Try these math problems:

2 + 2 =
1 + 1 =
5 + 5 =

(answers below)

Those were easy.  Now try these easy life problems:

balloon + sharp pin =
milk + chocolate =
paper + match =

(answers also below)

Now try this equation:

CH4 + 2 O2 -->

(answers are . . . in high school)

Is that last one too hard?  Do not worry.  Most people think so.  Fear not!  I am going to help you understand equations like these, or at least start to.  When things on our planet change into something, like when we add simple numbers or mix two things together, we can understand them with equations.

One thing you should know about the world is that no matter what happens, it always has the same amount of stuff.  Burn something.  Break something.  Build something out of sand.  All of the little parts, or atoms, that make up everything never grow in number and they never shrink in number.  Things might change so that they look very different, but the amount of stuff stays the same.  A chemical reaction is what happens when one kind of thing changes into another kind of thing.  The same number of atoms are there, but they are changed into something new.  If I burn a book, all the parts that made up the book will turn into two different parts: gas, smoke and ashes.  They look very different, but have the exact same stuff in them.

Now that's a chemical reaction!

When we talk about things changing, we can make equations that show us how those things come together or break apart to make something new..  A chemical equation is what we write to understand what happened to each atom when one thing changed into something new.  Instead of using an equals sign, we use an arrow.  You can think of the arrow as pointing the atoms toward something new, even though their number stays the same.  Now, if you would follow the arrow to the next part . . .  -->

Which way did they go?

The equations you saw earlier have two parts.  There is the part where things are added together (1 + 1) and then there is what they add up to (2).  Reactants are found on the left side of a chemical equation and are the things that come together to make something new.  The things coming together react with each other.  Think of a balloon being popped by a pin, or a piece of paper burning from a lit match.

Now these look like good reactants!

Of course, when two things come together, they make something new.  Let's follow the arrow to the other part of our equation.  -->  Products are found on the right side of a chemical equation because they are what is there when two things have changed.  This is the milk chocolate, this is the popped balloon, this is the ashes from the burned paper.  Let's add up the thing we wrote above . . . H and H are H2.  Now just add an O and we will get H2O or . . . water!  See?  That was not too hard.

Anyone got milk chocolate?

There are all sorts of equations, some for math, some for life.  Now you know a little about the ones that show chemical changes.  It's easy if you think about it.  You have some things that come together and make something new.  While the atoms may change, they never go away and no new ones are ever made  These may be a little hard at first, but if you spend time with them, they will start to feel as easy as 2 + 2 and as exciting as a pin + a balloon.

Math answers:

The answers to the math problems are 4, 2, and 10. 
The answers to the life problems are POP, milk chocolate, and boiled egg. 
The answers to life can usually be found in fairy tales.


NeoK12.  "Chemical Reactions"  NeoK12, 2012.  <>

Education, Chemistry.  "Chemical Equation"  <>