# Scholars Online Chemistry Frequently Asked Questions

## Prerequisites for this course

#### 1. What should a student know before taking this course?

You should have completed a junior high school level course in physical science that covers the description of atomic structure (electrons, protons, neutrons), changes of state from solid to liquid to gas, heat energy, and basics of chemical reactions (reactants in, products out). We cover all of these topics in detail, and students have an easier time if they have been exposed to the basic concepts before starting my course. If you have taken the Scholars Online Natural Science course (both years), the summer Chemistry of the Candle Course, or a full year Physical Science component of a comprehensive junior high school science curriculum, you should be prepared to handle these chemistry concepts.

#### 2. What level of mathematics is required?

You should have completed a first year algebra course and a geometry course or their equivalents, and be starting a second year algebra course that includes linear graphing and analysis.

Our textbook has appendices which cover the basic ideas required for problem-solving in this course, and when you get your copy, you need to read through this carefully, identify the areas where the material is new (or where you feel your command is weak), and do some serious review. But it is helpful if you can do the following, or are learning how to apply these techniques:

• You should be able to factor algebraic expressions and be able to solve the quadratic equation. For example, you should be able to rearrange the equation a for x in terms of a, b, and c, where the solution, if you can't get it any other way, is
• You should be able to work with exponents; it is an advantage to already understand how logarithms work, but we will cover those in class anyway.
• You should know how to work general area and volume equations like
• circumference of a circle = π * 2 * radius = diameter * π
• area = π * r2
• volume of sphere = (4 * π * r3)/3

[π is "pi", a value approximately equal to 3.14159....]

• You should understand how to read a graph and a table of numerical data. Many of the exercises involve interpreting experimental data presented in table form.

## Workload and Student Performance Expectations

#### 3. How much preparation time is necessary?

This is hard to answer without knowing how fast you read technical subject matter and can work through examples in the text. For each chat session, you will need to

• read 10-20 pages of text, many of which will include examples of problem solving involving math that you will need to study carefully
• watch one or more of the recommended videos (usually 5-10 minute shorts on a specific topic)
• complete 5-8 homework exercises and a set of short quiz-like review questions
• prepare a homework exercise with explanations and post it to the course website
• review and rework missed problems

My experience is that this will take you 3-4 hours to finish properly. In addition, for each chapter (usually one chapter every two weeks, but with some short chapters, we will do one per week), you will need to finish

• a 20-30 question on-line quiz at the website (15-20 minutes)

Lab work will involve another 1-2 hours per week of your time, depending on what equipment you need to build or collect, in order to complete the twelve labs required for the course. You will need to prepare a lab proposal, then carry out your lab, analyze your data, discuss any issues, repeat your lab work if needed, and write up your report. For more on lab expectations, see the Labs page.

So each week, you should plan to spend 3 hours in class, 5 hours in preparation, 1 hour in review and testing, and 1 hours in lab execution or reporting, or about 10 hours a week. A normal high school course requires a minimum of 4 hours of class time, 1-2 hours of lab time, and 4 hours of homework.

#### 4. What is a passing score?

My examinations tend to be very thorough, since I am interested in assessing what you have actually learned and understand. The tests are written as though you were a college student (because that is the level of the material we cover), and so are more challenging that a high school chemistry test would be. Because of this, I will "normalize" your grade so that it maps to high-school level course expectations for a science taken by someone at your current grade level. Normalized scores follow standard interpretations: above 90% = A, 80-89% = B, 70-79% = C, 60-69% D (passing). Scores in the past have ranged from just below 50% to above 95%. However, if you aim to take any standardized exams, you should aim to get at least 85% regularly on the online mastery exercises and chapter quizzes and at least 80% on the semester exams. The best preparation for achieving this is disciplined completion of the mastery exercises and chat preparation problems, so that during an examination, you can complete most of the problems in the allotted time.

#### 5. What kind of grade will I get?

Work submitted to the Moodle will be manually scored each week if it is not otherwise automatically scored at the time you submit it. These scores are always available from your personal Moodle homepage, so you can readily see how you are doing at any point in the course. Pay attention to these scores!

I send email evaluations at the end of each semester that describe your performance on quizzes, homework, class participation, and the term examination. A short summary of this report is included in your formal transcript "comments" section.

Your overall grade is generally a composite. The exact percentages vary from year to year depending but in general:

• Exams are averaged and weighted to contribute 60% to your grade.

