Happy Holidays!

Our gift to you this holiday season is an end-of-the-semester song by the talented Rick Bunt of Middlebury College (sung to the tune of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”):

You’ve had Spanish and Bio
And History and Calc,
Physics and Econ
And Poly Sci and Soch.
But starting this fall…
The most difficult
course of them all?

Karty, the Organic Chemist
wrote a very long thick book.
And if you ever saw it,
you wouldn’t even want to look

All of the orgo students
used to run away in fear.
They always thought that Orgo was
scarier than old skunked beer.

Then one late night final’s eve,
They all came to say:
“Karty with your mechanisms,
won’t you lead our study sessions?”

Then all the students loved him
as they quickly aced the test
Karty, the Organic Chemist
that book is the very best!

Happy holidays! We’ll be back in the new year!

Click here to learn more about Prof. Bunt.

POGIL and Mechanisms are Natural Allies

Choosing a textbook is always an important part of class preparation, but when using Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) with a group of students of mixed academic and reading abilities, the choice is perhaps even more important. POGIL is an evidence-based teaching/learning method used across the country. Students work in structured groups to complete Guided Inquiry (GI) activities to explore key concepts—addressing prior misconceptions while building new knowledge. The instructor becomes the guide through the process rather than the giver of knowledge. Students do not end up with a perfect set of lecture notes from the class and must rely on the text for the narrative to guide them through the course. Thus, the students must be able to read the text independently and it must be organized for students to succeed.

GI activities focus on core principles, and for organic reactivity, the overarching principle is mechanism. The most effective GI activities for organic chemistry help students focus on ideas all organic chemists automatically use—electrophiles and nucleophiles; using electrostatics and curved arrows to predict reaction outcome; interpreting experimental evidence such as reaction rate and stereochemical outcome to support a given mechanism. Joel’s mechanistically organized book supports this perspective.

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Surprises from Chapter 10

Organizing a course like organic chemistry with dense material and volumes of content to cover can be incredibly daunting. At times, it seems impossible to find a balance between giving fundamental concepts the attention they require and building up the toolbox of reactions for students to use at a reasonable pace. Like many professors, I have always maintained that learning organic chemistry must be based in the connections drawn among reactions to create a larger roadmap rather than in sheer memorization. For me, those connections have a strong basis in mechanisms, which means spending a significant amount of time learning the timeless questions of organic chemistry, like what is a strong base, where do you draw the line for a good vs. a poor nucleophile, how do you know if something is “stable,” and how can you recognize an electrophilic site?

With Joel Karty’s mechanistically-organized book, I have found the opportunity to explore these questions thoroughly. Memorization of reagents wasn’t even possible until the tenth week of the semester in the context of applied SN2/SN1/E2/E1 reactions. When we reached this point, I realized a few surprising things. Continue reading