chemistry - merlin's castle

Principles of Alchemy (Chemistry)

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chemistry - test tube "Principles of Alchemy (Chemistry)" is a self-paced, self-learning program specifically designed to teach Chemistry on your computer.
"Alchemy" is for everyone and the lessons are specifically designed with the needs of home schoolers in mind. Alchemy is NOT a series of "simulation" programs that provide only a brief explanation of the science. Nor does Alchemy abandon the student with a dry science book that s/he is expected to wade through.

Merlin started teaching Chemistry over the Internet in 1996. At first, he and his students relied heavily on email and IRC for communications and clarification in the early development of the course. From that feedback, Merlin learned where students had the most difficulty and rewrote or added new material to the hypertextbook to make the lessons better. Now, many years later, Principles of Alchemy has evolved into a complete self-learning Chemistry course, tried and tested by students of a variety of ages and backgrounds.

Principles of Alchemy (Chemistry) is a "hypertextbook" - a computerized book written in hypertext code (the language of the web). That means it is "platform independent" (works on PCs and Macs) and can be read using any web browser. However, unlike webpages, you are NOT online while enjoying this course because you read it from your hard disk.
The course is divided into four sections, each with a computer graded exam. After completing all four sections the student takes the final exam and, once successfully completed, will receive a Diploma! In total there are 5 exams with 100 questions.

What students and parents are saying about Principles of Alchemy

Hello from E's mom. I just wanted to thank you myself for the course. E is 16 and in her third year of high school -- sort of, anyway. I've been trying to make educational opportunities available to her at home. Taking your course has given her something concrete to do, and ... has made her feel successful (a dear thing these days). I'm very grateful to you.
Again, many thanks.

E's mom (and E)

My son was an Alchemy student of yours about 4 or 5 years ago (your typical homeschool geeky kind of kid :). A couple of weeks ago he started his freshman year at a university to study engineering. One of his required courses is chemistry. We spoke on the phone today and he told me several times that your Alchemy class was the best preparation for anything related to chemistry... He knows he has a leg up and that he will have a much easier time later when everybody else is struggling to understand. Also, he sincerely thanked me for having him do your class! Music to a mom's ear when the child not only admits Mom was right, but thanks her too :)
You are providing a wonderful service. Thanks and blessings to you.

A homeschooling mom in Washington who got Principles of Alchemy in March 2000

I wanted to tell you how much i enjoyed your course. I never thought I would like chemistry, let alone Love it!! I can't believe how much sense everything made! Being a home-schooler can be hard at times because you have to teach yourself, and try to find life in what you're reading- -with your course, i could just sit back and enjoy![and understand]
thank you so MUCH!!!
indebted to you always,

Gretchen {a 10th grader in home-school}

My son is truly loving the chemistry course! It appeals to him in so many ways. He likes the Q&A for it tests his memory so well; he likes the depth of the course content ("Mom, it includes quantum mechanics!"); he likes anything with a pace he can adjust to his preference. You're offering a fine service here. Thank you so much.


It is a big hit with my 13 year old daughter--imagine her, a week *before* our homeschool officially starts up again, opening it and reading a section every day! She really enjoys it, and is learning a lot.


Moms and dads can be great teachers but they might want a wizard to teach Alchemy!

How Merlin Teaches Alchemy

Each chapter (called an "Ancient Element") contains lessons presented in dialogue style. The purpose of this style is to break away from the dry textbooks that seem to have become a standard for Science education.
Like reading a script, the student "listens in" on (actually, reads) the conversation between Merlin and his student, Arthur. The back and forth nature of dialogue means concepts can be explained in a natural manner. Nothing really new here. Socrates started it!
Merlin explains something and Arthur asks questions about it - often the questions that immediately come to mind. Arthur makes common mistakes and Merlin corrects him. Problem solving is easily demonstrated and common errors in thinking are identified. A dialogue unfolds in which Chemistry is learned.
Lessons conclude with Arthur's Notes - a compilation of the salient features discussed in the dialogue.
Then the student is challenged with Merlin's questions that hyperlink to detailed answers. Some of these Q's & A's encourage the student to recall important concepts discussed in the lessons and notes. However, most Q's & A's are designed to challenge the student to learn more! They take over where the dialogue ended, introducing more advanced ideas and drawing the student further into the subject. Merlin's Q's & A's are NOT really self-assessment; they are more self-learning.
Each Ancient Element concludes with some simple, optional home experiments to try.
After completing an Element, the student takes a computerized exam. These multiple choice questions provide immediate feedback, are grade by the computer and, once successfully completed, give the student a Certificate of Completion that can be printed out. After successfully completing the Final Exam the student is given a Diploma and the title of "Apprentice Alchemist".

