Rethinking Intro Chem

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[originally posted spring 2015]

This spring, I’m teaching one of my favorite courses: Intro Chem. It’s an evening class, two nights a week, 144 students. The class is a requirement for a number of applied science majors. Many students are nervous about taking chemistry, and some have put it off until their senior year.

This year, I’ve had some time to reflect on what has (and hasn’t) worked in the past, I’ve gathered ideas from many of you. I’m re-designing the course, with several innovations. Over the next couple of weeks, I’m planning to write in more detail about some of these. For new, here’s a broad overview of a couple of them:

Beta-testing the REEF clicker system

I’ve never used a clicker system before, but the evidence suggests it makes a big difference, especially for large classes. The REEF polling system is the next-generation of I>clicker, and is set to premiere for real in the fall. It’s an app-based, bring-your-own-device system. I’m looking forward to seeing how this works – if any of your clicker veterans have suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

Using my own book

I’m in the process of writing my own textbook, with the first 10 chapters (of 13) in the review stage. This semester, I’m making the chapters available to the students in PDF form. This will give me a chance to see how it works in-class, and polish the organization a little bit.

Rethinking the out-of-class content

The organization of the new text is a little different than what I used last year. As a result, I’m having to re-do and re-think some of the video content. One of the things I’m doing is giving students the option of reading OR watching the video – I think this appeals to different learning styles. For example, here’s my Canvas page for Wednesday:

With the video content, I’ve decided to focus primarily on big-picture topics, giving an overview of why the topic is important, then including the key ideas. Practice problems will be handled in class. For example, here’s a new video I prepared on units, precision, accuracy, and significant digits. It sets the stage for the in-class materials, such as calculations involving sig figs.

I’m going to have to come to grips with my perfectionist streak. The video above took way too long to produce. Moving forward, I’m going to have to be content with simpler formats, and non-scripted, tablet annotations rather than extensive PowerPoint annotations. I love producing these, but I don’t know if they’re feasible for the whole semester.

About the Author
Kevin Revell received his bachelor's degree from the University of New Orleans in 1995, then his Master's Degree in Organic Chemistry from Iowa State in 2000. After several very formative years working in the pharmaceutical industry, he decided to go into education, and from 2002-2006 he taught chemistry at Southeastern University in Lakeland, FL. Following completion of his Ph.D. from the University of South Florida in 2006, Kevin joined the faculty at Murray State University in Murray, KY. Kevin's research interests include organic synthesis and functional organic materials. He loves to teach, and is increasingly interested in science education in flipped and online class settings. He and his wife Jennifer have 3 kids, and they stay busy between family, church, school, and playing basketball in the driveway.