Matter: Its Properties and Its Change is a discovery-based text that introduces fourth through sixth graders to foundational chemistry. This textbook is part of a three-part set that also includes a Teacher's Guide and Student Journal (please see related reviews). The properties of matter, mixtures vs. compounds, acid and bases are all explored. A short introduction leads the student directly into twenty investigations beginning with a leading question.
A standardized format makes the lessons easy to follow, and the material is organized for easy teacher preparation. The experiments (called investigations in the text) each begin with a “Think About This” section introducing the goal. The problem is clearly framed in a side-bar at the bottom of the page. “Procedures & Observations” has a list of needed materials, sequential instructions, and any needed diagrams or tables. The “Science Stuff” section explains the chemistry behind the investigation. “Making Connections” draws the student into related topics and creates a more detailed mental map of how the chemistry works. “Dig Deeper” gives a variety of investigations for further explorations on the same or similar topics. The “What Did You Learn” questions help the student to learn the most important details of the lesson. Brightly colored photos and diagrams help engage the student in the study.
This is an easy introduction to chemistry and scientific methods of inquiry. The text reads easily without much technical language to decipher. The investigations use materials most households would have on hand or that can be easily purchased. The twenty investigations are designed to cover half a year or eighteen weeks using two or three hours per week. This time allotment covers the teacher (parent) demonstrations and discussions of the lesson with additional student time on the lab notebook. Of course, more in-depth activities and research would be required from older students. The lab notebook can be home-made from a composition book or notebook paper. Another alternative is the optional Student Journal, which functions primarily as a lab notebook.
The investigations are arranged so that non-science minded teachers and parents can easily do them. A moderate knowledge of basic chemistry would be helpful, especially with older students and the “Dig Deeper” sections. But, it isn’t necessary. My one caution is that the safety precautions need to be emphasized to a much greater degree. For every investigation, safety goggles are mandatory for the teacher and all students watching. Also, nitrile or vinyl gloves need to be used by any one carrying out the investigations using bleach or other household chemicals.