The student should try the sample to see if s/he is comfortable with this style.
(Alchemy text has a reading level of around 8th grade.)

The "Principles of Alchemy" Syllabus

This is a general foundation course, teaching the basics of Chemistry. Principles of Alchemy covers more than half the material taught in a full year university-level Freshman Chemistry BUT it is taught in such a way that an average 13 year old could learn from it and enjoy it. That's because it is specifically designed as a "low-math" course to teach as much Chemistry as possible without resorting to logarithms, algebra or complex equations. No advanced math skills are expected, so it's suitable for everyone. Principles of Alchemy was developed to meet the needs and curiosity of those who do not want (and perhaps are frightened by) advanced math. However, this is NOT a watered-down version of Science. Indeed, some topics are from second year (Sophomore level) university Chemistry!

Click here for a pdf file of the syllabus, or how Principles of Alchemy correlates with the US National Science Education Standards, or where to find topics (using the California Learning Resource Network as an example) in the hypertextbook, or all of these.

Topics covered:

AIR (Atoms)
Atoms and atomic structure. Mass and Daltons. Isotopes, radioactivity and half-life.
Nuclear chemistry and nuclear synthesis.
Electron shells and orbitals (mostly s and p orbitals, the d and f orbitals are covered in EARTH).
The Bohr atom. Quantum mechanics.

WATER (Molecules)
Molecular formulas and molecular mass. Lewis structures.
Strong bonds - ionic, covalent and metal. Weak "bonds" - polar(ized), hydrogen and van Der Waals.
Hydrophobic and hydrophilic forces. The states of matter. Solutions, condensation, evaporation and distillation.
Molecular shapes - electrostatics, molecular orbitals, hybrid orbitals and VSEPR theory.
Allotopes. Crystals. Amorphic and devitrified structures. Gels.

EARTH (Elements)
The Periodic Table - its trends, uses and concepts
(including atomic size, ionization energies, electron affinity and electronegativity).
A "tour" highlights the traits, similarities and differences among the common elements.
More shells and orbitals.

FIRE (Chemical Reactions)
Breaking and making bonds. Exothermic and endothermic. Combination, decomposition and replacement reactions. Standard conditions. Energy diagrams and reaction paths. Catalysts. Valency. Oxidation and reduction.
Balancing equations. Rates and equilibriums. Entropy and enthalpy. Thermodynamics, Hess's Law, Le Chatelier's principle and Gibbs energy. Dissociation and ionization in water. Enthalpy of formation.
"Special reactions" like combustion, electrolysis, photosynthesis, and respiration.

Many other topics are covered in less detail. For example, the graduate will gain an understanding of the fundamentals of pH but not to the depths required for calculating it (because that requires logarithms). Another example is Gibbs energy - the student will learn how changes in Gibbs energy determine the direction of a reaction but s/he will not see the Gibbs energy equation.
As needed and where relevant, the student will learn a wee bit of Biology, Physics and Geology too!
Students hoping to make a "hard copy" of the hypertextbook will be disappointed because most printers cannot properly print these kinds of documents. Besides, at hundreds of pages, it's a waste of trees. And Merlin loves trees!

chemistry - Merlin teaches chemistry "The best thing for being sad", replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds.
There is only one thing for it then - to learn."

T.H. White, The Once and Future King, 1939

How to Get a copy of Principles of Alchemy

Collect your mini-hypertextbook by downloading this zipped file.
Choose "Save File". Remember where you download the file. "FREE" is about 1.6 MB.
Create a specific (new) directory. Name the directory whatever you want ("alchemy" is a good name). Copy or drag "FREE" into this directory.
Unzip the course packaging with decompression software. Most operating systems already have decompression software installed, but if yours does not, you can use software such as WinZip or Stuffit. Note: Windows will let you browse into a Zip file without unzipping, but the links will not work.
Once you have the book extracted or unzipped, start your book by viewing "alchemy1.htm" (not "FREE") with your web browser set to autoload images, and with javascript enabled. (These are usually the browser's default settings.) I suggest you then bookmark it ("alchemy1.htm") so it is easier to find later.

Principles of Alchemy (Chemistry)

chemistry - merlin's castle

of the


chemistry - flask and mouse