Time Well Spent

Teaching a mechanistically organized course has many benefits. For example, I am able to spend less class time on nomenclature. This semester, I assigned nomenclature “chapters” 1-3 for the students to read outside of class, arranging them among chapters 1–10 of the text. This meant that I spent only 25% of lecture time explaining nomenclature. This absolutely does not mean that nomenclature is less important in an organic chemistry course. Rather, my goal is to keep the audience captive as long as possible while in the classroom and spend more time on the details of a given reaction or topic.

In a traditional course, the text is outlined with nomenclature, physical properties, and applicable reactions. When students are first introduced to the topic of functional groups, they need to be able to identify the relationship of the functional group to the corresponding nomenclature (for example, alkane, alkene, or alkyne). But nomenclature is one topic in organic chemistry that does not need to be taught in the classroom; Karty and the nomenclature chapters make this possible. While a mechanistically organized course generally stresses understanding over memorization, nomenclature is an exception in that it does require some memorization. However, the focus here remains on reactions and mechanisms. Students are still responsible for assigning nomenclature to a given compound, but they can do the bulk of learning and memorizing outside the classroom. An instructor can only introduce so many examples before losing the students’ attention and giving up valuable classroom time.

My viewpoint of nomenclature is analogous to that of a language, particularly in that students need to learn essential vocabulary to discuss content in organic chemistry. As an instructor, I am happy to help with nomenclature and walk through examples (see below). In class this fall, I streamlined the nomenclature content I covered in class, assigned the nomenclature chapters, and included some nomenclature questions in their SmartWork. With the use of the pre-designed PowerPoints based on the text, I spotlight nomenclature examples and simplified the content. When my class comes upon a new functional group not previously discussed, I integrate a slight amount of nomenclature into the lecture by modifying a simple alkane with the new functional group. The modification of the nomenclature in my lecture is applied like a mathematical expression with the comparison of organic compounds to ethane. Some of my examples are below:

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Based on their homework and exams, the students seem to have a firm grasp on the topic nomenclature and receive the majority of their points per their assignments. However, nomenclature is a very minor part of organic chemistry. Consequently, I want to spend time in the classroom on material that best serves them, building both depth and breadth of their understanding in organic chemistry.

My students have expressed an appreciation for the time spent in the classroom describing the mechanics of a given reaction or topic. I apply their knowledge of the mechanics of a given reaction with practice problems in the classroom. The experience of working collectively through examples and mechanisms helps to reinforce concepts that students might find challenging. Currently, they are learning how to differentiate among SN2, SN1, E1 and E2 reactions. One request from the students was more examples and suggestions for determining the reaction’s direction and products. I would not be able to spend very much time on this topic if I was also spending a lot of time on nomenclature.

-Kerri Taylor, Columbus State University
Click here to learn more about Dr. Taylor

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