What is chemistry

Chemistry is the study of matter and its properties. It is easy to find examples of chemistry in our daily lives because everything in our physical world is made of matter.

In order to be successful in Chemistry, you will need:

  • scientific and technical knowledge
  • problem-solving skills
  • numeracy skills
  • persistence and patience

A researcher works in a laboratory pouring a solution from a metallic container into a round-bottomed flask.

Organizing your course work

To succeed in a course like this, you will need to record information and develop routines.

Your written work will be divided into three major components. Each is important to your success in the course, and each one helps you learn how to learn, in addition to learning about chemistry. Press the following icons to learn more about each of these written components.

Organize new information and complete activities

Throughout this course you should keep a notebook (paper or digital) - this is where you will record and organize what you learn, include relevant reference material, attempt sample problems, and jot down important questions or ideas related to the course content. Although you should use your notebook consistently throughout the course to record information, the notebook icon will sometimes be used to remind you to make note of some important new information. When recording notes, you should keep the following in mind:

  • Organize material in a way that makes sense to you. If you do, you’ll be able to locate things later on (headings, sub-headings, or colour-coding can help with this).
  • Use proper form and include units of measurement with your numbers when copying examples of solved problems. Complete, correct examples are great to have on hand when you are studying!
  • Whenever possible, use your own words. Copying information word for word does not require any thinking on your part. If you take a moment to reword ideas, you will engage your brain and form a better connection with the content.

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Observe, analyze, and interpret data.

An important component of your learning in chemistry will involve observing, interpreting, and forming conclusions about chemistry experiments. Lab-related activities can be part of your general notebook or you may choose to keep these items in a separate book, section, or file – the important thing is that you are able to locate the necessary information when required.

Connection to the Culminating Activity

You will use information from your lab activities to complete some lab-based tasks as part of your Culminating Activity. This open-book portion of your Culminating Activity will be worth 7.5% of your grade in this course.

Reflect on your changing ideas about Chemistry

Preparation and meaningful reflection can have a positive impact on your learning. 

At the start of each learning activity in this course, your first task will be a Thoughtbook task. These activities are designed to activate what you already know about a topic. At the end of each learning activity, you will revisit the Thoughtbook task in order to reflect on what you have learned.

You can complete your Thoughtbook tasks in the same book you use for note-taking, or you may choose to keep these reflections separate. You need to be able to easily locate them at the end of each unit.

Connection to the Culminating Activity

At the end of each unit, you will select the Thoughtbook task that you think best demonstrates your growth in understanding and write a learning reflection based on this task. These learning reflections will be submitted as part of your Culminating Activity at the end of the course, and are worth 7.5% of your final mark.

Take a look at these End of Unit Reflection Questions and Rubric (Opens in new window), which shows you the reflection questions you will be asked at the end of this unit, as well as the rubric that will be used to assess these reflections.

Thought Book

Making observations

Most of us are very familiar with what happens when a candle burns. Watch the following video, “Burning Candle,” and as you watch, record everything you observe about this process in your Thoughtbook. Use precise, descriptive language to record your observations. You may want to create a table to help organize your observations about the candle before, during, and after burning.

Note: You will revisit your observations from the task at the end of this learning activity.

Qualitative and quantitative observations

Scientists rely on their observations of phenomena in order to learn more about the world and make new discoveries. Observations can be separated into two different categories: qualitative and quantitative. Remember from previous courses that qualitative observations are those that require use of your senses, while quantitative are those that are measurable and are made with instruments.


Make sure you understand the difference between qualitative and quantitative observations before moving on. Record a definition and examples of these types of observations in your notebook.

Qualitative observations are those that we can make using our senses. We describe how something looks, feels, smells, tastes, and sounds. In Chemistry, we must use caution; there are many substances that are dangerous to taste and touch, and some can also be dangerous to inhale. Sometimes, we must rely on our sight alone to make these observations.

Various pieces of raw copper.

Common qualitative observations include:

  • lustre (shininess)
  • colour
  • state (gas, liquid, solid)
  • relative size and shape of particles if solid (pieces, grains, powder)
  • clarity (transparent, translucent, or opaque)
  • texture (smooth, bumpy)
  • smell (sweet, acrid)
  • taste (sour, sweet, bitter)

Quantitative observations are those that involve some kind of measurement. In order to make these observations you need a measuring tool such as a ruler, graduated cylinder, or scale. Quantitative observations are more objective than qualitative observations, as they rely on a measuring tool rather than on the observer’s point of view or opinion.

