“Life is chemistry, not biology.” —Joey Lawsin

Presumably, to academic and author Joey Lawsin, life as we know is all about mixing around with new people, learning new things and integrating trial and error methods in every situation we face; be it from making new friends or dabbling in a new hobby. These concepts can also be applied in a subject that students will come to learn to love: chemistry.

Dating back more than 3,000 years ago, early records have shown that our ancestors already had a grasp of some of the chemical reactions that rule our world. Chemistry is one of the oldest sciences that humans have been studying.

From the discovery of fire, to extracting metal ores, these are the earliest signs of chemistry to exist in the world. Then, as time moves ahead and advanced evolution plays its part, humans have learned to ferment beer and wine, extracting chemicals from plants for medicine and perfume, turning fat into soap, creating glass and even rendering alloys like bronze. Chemistry is not just pouring two different chemicals into a beaker and hoping it does not explode!

Primitive chemistry, or better known as alchemy was first discovered in ancient Egypt and has long been the source of many legends and fictional work. But as science progressed, the mysticism behind simple chemical reactions was replaced by practical knowledge, result of empirical experiments. 

Alchemy had also been independently developed by Taoist monks in China. The monks believed there were two elixirs for alchemy: the outer elixir and the inner elixir. The former being minerals, plants etc. which could prolong life, and the latter being the use of exercise techniques, such as Qigong, to manipulate the chi or life force of the body. It is not just ancient Egypt and China who have developed alchemy independently, but so has India and the West.

From the Bronze Age to the Renaissance, many alchemists and chemists studied the rules that defined life on Earth. From Aristotle in ancient Greece to Robert Grosseteste in medieval England, chemistry went from discovery to discovery, until Antoine Lavoisier, a French chemist, set the foundation for modern chemistry as we know it today.

In Malaysia, we take pride in a student who has been awarded “Top in the World” for Chemistry. Cheryl Chow Shu Wei, 17, a student at Beaconhouse Sri Inai International School, received the highest standard mark for International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) examinations in Chemistry. Amazingly, she did it while implementing online distance learning (ODL)!

According to the school, Shu Wei beat close to one million students from around the world to earn the prestigious award from the Cambridge Assessment International Education during the recent Outstanding Cambridge Learner Awards.

In Malaysia, chemistry in public high schools (SMK) are elective subjects. Students can choose whether they want to dabble in the subject or not. What most of the students taking chemistry lessons have in common is a love of science and a thirst to understand the world that surrounds us. Chemistry is one of the three main science fields with physics and biology. More importantly, it is the link between physical phenomena and what happens in every animal or vegetal cell on the planet.

Regardless, chemistry is not an easy subject. There are far too many formulas and chemical elements on the periodic table to memorise, and you might find at some point that you need some help. It might be to understand the periodic table or because you struggle to understand the stoichiometry of molecules, in any case, let's see what your options are.

"I tried out various experiments described in treatises on physics and chemistry, and the results were sometimes unexpected. At times, I would be encouraged by a little unhoped-for success; at others, I would be in the deepest despair because of accidents and failures resulting from my inexperience."

Marie Curie, Polish and naturalized-French physicist and chemist.

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10 Great Reasons to Get Into Chemistry

Being a highly abstract topic, chemistry will give you quite a number of benefits as to why you should dabble in it. But, we have chosen some of the most relatable reasons and have summed it up well for you. Hence, before you sign up for your next chemistry class, let’s find out the 10 great reasons why you should choose chemistry!

Here's why you should take chemistry lessons:

  1. It will help you understand the world that surrounds you: from the structure of molecules to oxidation-reduction of atoms and compounds; chemistry is the key.
  2. It will help you in your everyday life, from reading product labels to knowing what to do with cleaning products.
  3. It will make you a better cook, as all food is made of chemical compounds and cooking is merely changing chemical bonds, using the properties of matter and playing around with combustion, oxidation, reduction, solubility and chemical reaction, to make ingredients as tasty as possible.
  4. Chemistry offers a lot of job opportunities, from nuclear chemistry to biological chemistry or analytical chemistry, you can choose your career path fairly easily. You can also opt to work in forensics, landscaping and pharmacology. Either way, we hear that these jobs pay quite a sum!
  5. It can develop analytical skills. While this stands true for biology, physics and other mathematical related topics, chemistry requires deeper analytical skills as you are engaging with chemical compounds that may be hazardous. Oftentimes, chemistry students will also need to analyse data, work in groups and learn to ask a barrage of questions.
  6. It is a very practical and hands-on science, and you will often have to perform titrations, chromatography and qualitative chemical analysis.
  7. Chemistry is fun. It is fun to witness a reaction between two elements and compounds, whether they are successful or not. Failure means getting the opportunity to try again, and possibly get a different reaction for the chemical mixture.
  8. It will help you understand current events. Taking chemistry classes will make you more informed about what is going on in the world. It is also essential to understand the repercussions of events such as oil leaks in the oceans or chemical contamination of underground aquifers.
  9. It will help you understand the medication you take. If you or anyone in your family are taking any medication, it is much easier to believe in the effects of the medicine once you are able to comprehend what the active ingredients are and what they do to your body.
  10. Be part of a better future. Plastic wastes, CO2 emissions, contaminated waters or barren soils can all be linked to the misuse of chemistry, mainly for selfish economic reasons. But the mess that was created by chemists can also be solved by chemists.

