An Easy Transition into the Second Semester

Every year I struggle with the same question: How do I transition students into the second semester of organic chemistry? In the first semester, my students learn how to study chemistry from a mechanistic point of view in order to understand reactions rather than memorize them. After learning the basic elementary steps that make up most reactions in Chapter 7, we turn to how the elementary steps fit together to make full reactions in Chapter 8, and finally learn how to predict which mechanism will dominate in different reaction conditions in Chapter 9. In Chapter 10, they start learning how to theoretically make any rational molecule in the universe, and we finish out the fall term by talking about electrophilic addition reactions in Chapter 11. By Chapter 11, the students have come a long way and are truly making connections between mechanisms and reactions, but then it’s time for winter break.

At my institution the students have six full weeks between semesters. As the fall semester winds down, I reiterate the importance of using the break to their advantage. Six weeks is plenty of time to either reinforce everything they learned and really master the material, or plenty of time to forget much of what they learned. The transition to the spring semester can be tough for any student and I make myself available during the break for anyone who has questions.

In previous years, my textbook was more traditional and when the second semester began, I found myself having to review a lot of material about functional group transformations. These often consisted of long optional review sessions. I ended up spending massive amounts of time re-teaching specific reactions and my students showed mixed success. And it showed in my weekly quiz grades that it took about two to three weeks before the class started getting back in the swing of doing organic chemistry again and performing at the level they had been before the break.

The transition has been noticeably easier since I started using Joel’s text. Now, I jump right back to Chapter 7 and very quickly refresh the elementary steps. Then I basically pick right up wherever we left off! This year, I am not as worried as I used to be coming back from the long break. My experience last year showed what I suspect many others who are using this text have found—the mechanistic organization, and particularly Chapter 7 as a foundational guide, is successful. In my case, students last spring had quiz averages that were much more consistent with their performance in the fall semester, with little to no adjustment period. This was more than enough evidence for me that switching to Joel’s book was the right decision for my institution.

This year, I am trying to improve even further. In addition to a review of Chapter 7 to start off the spring semester, I made videos of my lectures from Chapters 8-11 (basically the last 3-4 weeks of the fall semester). I am hopeful that the students will re-watch and rework these chapters over break as a refresher. I am eager to find out if this will help with some of the details they have been sketchy on, and I am also eager for another easy transition!

-Nathan Duncan, Maryville College

Click here to learn more about Prof. Duncan

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