about the experiment, including a video of it being performed. Each set also includes safety information, including instructions on how to safely dispose of whatever is left afterwards.

Another awesome aspect is that you aren’t just watching a snake grow out of a mix of baking soda and sugar, you are able to look at molecular models of the sucrose, along with an explanation of just what is happening chemically. Including the chemical equations.

This subscription is intended for ages 12+, and I do think that is fairly accurate. I have used the five kits I received with my three youngest children, who are 15, 12 and 10. The 10-year-old enjoys watching the experiment, and even gets a kick out of manipulating the chemical model available on the free app. She comprehends a bit of what the reaction is doing. Mostly, for her, this is a cool thing to play with and she is getting the idea that chemistry is cool.

The 12-year-old is much better able to follow along with the experiment and the why of what we just observed. Some of the explanations are a bit too much for him, but he is grasping what the reaction is and while he could never create the chemical equations of the reaction involved, he is able to follow along when we go through them. After a few experiments, he started piecing together things like the subscript 3 in the baking soda chemical formula I listed above means that there are 3 oxygen atoms in each baking soda molecule. So when you take the equation for what happens to the baking soda, and you start with two baking soda molecules, that means you need to end with six oxygen atoms somewhere.

The 15-year-old is getting the most out of this. He’s able to tell me what is missing when we are talking about the actual chemical reactions going on. Since we are watching cool things happen, it is far more interesting to work with the equations to try to understand what we just saw, and the more you work with chemical equations, the easier they are to understand. Each chemistry set can take a few hours, if you go into all of the extra information for each set and take a look at the models.

I am thrilled with this program. Thrilled. It is real chemistry, via fun activities that are backed up by plenty of information on the science behind them. The website includes so much information, and the app makes the whole process even more accessible. I even have my high school students going into the app to check out the models of the various chemicals, as they can easily switch between three different views of sulfuric acid, for instance, seeing the written form or two different models that you can rotate.

The first month, where you get all the non-consumable resources along with two experiment sets, costs $73.80. After that, it is $35.85 per month for the three experiment sets. You can cancel any time.

-Product review by Debra Brinkman, Crew Administrator, The Schoolhouse Review Crew, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, May, 2016