Chem Lab – A Review

Australian Apple Review June 1987

Chemistry concepts and theories are not the easiest to grasp for the average student and chemistry as it is taught in our schools today seems to be either loved (mainly because the student finds the chemical principles logical and simple to understand) or hated (for those students who see no rhyme or reason behind the concepts) by those who try to master it. Laboratory experiments are what provides the cornerstone on which all our chemical knowledge is based. Therefore, experimentation is a vital area that must be presented in an interesting and challenging way to the student and allow for a subsequent development of the more complex chemical theories.

Chemistry is by definition an experimental science that is concerned with the fundamental characteristics and nature of the materials of elements that make up our universe. Although Chem Lab will not teach you many of the facts related to these substances, it will give the user a basic approach to attacking scientific problems – that of experimentation, making careful observations and recording these so an experiment may be duplicated by others at a later date. Chem Lab is designed to teach basic mechanical principles in a fun manner. The computer is used as a chemistry laboratory providing 50 pre-programmed experiments that you can follow through or experiment with. Each of the experiments is set out with a definite goal which the user is told and given the raw materials or chemicals needed to solve the problem. The rest is left up to the user! The basic aim is to reach the target substance by mixing the raw materials and experimenting with them. An example is set out below:

CHIP TRICK (level 3)

Your computer is acting a little flaky, and you inspect its CPU. You see that a chip is cracked. Holy high-tech! What can you do? It’s simple: Make another chip to replace it!

RAW MATERIALS:

(s) calcium oxide

(s) silicon dioxide

(s) carbon

(I) water

(g) nitrogen

(g) oxygen

TARGET: (s) silicon (Si)

Each experiment is listed in one of the three levels depending on ability and the budding chemist is encouraged to keep a full lab notebook of the experiments carried out. Guidelines for such a book are set out in the manual and could easily be duplicated. This would come in very handy for the teacher to evaluate both progress and achievement of individual students. It is possible to use a variety of equipment not unfamiliar to a real laboratory such as beakers, flasks, condensers and dryers, solid, liquid and gas dispensers and robot arms. As well as these various pieces of apparatus, one is able to set and change laboratory conditions – from super heating to pressurising and back again with a simple keystroke. The user is also provided with an endless supply of approximately 150 or so chemicals to mix and experiment with. All

these chemicals, along with their formulas and whether they are solid, liquid or gas are listed clearly in the manual which comes in very handy when you wish to call them up to your “lab”. Operating the laboratory is as simple as a few key presses, however, correcting the spelling of formulae of chemicals is necessary before they can be called up to the lab. These are all listed in the manual and it may be a good idea to have copies of these made up for each student to attach to their workbooks. Another important point is that it would be possible for up to three students to work per computer at a time on a single experiment.

As, carefully detailed notebooks are encouraged to be kept, these could be worked on individually even though the actual experiment would be carried out in a group situation. The program has been designed to make the basic study of chemical principles not only simple to understand, but also appealing and rational. Each of the 50 problems are presented in a challenging manner that, regardless of the users aptitude, solutions are made – these range from finding the right answer to blowing the lab sky high! It is also possible at any time to review the goal of the experiment while you are actually working so one does not lose sight of the aim of what is being done.

Although the program is limited in terms of the number of programmed experiments, it is not limited in terms of the ability of the user to manipulate and create hundreds of different reactions. In summing up here is a program that is a must, particularly for years 7 onwards. It provides motivation for those who already have a basic knowledge of chemistry or can be used successfully to introduce basic concepts of chemistry to a beginner; or alternatively provide a means to interest a student that is having some degree of difficulty is grasping chemistry as a subject. Don’t think that it is only suitable for classroom implementation – although I do feel that the full benefits can be gained in classroom use – it can be implemented in the home as well.

You don’t need to be a chemist to operate it and the manual explains well the operation of the program and background general information on each of the experiments ( it’s more like a book than a manual complete with glossary, chemical formulas and periodic table).

Above all, it allows the user to experiment – and even if one has no idea of what is happening it creates an interest in observing simple chemical systems which, in the long run will lead to a sound development of basic chemical theories and concepts. The most valid consideration is that it does tend to encourage an interest in a subject that a lot of people find dry, dull and incomprehensible, and an interest is all that is sometimes needed to stimulate the beginning of a better understanding. Even if you now hate chemistry, one try of an experiment from Chem Lab will have you hooked to experiment more and it is amazing what can be learnt while you have fun!

By: Simon and Schuster- Distributor: Ozisoft

Requires: AppleII+, IIc, IIe 64K 1 Disk Drive. Uses DOS 3.3

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