It’s no secret that kids love learning science. What could be more fun than exploring the physical world around you: understanding how animals and plants co-exist in ecosystems, the movement of the planets, the impact humans make on the earth, or even the reasons a car starts with the turn of a key? Science provides us answers to so many mysteries around us, and it’s no wonder kids can endlessly wander through science centres and leaf through books of science facts.

Chemistry is one area that attracts a lot of students to study science in high school. It’s intriguing to make mixtures and compounds, to see how chemicals react with one another, and to learn to use all the different tools you find in a lab. Indeed, a love of chemistry can start at a young age, when kids muck around with different fluids and textures, mixing objects in sand or squishing playdough and slime. There’s tons of fun to be had with mixing everyday materials like food colouring, paint, vinegar, baking soda and cornstarch - the first lab we encounter is usually our kitchen or bathroom.

When kids get to high school, many are ready to sign up for science and chemistry courses. In some cases, kids love chemistry so much they pursue it in university, eager to start careers in areas like pharmacy, medicine, manufacturing or engineering. It’s important to note here that planning a course pathway in the sciences takes a bit of research, especially if we see chemistry in our career pathways.

basic science
A love for science starts at a young age. Source: Unsplash.

Even if you don't want to pursue a science related career, learning chemistry can be a rewarding and fun experience that will support you in everyday life. For example, cooking uses chemistry principles in so many ways: we use different temperatures to cause reactions in the foods we are cooking to achieve different textures and flavours. To make gravy or macaroni and cheese, we dissolve flour into oil or butter to make a thick sauce; to caramelize onions we combine them with fat and high heat to get them brown and transparent; to bake a turkey or roast we may use high convectional heat to produce a maillard effect, browning and crisping the exterior. You can learn all sorts of things about how different substances react with one another in chemistry class, making even a basic or applied class extremely rewarding to take.

This article will take a closer look at the subject of chemistry in high school and how you can choose the right courses that will help you advance in the career of your dreams. Whether you are taking chemistry for fun, for a university prerequisite, or simply to fulfil the requirements of your secondary diploma, you will find useful advice on what to expect and how to prepare for your courses.

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What is Chemistry?

Chemistry is seen as an area of science that connects the subfields of biology and physics, as the subject deals with both matter and the kinds of reactions it can have when mixed with other substances or exposed to heat and cold. In chemistry, you will study organic and inorganic matter and how it behaves. When you have an understanding of basic chemistry, you will have the fundamental understanding you’ll need in everyday life. With a more advanced, academic study, you will be empowered to create new products and experiment with different materials. 

There are so many branches of chemistry that you can explore in your studies of the topic. Chemistry has evolved with technology and research, leaving people with plenty of pathways to pursue if they want to work in the field. For beginners, it can be handy to know that there some main branches to start with:

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry
  • Physical Chemistry

Most Canadian students have been learning chemistry and topics related to chemistry from a young age. Some of the key terms you will be expected to know are fluids, solids, solutions, mechanical mixtures, gases, solids, pure substances, homogeneous mixtures, heterogeneous mixtures, particles, atoms and molecules.

Chemists play an important role in society, and their innovations and discoveries are essential to modern medicine as we know it today. The vaccines you take to avoid getting sick, the medicines you take to treat illness, and the vitamins and supplements you take to stay healthy are all the work of a chemist. The screen you are using to browse the internet, the materials used to make nearly any object in your kitchen that withstand heat and cold were also likely the innovation of a person with a chemistry background. It's truly hard, if not impossible, to imagine a world where chemists did not support our daily needs.

What happens in a grade 9 chemistry class? Experiments, labs, research and so much more.

Can You Take Basic Chemistry or General Chemistry in Grade 9?

Canadian students looking to take chemistry in grade 9 may find it surprising that they don’t see in the course offerings at their school. Why is that?

Chemistry is actually studied as part of grade 9 science, alongside topics like Biology, Physics and Earth and Space Sciences. The grade 9 chemistry curriculum is essentially a basic or general chemistry course. You will receive a solid introduction to the topic over the span of weeks, and likely be assessed on your knowledge and understanding of basic chemistry concepts. Your teacher can explain to you the different pathways you can take in chemistry through high school, and how they can lead to other options in university.

basic chemistry
Chemistry is one of the most fun and useful subjects to learn. Source: Unsplash.

One advantage of taking chemistry in this way is that you can see how it compares to learning other branches of science. You may, for example, realize that biology is also intriguing, and that you want to take multiple science courses in the senior grades. On the other hand, you could also discover that you don’t like chemistry as much as you thought, and that you are ready to explore other subjects. Or perhaps you will realize that you love chemistry, and are ready for more!

Advanced chemistry courses will typically be offered to students in grade 11 and 12 throughout Canada. In these classes, you will get a more intense, theoretical curriculum, and be challenged with rigorous texts. If you like the idea of learning chemistry but want to enjoy the subject at a simplified, basic level, you can choose applied chemistry courses. 

We will explain more about your course options in the next section.

