My favourite VCE Chemistry textbook contains some extra information that isn’t part of the VCE Chemistry Study Design, which almost certainly won’t be on the end of year examination. Use this chart to help you find your way through Heinemann Chemistry 2:
Skip the sections in red;
Read the sections in yellowand make careful annotations;
Study the sections in greenmeticulously and make concise notes on all of their contents.
Chapters 19 to 22 (in blue) explain the “detailed studies”, and students need to study just one chapter out of these four. Many schools choose the chapters on ammonia or sulfuric acid.
The VCAA Chemistry Data Booklet contains answers to many questions you’ll be asked in the end-of-year examination. Unfortunately for students, however, the information it contains is neither explicit nor complete. Students need to know how to use the data booklet if they are to make the most of it.
Many formulae and definitions still need to be learned. For example, the data booklet doesn’t give you calorimetry formulae, and hydrogen bonds aren’t shown on DNA nucleotides. Trends are missing from the periodic table, and the electrochemical series comes with no annotations whatsoever! All this extra information needs to be memorised for VCE Chemistry.
The Most Perfect Chemistry Textbook in Existence. 1168 pages, ★★★★★
Here’s an early Christmas present for any Chemistry learners reading this post.
In the last few days, I’ve scoured dozens of Chemistry textbooks in search of “the perfect one”. My search came to an end this morning when I finally discovered Chemistry by Whitten, Davis, Peck & Stanlet (9th Edition)—commonly known as “Whitten”.
It’s visual. It’s perfect. It’s layout is clean and simple to understand. Everything’s colour-coded consistently across all 1000+ pages, and all in the right colours, too! Title fonts are humanist (similar to Myriad Pro, which is also used by Myer and Apple), instead of geometric (like Helvetica, which looks too harsh in comparison). Body text is set in a traditional, serif font (like Adobe Garamond), which is easy on the eyes during extended reading. Best of all, white space is left white, and not filled with distracting nonsense like cogs, cork boards and screws. Enjoy the sheer beauty of one of its pages here:
I was hooked already by page xxxvii.
The book looks wonderful on an iPad. It doesn’t come with all the digital bells and whistles that some textbooks have (such as 3D models) but to be honest, the static, 2D graphics in this book are of more educational value than all the graphics in interactive textbooks I’ve ever seen.
For example, electrostatic charge potential maps (ECPMs) of which I’m a huge fan, are used extensively in this book. I strongly believe in their educational value (read this paper on electrostatic charge potential maps by Hinze et al., 2013). ECPMs explain melting points, boiling points, covalent and ionic bonding, van der Waals’ forces and dipole-dipole interactions, hydrogen bonding, pH, K-values of acids and bases (Ka and Kb) and solubility, and then even help us to understanding reaction mechanisms. I believe that ECPMs are a golden bullet for learners of Chemistry, especially for visual learners, and Whitten’s Chemistry textbook uses ECPMs repeatedly throughout the whole book. Most textbooks don’t use them nearly enough.
Here’s an example of how Whitten uses ECPMs to explain trends in acidity:
I’m reading this book on the new iPad Air. The back-lit white space that surrounds the body text clears your mind, soothes your eyes and makes the vivid diagrams stand out much more than they otherwise would. This is a no-nonsense textbook—every pixel is serves an educational purpose. And holding over 1000 of its beautiful pages in a device only 7.5 mm thin is a powerful feeling in itself! It’s like having an entire art gallery in your hand.
At over 1000 pages, it’s a very long textbook but the authors state explicitly in the foreword that nobody’s expected to read it from cover to cover. Instead, read its chapters as a supplement to your existing textbook while your Chemistry course progresses. Suitable for high school to undergraduate levels. Available easily online. Recommended for anyone who learns Chemistry visually—which is everyone 😉 ★★★★★
Colourful VCE Chemistry textbook especially good for visual learners 492 pages, ★★★★★
I care a great deal about colour and design. My revision notes always have a colour-scheme that makes sense to me, and I draw colour-coded character maps of the novels that I read (see examples in the “Popular Today” section on the right!). Information makes so much more sense to me in visual form. You can see some of those visualisations on the infographics section of by blog.
That’s one of the reasons I loved this VCE Chemistry textbook. While it doesn’t say so explicitly, it’s noticeably designed for visual learners such as myself.
First, I love the varied yet consistent use of fonts. The main text is set in Garamond on a white background, which makes it easy on the eyes when reading. Titles, tables and questions are set in a tall, rare, old-fashioned sans-serif font on a colourful background, which gives this book its unmistakably unique appearance. Annotations and extra information is set in a neutral sans-serif font (similar to Helvetica) off to the side, usually in colour, and balances the old-fashioned feel of the other two fonts beautifully. The whole book is visually pleasing, which makes me want to spend longer looking at the pages!
I also love the visual summaries at the end of each chapter. (This is where Heinemann—another VCE Chemistry textbook—falls down.) In particular, the visual summary on page 156 explains the properties of metallic bonding clearly and beautifully in one diagram. The diagram made a relatively complicated topic very simple to understand.
I hope textbooks become more and more visual. Maybe with the introduction of the iPad in schools, colourful diagrams and interactive animations will become more common in the classroom. I hope so.
I’m also not alone here. Many students I’ve taught in schools are actually averse to reading the main text in a textbook. They don’t even notice the Garamond—they only see the titles and diagrams. While we still need to focus heavily on improving literacy on the one hand, we also need to acknowledge this trend towards more visual ways of presenting information on the other.
As a teacher, I advocate more ‘translation’ activities as discussed on PEELweb.org and as is routinely done with ESL students in IELTS: set students the tasks of translating diagrams into prose and vice-versa. We need to incorporate visual learners in our curricula, for which, this textbook is an excellent starting point.★★★★★