Managing Experiments for Online Chemistry Classes

by John D. Mays

Recently, I was asked for advice on how to manage experiments for online chemistry classes. This is a very tough problem! The ideas I came up with should be of interest to both online schools and homeschool families. I present several alternatives here, beginning with the most demanding ones. Folks looking for more manageable plans should keep reading to Alternatives 4 and 5. All five options include having students perform at least a few experiments at home and I discuss this after presenting the five basic options.

The ideas in this essay could be applied to any online or at-home chemistry course, but for obvious reasons, I will assume that readers are using one of the two Novare Science chemistry texts, General Chemistry (GC) or Chemistry for Accelerated Students (CAS), along with the lab book Chemistry Experiments for High School at Home (CEHSH).

Alternative 1: Maximizes student experience.

If you want to maximize student experience with chemistry lab work, then students should perform all the experiments for themselves at home. (There are 17 for GC, 19 for CAS.) This option is the most labor intensive and the most expensive for the students and families, and would require the most time to procure materials, prepare solutions, and so on. The cost for going this route would be somewhere around $1000. Going with this option relieves the online instructor of the problem of how to conduct experiments via zoom, and provides the student with the full lab experience. If the time and expense are manageable, this is the best option. But in many online-instruction scenarios, teachers cannot expect families to spend this kind of money. Thus, alternatives are necessary. In Alternatives 2–5, the student lab work is limited to performing six experiments at home.

Alternative 2: Nearest possible approach to a traditional classroom.

Another academically rigorous plan would be for students to conduct a few experiments at home (the most manageable ones, requiring minimal apparatus and few chemicals), while the online teacher conducts other experiments live on camera, during class. However, this means a lot of work for online teachers, most of whom presumably teach from home. This is because for teachers to conduct any chemistry experiments at all requires apparatus, chemicals, one or two chemical storage cabinets, safety gear, and a lab work area equipped with sink and burner or stove, not to mention a camera setup that includes a front-view camera and an overhead-view camera, lighting, and probably an assistant or two to manage the production. This would be a lot easier to pull off if the teacher had access to an actual chemistry lab. Even so, the video production would still require significant effort.

Alternative 3: Separating the classroom instruction from the laboratory instruction.

This approach keeps the same student component but handles the teacher component differently. The school would separate the chemistry course credit into two pieces: one for the regular classroom instruction and a separate one for the laboratory work. These could be held at different times and taught by different instructors. The school would have to establish credit allocations in a way that motivated students to sign up for the lab component. For high school credit, colleges typically require science credits to be laboratory based, so we don't want to enable students to take the classroom piece without also taking the lab piece.

This alternative would be attractive if, for example, an online school had two different candidates for chemistry instruction, and the two people came with different strengths, resources, and time commitments. The advantage here is that both teachers could focus on one main task: one on implementing best practices for online instruction, and one on setting up for lab work in a video studio.

Alternative 4: Replacing the teacher experiments with videos.

A practical alternative to conducting experiments in front of a camera is to replace the teacher experiments with videos from YouTube. There are many to pick from, and the production quality varies a lot—from good to unwatchable. Still, spending time hunting down good videos may be more manageable than setting up a video lab.

Alternative 5: Replacing the teacher experiments with videos from Novare Science.

Actually, this alternative is not available yet (sorry)! But I am thinking I might be able to make videos of a dozen or so of the chemistry experiments within the next 2–3 years. This is not a promise, but I will see what I can do!

Student Experiments

Alternatives 2–5 above entail having the students conduct a few experiments themselves, at home. Below is a plan for doing that. All the information pertaining to instruction about safety, etc., applies equally to Alternative 1, which is for students to perform all the experiments at home.

  1. On page 5, Chemistry Experiments for High School at Home (CEHSH) identifies the six experiments that are the most manageable from the perspective of the equipment and chemicals involved: 2, 4, 9, 11, 12, and 15.
  2. Students will need to acquire the materials needed for these experiments (more on this below). Students should be required to enter data in a lab journal and send a photo or scan of the data page to the teacher. Students should write full lab reports from scratch for these six experiments, per The Student Lab Report Handbook, rather than simply filling out the short-form report in CEHSH. (The short-form report can be used for the teacher or video experiments.)
  3. Teachers should emphasize procedures for safety, storage, waste disposal, and for making standard solutions from concentrated reagents, all of which are treated at length in CEHSH. One full class period should be devoted to these important topics. In particular, teachers should demonstrate making standard solutions from a concentrated reagent, such as 12 M HCl or NaOH pellets. Teachers should note that acid is always poured into water and never vice versa. The use of goggles, apron, and gloves should be emphasized. Proper waste disposal should be emphasized as well: techniques such as neutralizing an acid with baking soda and before pouring it down the drain are straightforward and very handy.
  4. Teachers should obtain from the student’s parents a signed statement that a) assures that parents will require proper safety procedures, disposal procedures, etc., and b) waives the school’s liability, except in the event that the instruction itself is negligent. (If the instruction is consistent with CEHSH, it won’t be.)
  5. Experiments 11, 12, and 15 all involve titration, but this does not mean that they must occur after Chapter 11 in the text. As I discussed in my webinar of July 20, 2023 (available on YouTube on the Classical Academic Press page), the learning objectives for labs are different from the ones that apply to classroom instruction. In brief, the main point in labs is to learn things that cannot be learned from a book, such as titration technique. This means that experiments 11, 12, and 15 can be performed any time after the students learn stoichiometry in Chapter 7. The theory of acids and bases, which is what Chapter 11 is about, is not what the titration labs are about. Anyone who knows how to perform stoichiometric computations is ready to get into titration. Thus, the last three labs can be spread out over the spring semester.
  6. Finally, a few words are in order regarding the apparatus and chemicals needed for the six student labs. If one’s budget permits, it is best to perform chemistry experiments with actual scientific equipment such as burners, beakers, Erlenmeyer flasks, and so on. In this way, students get the most authentic possible science experience. But this also involves a long list of equipment. The least expensive way to obtain all that equipment is to purchase the chemistry kit for Novare Science from (Note that we have no commercial connection to HST; they are just in the science supply business and offer these kits.) The HST kit costs about $339. For some families, this expense may not be possible. If that is the case, one can save expense on equipment by using Mason jars, plastic spoons, coffee filters, plastic kitchen funnels, and other household items instead of the scientific versions of these tools. Going this route cuts the expense by one third. The essential items for these six experiments are listed in the following table, along with the 2023 prices from the HST website. Note that the 600-mL borosilicate-glass beaker is on the list for use in heating water. One should not use a metal pan for this, and one should never use consumer-grade Pyrex, which breaks if heated on a stove.

Purchased items for six student experiments:





ring stand


benzoic acid


buret, 25 mL




buret clamp


HCl, 12M


mass balance, 0.01 g


acetic acid, 1M


grad cylinder, 100 mL


bromothymol blue


grad cylinder, 500 mL, polypropylene




volumetric flask, 100 mL




beaker, 600 mL, borosilicate glass


litmus solution, 0.5%


Erlenmeyer flask, 125 mL


oxalic acid


rubber stopper, #5 ½, with hole




glass tubing



latex tubing



Total cost: $176.35. HST does not have the two tubing items listed, but these can be procured from Amazon for about $25, bringing the total cost to right at $200.

To conclude, many thanks to Dr. Joylynn Blake and Amber Morris, both at CAP's Scholé Academy, for the discussion in which these ideas were first fleshed out.