Thus, these 10 reasons are great proof that chemistry is so much more than periodic tables and memorisation of elements and compounds. Chemistry can really help any individual go a step further in their daily lives.

"Biochemistry is the science of life. All our life processes - walking, talking, moving, feeding - are essentially chemical reactions. So biochemistry is actually the chemistry of life, and it's supremely interesting."

- Aaron Ciechanover, Israeli biologist, who won the Nobel prize in Chemistry for characterising the method that cells use to degrade and recycle proteins.

What Makes A Good Chemistry Tutor?

It is never a wrong idea to receive help in your chemistry lessons with the right tutors.
A good chemistry tutor will practice engagement with students, especially during hands-on exercises. Photo credit: ChemLab

We are sure that after reading the list of benefits of studying chemistry it has piqued your interest a bit if not so much, correct? Hence, you are now interested in studying this abstract subject. However, studying chemistry independently is not something we would recommend doing as chemistry can be pretty tough!

It is crucial that those who are partaking in studying chemistry get themselves a good and reliable tutor. But, what makes a good chemistry tutor to ensure that you get the best experience from studying the subject?

8 Signs of A Good Chemistry Tutor

1.Must have high patience. A good tutor will understand that each student is unique and different students will have different learning paces. Some students may be able to grasp concepts and understand theories much easier than compared to the other half of the class. The latter may ask basic questions that seem easy to most, so it is the tutor’s responsibility to be understanding towards the student and not get easily frustrated. Additionally, tutors will not only be challenged with the progress of students, but they will also have to address students' issues and manage class behaviours on top of progressing with parents. In any situation, as a tutor, the aforementioned has to be very patient and understanding.

2. Is empathetic. Students appreciate an understanding tutor and empathy in teaching is crucial as it becomes a fundamental value in connecting students and understanding what is driving their behaviour. A teacher who shows empathy will let the students know that they are understanding of any issues the student may be facing, which will not only build trust between teacher and student but it will also grow the students’ interest towards the subject, making them able to easily grasp what is being taught. A tutor's empathetic nature will help a student be motivated to learn, grow and succeed.

3. Honest. As we know, honesty is the best policy and a good tutor should practice honesty at all times. Why? An effective method of teaching is to let the students know their mistakes so there can be room for improvements. If a teacher constantly sugarcoats their students’ wrongdoings, students will never learn what they have done wrong and how they can improve. Crucially, in chemistry, if a student makes a mistake in mixing chemicals that causes a bad reaction, the tutor will need to step in and correct what the student has done wrong to eliminate further mistakes that may be hazardous.

4. Encourages independence. While the point of having a tutor is for a student to have someone to rely on during tough study sessions, a good tutor will know and let it be known that the student cannot rely on them at all times. The student will have to learn how to be independent and acquire knowledge based on the tips, tricks and formulas by their own efforts as shared by their tutor. There are many ways tutors can help their students to be more independent in learning:

  • Set shared learning goals.
  • Teach them to self-assess.
  • Provide students with formative feedback.
  • Assign groupworks and encourage discussion among the students. 
  • Let students learn and understand at their own pace.
  • Teach attention-to-detail skills.

5. Prioritises engagement. A teacher who is able to engage with their students is definitely a better tutor as he/she is able to earn his/her students’ trust enough to be able to communicate effectively. Additionally, the tutor does not only sit back and teach. A tutor who prioritises engagement will surely make an effort to ensure his/her students have an enjoyable class. A chemistry tutor will no doubt to perform activities with the students, such as hands-on lab practices, while connecting them to real life, so that students will have a much easier time understanding the concepts and theories taught. This will also allow students to enhance their problem-solving skills.

6. Good at communicating. A tutor’s responsibility is to impart his/her knowledge to those who are just starting to learn and it can be challenging to do so without proper communication skills. Tutors must ensure the knowledge delivered be easily comprehensible to the students. As mentioned above, each student is unique and different, hence tutors must be able to recognise the correct communication and teaching methodology to apply to make sure that each student will be able to clearly receive what is being taught. Most importantly, a tutor must be confident when teaching. A nervous tutor will stumble upon their words and will disrupt the learning momentum.

