Critical Chemistry: The Science of Saving Lives
CriticalChem is a textbook replacement promoting active and personalized learning. It is a non-majors introductory chemistry course centered on “How chemistry be used to help save lives in our communities?” In answering this question, students will use chemistry to prevent, mitigate and treat issues that affect the health of people in a community.
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Motivate Students through Inquiry-Based Curriculum

Inquiry-based curriculum and case studies promote learning-by-doing and focusing on real-world problems & applications while improving problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

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Improve Comprehension with Engaging Content

Highly interactive lessons include graphically-rich simulations and activities to help learners explore and understand threshold and complex concepts.

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Affordable Textbook Replacement for Blended or Fully Online

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded Smart Sparrow a grant to develop Critical Chemistry. It is low-cost, can be paired with OpenStax, and integrates with the LMS.

How it works
The Learning Journey
Students are taken through a journey and learn chemistry through the lens of the science of saving lives. Critical Chemistry presents content as case studies, or narrative, accompanied by questions and activities that help students solve complex problems while developing higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy of cognitive learning.
We have partnered with PhET Interactive Simulations, from the University of Colorado Boulder, to provide students with simulative learning experiences in conceptual chemistry so they can learn through interactions and intrinsic feedback.
Easy Set Up
The Student Learnspace can integrate directly into you LMS like Canvas or Blackboard so it's easy for students to sign-in and their scores are available to sync to your gradebook.
Critical Chemistry can also pair with OpenStax: Chemistry Atoms First to serve as a textbook replacement that comes with guided reading activities, including vocabulary exercises, comprehensive questions, application activities, and reflection questions where learning can be self-assessed.
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Critical Chemistry Curriculum

Critical Chemistry is a next-generation textbook replacement, what we call a Smart Course, for non-majors introductory or conceptual chemistry. It can be used fully online, blended, or face-to-face. The course takes an inquiry-based approach to its curriculum and promotes learning-by-doing, presenting content as case studies focused on real-world problems and applications. Students stay motivated because their learning is contextualized and the journey sparks curiosity while improving scientific literacy.


The purpose of this course is to use chemistry to help solve problems in the world. Quite often, doing so requires a firm grasp of key mathematical concepts. In this unit, you will build the math skills needed to apply the chemistry you learn to investigate and solve issues in the community around you.

Topics covered: Algebraic equation, dimensional analysis, logarithms

Unit 1: Fighting Disease

Affecting people regardless of income, race, and geographic location, cancer has quickly risen to the top of public health officials and citizens alike. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, “cancer is the second most common cause of death in the U.S. and accounts for nearly one in four deaths.” Moreover, one in eight deaths globally is due to cancer. Most people could probably think of someone in their lives who has had cancer, whether it be a family member, friend, or acquaintance. This unit explores the public health crisis that is cancer. You will take an active role in exploring treatments and understanding how, at the molecular level, certain interventions can stifle the progression of tumors within the human body.

Topics covered: Atomic structure, nuclear chemistry, electron configuration

Unit 2: Opioid Crisis Intervention

According to the National Institute of Health, more than ninety Americans die each day from opioid abuse. Prescription medication, heroin, and synthetic opioids are now more prevalent than ever before, and that has significantly impacted the social and economic well-being of entire communities around this country. Such effects have given rise to a state of emergency in the country, with the government taking action to curb what is being called the Opioid Crisis. In this unit, you’ll take on the case of Jack, a college senior addicted to prescription medication. Not only will you explore the underlying chemistry behind his addiction, but you will use it to devise ways to curb his addiction and save him from overdosing.

Topics covered: Lewis Structure, Molecular Geometry, Intermolecular Forces

Unit 3: Safeguarding Water Supplies

Water is a critical resource for all life around our planet. We rely on water to fuel our bodies, to grow food, and for sanitation purposes. When water sources become contaminated, whether by accident or negligence, its effect can be wide ranging—killing wildlife or permanently poisoning an unsuspecting community. In this unit, you will learn the chemistry behind how to detect and save lives affected by contaminated water.

Topics covered: Aqueous Solvation, Concentration, Limiting Reactant

Unit 4: Poisons

In this unit, you will get the chance to explore poisons and how they interact with the human body. More specifically, you’ll dive into the chemical reactions behind these poisons and what makes them so deadly. Along this journey, you will develop key skills such as identifying different kinds of chemical reactions and balancing chemical equations. By the end of this unit, you’ll be ready to walk in the footsteps of a forensic chemist and identify a potential poison left at the scene of a crime.

Topics covered: Balancing Chemical Reactions, Types of Reactions, Empirical and Molecular Formulas

Unit 5: Developing Healthy Diets

They say “you are what you eat”; however, knowing exactly what you’re eating is becoming a greater mystery each day. In this unit, you will take on the question of what food is made of. You’ll explore what a calorie is and decipher how many calories are in the foods we eat. In addition to addressing topics in thermodynamics via the energy stored in food, you’ll also explore the effects of food on the human body through learning about pH. Finally, special attention is given to the effects of the obesity epidemic, how it affects the human body, and ways gas chemistry is involved in treating patients suffering from obesity-related diseases.

Topics covered: Acids and Bases, Gas Laws, Thermochemistry


Independent evaluator SRI Education has shown Inspark Science Network Smart Courses can increase student performance of up to half a letter grade compared to traditional textbooks.

SRI Education, the independent evaluator for the Gates Foundation-funded Next-Generation Courseware Challenge, estimated the impact on students’ end of course grades, for 1,800 students at 4 institutions, of the BioBeyond Smart Course (19 sections) compared to business as usual instruction (BAU; 8 sections). Results, based on analysis of course grades and controlling for prior cumulative college GPA, and other demographic and administrative variables, show a statistically significant positive impact on grades for three of the four institutions (p < .05).

The statistically significant improvements were roughly half a letter grade (+0.42 and +0.46 on a 0–4 scale with 4.0 being an A) for Arizona State University (fully online) and Miami Dade College respectively (blended/hybrid), and +0.26 for Mohave Community College (blended/hybrid).

The Inspark Science Network in partnership with Smart Sparrow and Arizona State University's Center for Education Through Exploration is reimagining science education by providing you Smart Courses that allow you to effectively teach with rich interactive and adaptive learning experiences that improve scientific reasoning and spark curiosity.

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