Chemistry courses in high school can have a positive impact in your life, with many benefits that last long into your career.

What Chemistry Course Should I Take?

So at this point, you are probably wondering - what chemistry course should I take in high school? What is available? What does each course prepare me for?

In high school you will have the option to take either academic or applied courses, usually in grade 9 but in some cases grade 10 or 11. Provinces like Ontario have eliminated applied grade 9 courses in favour of destreamed academic classes. Why? Unfortunately studies have shown that marginalized communities are overrepresented in applied grade 9 classes, leading to negative outcomes for many students. Taking away the applied option ensures that families and students can make better informed decisions about their courses moving forward.

So when you do have to make the decision, do you choose academic or applied courses?

The answer to those questions lie in the career and learning goals you have for yourself. If you see yourself attending university and doing additional years of formal education, academic courses are most certainly the best classes for you. Academic courses focus on the theoretical aspects of a discipline and prepare you for university. In many cases, universities will expect you to have taken academic courses in high school to have a successful application into a program. 

To figure out what courses you need to take, pick some universities in your province or away you might want to apply to. Check the department of the program you want to take. For example, if you want to study chemistry, check the department of chemistry’s page. Usually, the school will post the prerequisite high school courses you need to take to have a successful application. Enrol in those courses, and make sure you put in your best effort so you can be competitive in your application.

Applied courses tend to focus on the basic foundations of a discipline and use real-life examples and more hands-on learning. Students taking applied courses in grade 9 may or may not be applying to university: if the applied course doesn’t impact your ability to get into a program, it can be a good choice to make if you want to have a less stressful course load. Applied courses are also great if you need to fulfill a requirement for your high school diploma, and don’t plan on taking courses in a specific field in the future. For example, you might take an applied science course and an academic history course if you are looking to study history in university.

organic chemistry tutor university
Academic courses prepare you for university. Source: Unsplash.

If you are having a hard time choosing, think also about your strengths and weaknesses as a student, in addition to your long term goals. If you chose an applied course and later realize you need an academic course, it is possible to take an academic upgrade in college or adult learning school.

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What do Students Do in Chemistry Class?

Students taking chemistry class have access to some of the most enjoyable learning experiences in the whole school. Much time is spent doing reading, research, and listening to lessons - but unlike many other classes, you get to do experiments in a lab setting.

Chemistry classes will usually be offered in a lab classroom, where you will be seated at a small lab station with access to a sink, working surface, and gas hookup. The lab is also home to lots of equipment you will have to use carefully and understand how to handle, especially when you are using a heat element.

Usually at the start of the course, you will have to spend some time learning safety protocols, symbols for hazardous materials, and the proper way to use equipment. To protect yourself, you will likely be given safety goggles, gloves, a lab coat, and other safety gear. As a scientist, remember that it is important to wear all the appropriate gear, keep your space tidy, and to do the appropriate clean up and disposal afterwards! Some of the tools you will get to use in a lab include:

  • Test tubes
  • Bunsen Burner
  • Erlenmeyer Flasks
  • Tongs
  • Gas Bottle
  • Pipette
  • Utility Clamp
  • Evaporating Dish
  • Goggles
  • Beaker
  • Test Tube Holder
  • Mortar and Pestle
  • Test Tube Rack
  • Rubber Stoppers

Of course, the equipment you will see in a high school lab is just a preview of the technologies and equipment available to professional scientists. Scientists in professional settings will get all sorts of computer programs to analyze materials and do other tests and assessments.

chemistry lab
Chemistry involves lots of lab equipment. Source: Unsplash.

In addition to labs, remember that you will spend a considerable amount of time writing lab reports and completing research projects. You will need to have strong and effective communication skills, which you will develop in other classes like English or History. Keep your notes organized, record the observations you make in your experiments, and you will have no problem being successful in your written work.

Taking grade 9 chemistry is a great way to prepare for higher learning. Explore the best ways to study and be successful in the sciences.

Is Mastering Chemistry Important in High School?

Keep in mind that high school is a time of relatively early learning for such a large, complex subject like chemistry. ‘Mastering’ the subject is unlikely, but you can have a strong grasp of the curriculum to ensure you have the grades to get into the university program of your dreams. You may not win the Nobel prize for chemistry, but you'll be on your way there!

This is where tutoring comes in. When you have a science or chemistry tutor, you will find that it is much easier to be successful in your courses. You can find the best tutors in your region on Superprof.ca. Superprof is a site that connects tutors and students on a beautiful, easy to navigate website. You and your family will be able to quickly and easily compare different tutors and their rates.

How can a private tutor help you? A tutor can support your learning in science by helping to review new and challenging concepts, and help prepare you for those big tests and exams. Tutors are also great to have if you want feedback and edits for your lab reports or research projects. They understand the chemistry and science curriculum in your province, and may even be able to help with other subjects if you need help beyond chemistry.

With a tutor and lots of hard work, you will be able to get the best grades you can and deepen your knowledge in science and chemistry. Check out Superprof today to find the best tutor for you.

Are Online Chemistry Courses Worthwhile?

