As a new fall semester dawns, my mind turns inevitably to the fresh crop of students that will soon be struggling with Lewis structures containing many more atoms than they are accustomed to. Teaching at a community college brings some advantages, like having organic students that you have taught through both semesters of the general chemistry sequence, and thus they know what they should be prepared for in terms of new material. There are also challenges, like the students drawn back to the study of organic chemistry from other career paths with the goal of transitioning into a health profession. These students are often a few years removed from the study of chemistry and are starting from a different place than the first group. And finally, I will see a group of students from general chemistry courses taught by different instructors with their own individual points of view on the material and/or different textbooks. My experience is that switching to Joel’s text has gone a long way towards solving the student preparedness problems I have encountered.

This preparedness issue creates a daunting challenge for the beginning of the class – to ensure that everyone is up to speed and grounded in the information they will need to succeed as the course progresses. In my experience, many organic chemistry textbooks are ill-equipped to aid in tackling this problem. Often the first chapter is a re-iteration of every general chemistry idea that has any relevance to organic chemistry with each topic being a single section of the chapter. This approach fails for students further removed from their general chemistry studies as well as those who didn’t put in as much effort as they should have.

In this early stage of learning organic chemistry from Karty’s text, students have specifically commented on the effectiveness of section 1.6 (Strategies for Success: Drawing Lewis Structures Quickly) as helping them bridge the gap between material covered in general chemistry and what will be expected in organic chemistry. The Lewis structure discussion in a general chemistry book, for example, often focuses on molecules made up of 3-5 atoms with a clear ‘central’ atom. This concept does not transfer well to even simple organic molecules with multiple carbon atoms (let alone oxygen and nitrogen). The hints that Joel provides in section 1.6 related to how many bonds each commonly encountered atom is likely to have jump-starts students’ ability to begin visualizing structures of larger molecules. This gives students a boost of confidence and clarity as they proceed through the remainder of the chapter and other issues they need to be familiar with like formal charges, likely bond/non-bonding pair architectures and recognizing resonance contributors.

After completing the first chapter from this book I believe many more of my students are well positioned to tackle the issue of nomenclature, which will be the subject of my next post.

-Don Carpenetti, Craven Community College
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