Caliper measuring the width of a red metal ring.png

Common quantitative observations include:

  • volume (usually measured in mL or cm3)
  • temperature (usually measured in °C, or K)
  • mass (usually measured in g or kg)
  • pressure (usually measured in kPa)

Organizing and communicating observations

When communicating observations, keep in mind the following Success Criteria:

  • Tables with titles are used to organize data.
  • Headings in tables are easy to understand.
  • Units are included for quantitative data (can be in heading).
  • Qualitative and quantitative data are separate from each other.
  • Clear language is used throughout.
  • Point form may be used for qualitative observations.

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Lab activity: Making qualitative and quantitative observations


The purpose of this activity is to practise your observation skills. You will not be carrying out this lab activity yourself, but will rather be exploring a video of the experiment.


  • electronic balance
  • 2 x 100 mL beakers
  • vinegar
  • baking soda


  1. Place two empty beakers on an electronic balance and “zero” the balance.
  2. Add approximately 40–50 mL vinegar to one beaker and record the mass of the vinegar added. Make qualitative observations of the vinegar.
  3. Add five or six scoops of baking soda to the other beaker and record the total mass of the vinegar and the baking soda. Make qualitative observations of the baking soda.
  4. Slowly pour some vinegar into the beaker containing the baking soda. Be careful to go slowly so that it does not overflow. Replace the vinegar beaker on the balance.
  5. Make qualitative and quantitative observations of the chemical reaction that occurs.
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until all of the vinegar has been added to the baking soda.


  1. Carefully re-read the experimental procedure. Create an observation table (or tables) in your notebook for any qualitative and quantitative data you will need to collect during the experiment. Use the Success Criteria for organizing and communicating observations from earlier in this lesson.
  2. Explore “Conservation of Mass Demonstration,” a video of the experiment. As the procedure is carried out, make qualitative and quantitative observations. You may choose to explore the video again to add to your observations.

When you have finished recording your observations, compare them to the sample response for the Vinegar and baking soda activity below.

How are your observations similar or different? Is there anything you would add or change about your table in the future?

Make notes on anything you should improve on next time you complete a lab activity.


You’re almost at the end of this learning activity.

Before continuing, read the following Success Criteria and ask yourself if you have met them. If not, you may want to review some of the content in the learning activity until you are comfortable that you have successfully met the criteria.

Success Criteria

I am able to:

make both qualitative and quantitative observations of chemicals and chemical reactions
communicate my observations using organized tables and proper conventions (units, headings)

Transferable Skills

In this course you will develop scientific inquiry skills, such as making and recording effective observations. You will also develop competencies that every learner needs in order to succeed in all subject areas.

Recently, Ontario worked with other provinces in Canada to outline Transferable Skills that are required for thriving in today’s world. Ontario then developed its Transferable Skills Framework (Opens in new as a set of skills for students to develop over time. Read through the framework and the student indicators. Throughout the course, you will be asked to reflect on these competencies, and relate them to your own learning. At the end of the course you will revisit these competencies to see which ones you have developed the most.

The globe


As an initial exercise, in your physical notebook, select three (3) Transferable Skills that you feel you have developed the most (or are beginning to develop) through your studies, your job, or other activities. For each of those chosen skills, briefly write down the indicators that show your developing skills. Record these in your notebook.

Learning summary

  • Qualitative and quantitative observations can help us understand matter and its properties.
  • Qualitative observations involve the use of our senses
  • Quantitative observations require the use of specialized tools to perform measurements.


Revisit your Thoughtbook task from earlier in this learning activity. Revisit the observations you made about the burning candle. Consider the following:

  • Which of the observations are qualitative? Which are quantitative?
  • Can you think of any qualitative observations you could add based on what you learned in this learning activity? Did you observe the candle’s colour/shape/size/lustre/state? What about the flame?
  • Did you make any quantitative observations? If you were to make quantitative observations, what would you include?
  • Were your observations organized in a table? What do you think the best way to organize them would be?

Edit your observations in the way that best organizes and communicates the information.