In other words, you could still do well in the course even with low examination scores if your weekly work shows that you are mastering the material at a steady pace. Failing to complete homework or take the quizzes seriously, however, will also knock your grade down a significant amount.

Lab work is graded separately and determines whether you get regular or honors credit for the course.

Because some government agencies, accrediting institutions, and scholarship committees require more standardized grades, I also issue a numerical score for your work, which is normalized so that it fits the grading scale used by most high schools in evaluating passing, above average, and exceptional work at the freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior levels. Your transcript will include instructions on translating a numerical grade to a letter grade. Many Scholars Online students have been accepted to nationally-recognized, competitive colleges and universities, and have received scholarships based on these evaluations.

#### 6. How have other students done on standardized exams?

Since homeschooled students receive their scores directly from the testing agency, I do not know all the results for all of my students, and obviously, those with lower scores tend to be more reticent about reporting their results. Over twenty years of teaching biology online, I know that many of our students who have taken the AP exams have received scores above 3; they or other students have also taken the (no longer available) SAT Subject exams and received scores above 750. While we try to present material in sufficient detail and organization to prepare students for these examinations, our focus is on actual preparation for college work, not for specific examinations. We have found that our students do well on college-administered placement tests and are able to take advanced courses as freshman, which allows them to explore their major subjects in depth early in their college careers.

#### 7. Do I have to attend all both discussion sessions each week?

Yes. Because of the material we need to cover, the class must meet twice a week. All students must attend all discussions or make alternate arrangements to submit homework assigned.

If you have a conflict with the scheduled sessions, you will need to review your priorities and decide whether or not you can commit to the class. If your outside conflict is short term, I will work with you through the period, but you must plan to attend most of the year's sessions.

## Student Support

#### 8. Will you be able to write me a letter of recommendation for my college (or secondary school) application?

Yes, I do write letters of recommendation for students. However, I cannot write such a letter on the basis of a few months' work. I require that you finish a complete year of instruction with me first, so that I have a basis for making an evaluation that reflects your true strengths and weaknesses. If this is your first Scholars Online class with me, I will not be able to write a letter during the fall semester. For more details, see my Letters of Recommendation FAQ.

### AP Preparation

#### Why don't you offer the AP option any more?

The College Board owns the "Advanced Placement" name and designation. Beginning in 2012, it required that anyone teaching a course designated for AP credit submit a syllabus for review by university faculty to ensure students were being prepared adequately for second year college work. Over the last eight years, the College Board has revised their syllabus requirements several times, remaining fairly flexible about how the course was offered and giving teachers latitude to emphasize areas or approaches as they saw fit. However, the most recent revision in 2019 is far more specific in dictating course content and performance expectations. Teachers have fewer options to organize materials according to their own priorities. In particular, the syllabus for chemistry emphasizes use of advanced technology that is more suited to professional training rather than helping students develop experimental skills and understanding they can use even if they do not pursue a career in chemistry.

The College Board now requires that students register by early September for the AP test given the following May. This shifts the emphasis of the entire course from learning the subject to "teaching to the test". As several of my Scholars Online blog articles make clear, our courses are intended to provide our students with an education, and I prefer my students to focus on exploring concepts at the risk of making mistakes. It is difficult to play with ideas and experiment with possibilities when you are concerned chiefly with getting a high score on an exam.

The new AP program also heavily encourages the use of the College Board's own website materials for unit testing throughout the year. It has been my practice to contain all student performance data on the Scholars Online servers, rather than allow others to gather detailed information about my students' ideas, and I refuse to change that practice when I do not know how personally-identifiable student data will be used in the future.

I am very uncomfortable with the expanded level of content control by a major testing organization, many of whose directors are textbook publishers, and I'm not the only one. A number of prestigious private schools have also dropped their AP courses to allow their teachers to teach creatively, rather than surrendering control of their courses to the College Board.

For these reasons, I will no longer be offering certified AP courses in biology, chemistry, or physics. However, I do review the AP test content requirements, and I believe that the courses I am offering will prepare students to perform well on the AP exam if they chose to take it, and provide an equivalent lab experience. Students taking the non-AP versions of these courses have routinely achieved scores of 3 and 4 on the chemistry and physics AP exams, and 4 or 5 on the biology exams, so I do not believe this decision will put my students at a disadvantage, but that a unique approach to content and experiments will help them stand out instead.

If you do plan to take the AP exam, let me know when you enroll in the course or during our first chat session, so that I can help you register and include some exercises to help you prepare for the AP exam format.