Online chemistry courses are becoming increasingly popular alongside other online courses. Online learning has made great advances in recent years and can be a good way to get a course credit for your diploma. However, you may be missing out on the fun and experience that comes with learning in a lab in an in-person chemistry class.

In-person chemistry classes are in many ways better than online because you’ll have opportunities to experiment in a lab environment and socialize with other students. A virtual class will likely introduce you to the lab environment through video, which is not quite as exciting as experiencing the real thing.

online chemistry class
Online chemistry classes may not give you the experience you want in a lab. Source: Unsplash

However, if you do require a credit in chemistry and this is the best way to get it into your schedule, an online class can be highly effective. The most important thing is that your courses support your long term goals, so determine whether or not a virtual course will help you and choose accordingly.

In fact, there are actually plenty of great experiments you can do at home if you decide to take a virtual option. Your kitchen can be a great place to conduct experiments, provided that you clean up and use all the different tools you have properly. If you want to go all the way with it, why not order your own tools from Amazon and get the full lab experience?

Here are some at-home chemistry experiments to get you thinking. Look them up, and see if you have the materials to do it. Of course, don’t forget to record your findings and make notes on the methods you use in case you want to submit an experiment for lab work.

  • Create polymer bouncy balls
  • Dehydrate sugar
  • Test the quality of water
  • Make your own Root Beer
  • Launch a weather balloon
  • Make ice cream
  • Make Mozzarella

Do you know what topics you will cover in chemistry in grade 9 science? Learn all about the exciting coursework you’ll do in secondary school.

How do I Earn a Chemistry Degree and Become a Chemistry Major?

A chemistry degree can open up so many doors in your career and postgraduate educational pathways. Choosing to undertake a chemistry degree is a major commitment to science and is perfect for anyone that loves scientific inquiry, research, and wants to join an illustrious tradition of chemists innovating everything from manufacturing materials to vaccines. You will be inspired by the creativity and brilliance of scientists that answer a calling to learn more about the physical world. A Chemistry major can also be the perfect pairing with a Biology or Physics major.

Your bachelor of science degree will enable you to pursue exciting careers or further learning in graduate school. Here are just a handful of options you can pursue in your career with a chemistry background:

  • Food Scientist
  • Biochemist
  • Clinical Technician
  • Brewmaster
  • Nuclear Chemist
  • Toxicologist
  • Educator
  • Pharmaceutical Sales
  • Pollution Control
  • Polymer chemist
  • Quality Assurance Chemist

Chemistry majors work in so many fields, like medicine, research, manufacturing, and the food industry. 

Start your journey toward becoming a chemistry major by identifying which universities you want to study at. You’ll want a school with a strong science program, and a graduate school known for its research, if possible. Determine which courses they require for admission, and what they look for in their applicants.

chemistry major
Get a chemistry degree at the university of your dreams. Source: Unsplash

When you know what courses you need to excel in during high school to get into the university programs of your choice, make sure you prioritize the work you do in those classes and balance your life with lots of sports and extracurriculars. As we have mentioned, a tutor can be incredibly worthwhile to help you succeed in your academic chemistry courses. 

Visit Superprof to find a tutor who can meet your needs and scheduling demands.

What is the Difference Between a Chemistry Tutor and an Organic Chemistry Tutor?

If you have made the decision to find a chemistry tutor to support your success in your classes, you may be confused by all the different types of chemistry tutors out there. You may even be wondering what type of tutor to hire, or if someone who is an organic chemistry tutor can even help you. No need to worry - these types of chemistry are simply there to indicate that they have expertise in a particular subfield or branch.

Organic Chemistry tutor
Chemistry tutors can help you to be successful in your courses. Source: Pexels

In fact, any type of chemistry tutor will likely be able to help you in a general high school chemistry course. Don’t hesitate to reach out to them to see if they can offer you help that suits your needs. Superprof makes it easy for students to get in touch with dozens of tutors, who will be more than happy to answer any questions about the services they can provide. The site will also introduce you to specialists in so many different areas of science: Biology, Physics, Health Science, Engineering and more. Most tutors with this background will be able to help you with chemistry, so read through their profiles carefully. The Superprof site is so easy to use, and contains valuable information about the subjects you are learning in school. Many Superprof tutors even offer the first hour of tutoring for free, so you will have time to get to know them and see how they work.

When looking for the right tutor, you will want to focus on asking some key questions to see if they will be a good fit for you. Here are some questions to guide you on your search.

  1. Can the tutor meet the demands of your schedule?
  2. Will the tutor be willing to work online or in person?
  3. Does the tutor have enough expertise in their background to help you succeed?
  4. What are the methods the tutor uses to keep their clients engaged?
  5. Does the tutor’s rate align with your budget?
  6. How often can the tutor work with you?

Of course, you will likely come up with many questions of your own. Make a list of the things you want in a tutor and let your wish list guide your decision making process.

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Colleen

Colleen is a Toronto-based educator, mom and freelance writer who believes in lifelong learning and strong coffee.