7. Academically verified and experienced. Parents and students alike who are looking to hire chemistry tutors will surely look for those with experience as they will surely possess all of the traits mentioned above. Tutors who are experienced will have more credibility and are more trustable to parents and students. However, if you are a new tutor, do not fret! You can easily gain experience by using these tips:

  • Start by teaching close contacts. Freshly graduated teachers can start by teaching close contacts such as a family friend. While this may not be wholly viable to include in your portfolio or resume, it is a good stepping stone to discover which teaching methodology works best for you and how well you can convey the knowledge to your students.
  • Teach in tuition centers. Some tuition centers are open to the idea of hiring new teachers, usually as part-timers. You can use this opportunity to further sharpen your teaching experience and grow your confidence by teaching students who are new to you. By teaching professionally, you can upgrade your resume and portfolio for freelancing tutoring jobs. You can also learn how to manage classes, student behaviours and progress with parents.
  • Take advantage of practicum. Malaysian universities offering educational certificates such as Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) or Institut Pendidikan Guru (IPG) have made it a requirement for teachers to undergo practicum in public schools for them to graduate. This is a great opportunity for new teachers to gain experience and unlock their teaching potentials as teaching in schools is more challenging. Practicing teachers will also need to manage their own lesson plan.

8. Keen on hands-on practices. While the theories of chemistry are important for students to remember and memorise, it is also important that they are familiar with hands-on practices just as much. After all, we learn, understand and retain information better with experiential learning. Hence, chemistry is best learnt practically for students to fully understand and retain their knowledge. Moreover, laboratory practices is a fun way to learn and when it’s fun, it’s effective! Simply put, hands-on practices will surely help students with their progress in the subject.

"Technically, chemistry is the study of matter, but I prefer to see it as the study of change."

- Walter White, fictional character and protagonist of the American crime drama television series Breaking Bad portrayed by Bryan Cranston.

How To Find The Right Chemistry Tutor?

You have come to the right place to ask this question! Our globally recognised online education platform, Superprof, offers a flexibility to choose your level of study and your location to narrow the list down to the tutors suiting your profile. With more than 12,000 registered tutors we are sure that you will find a tutor near you or a teacher who will help you by webcam.

With Superprof, you can opt for a personalised learning experience by hiring the right tutor for you based on your current location, budget and preferred teaching methodology. As we have a wide array of registered tutors under our platform, it will be fairly easy for you to find the right teacher for you!

You can choose to hire a tutor who lives nearby in the event that you prefer to study face-to-face with your chosen tutor. However, due to the viral outbreak of Covid-19, some students and parents may prefer to opt for online distance learning (ODL) which is plausible! Most of our tutors offer online learning for their students’ convenience.

Another benefit offered if you choose to learn with Superprof’s tutors is the flexibility of time. We understand that some students may be busy, especially students who are in tertiary education, thus with Superprof, students can choose to study at their own time. Each material, exercise and video lesson uploaded by the tutor are readily accessible and downloadable for the student to download and review whenever they can.

We also ensure that hiring tutors from Superprof will be well worth the fees, starting from as low as RM15, as our tutors are academically verified and have ample experience in teaching. Best of all, students can enjoy a free first lesson to help them warm up to their chosen tutor!

Either way, whether you are lost in a hexagonal haze of organic chemistry, sinking deep in a hodgepodge of Boyle's law, left distraught after a class on biochemistry, confused by the covalent bonding of a molecule or frustrated because you can not reconcile the kinetic equation you were presented with during your chemistry course,  you should get help as soon as possible in order to not fall behind the rest of the class.

Choosing a tutor can be a daunting experience. With so many supposedly qualified private teachers online it is hard to make a choice you can be 100% certain.

These few pointers should help you make an inform decision and get the tutors that fit your needs and goals the best:

  1. Know your goals: it is crucial to identify the level of help that you need. Do you just need help on homework or have you fallen behind dramatically?
  2. Know all the options available to you: before hiring a tutor, you should talk to your school teachers and make them aware of your difficulties. Some schools offer support classes and, at university, you could join a study group.
  3. Stay within your budget: it is essential as tutoring is a medium to long-term process.

It is also important to reassess your needs now and then. It might be that you've improved in one area to the detriment of another or that you've caught up with the rest of the class and that the methodology you learn with your A level chemistry tutor will help you cope from now on.

"Now in the 21st century, the boundaries separating chemistry, physics, and medicine have become blurred, and as happened during the Renaissance, scientists are following their curiosities even when they run beyond the formal limits of their training."

- Peter Agre, American physician and molecular biologist.

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