The title of this post is an honest question and I encourage anyone to reply in the comments! I ask this question in part because sometimes I feel like I am the slowest organic chemistry professor in the country. Allow me to elaborate.

I teach a small section of organic chemistry and I am the only organic professor at my college as well, so I have a lot of flexibility in the material that gets covered since I will be the one picking up where I left off anyway. I teach a traditional Fall/Spring Organic I/Organic II.  I have been using the Karty textbook since I found out about it, so I have three full years of experience teaching from this book, and have gotten very comfortable with it.

Every year in the first semester I only make it as far as finishing Chapter 8, the chapter that introduces substitution and elimination reactions. In general, I would have time to get started and spend a week on Chapter 9 (competition between substitution and elimination reactions) but I wouldn’t have time to complete Chapter 9 before the final exam. I finish out the last week of class before final exam review by adding in my own material, which is a survey of environmental organic chemistry. There are some obvious disadvantages to this: having the two sections of substitution and elimination reactions separated by a long winter break isn’t ideal. I also then can’t get as far into the later chapters of the book as I would like (can’t we all band together and make organic chemistry a standard three semester course? That would be amazing!). The dream of every organic chemistry professor would be covering the whole textbook, right?

The advantages to the slower approach to Karty’s book in my mind make up for it and help me feel ok with going slow. I give a quiz every Friday for 12-15 minutes at the beginning of each class with the intent of making sure they aren’t taking a week off from studying. It does soak up some class time though, so there is a trade-off to having more tests. I also spend a fair amount of class time doing problem solving sessions with the class. With class sizes averaging around 20 students, I can walk around and get at least a little one on one instruction with students that need it, especially the ones that don’t tend to come to office hours. It is useful to do and helps me get to know their strengths and weaknesses, but again does take away from lecture time covering new material.

The benefit of the approach of teaching the mechanism is that we are laying down all of the groundwork and fundamentals in the first semester. The first seven chapters and interchapters do a great job of introducing the fundamentals of bonding, structure, stereochemistry, etc. I spend as much class time as I can on Chapter 5, since the molecular structure effects on acid strength (ex: resonance, size of charged atom) relate so directly to all of the reactive species and charged intermediates in the reaction mechanisms covered. I try to impress upon my students that this chapter is one of the most important for understanding the mechanisms. That is one of my favorite parts about the textbook; it isn’t just a strong emphasis on arrow pushing, it really is set up with the perfect flow of concepts covered before you get to put them into practice with the different reaction mechanism sections. I take my time in the beginning in hopes that it will pay off in the end; understanding rather than just memorization. The convenient break out naming sections that make for a low-effort flipped classroom is also a nice time saver (Click here to read my post on flipping the classroom using this text).

So, my intention here wasn’t to tout my style and speed as better or worse than anything else, but is really borne out of curiosity. How far do you get in the first semester? Are there any particular things you skip or emphasize and spend more time on? Let’s start a conversation in the comments! Also, if you want to join forces and start a three semesters of organic chemistry revolution, let’s do it!

-Andrew Robak, Keuka College

Click here to learn more about Dr. Robak

6 thoughts on “How far do you get in first semester organic chemistry?

  1. I teach at a small school and I am the only organic teacher. I have been teaching with Karty’s book now for 4 years and my students love the class. I get though CH 12 in the fall and start with CH 13 in the spring. I think CH 13 is a good review of the fall semester. I skip interchapters 1 and 2, and don’t get to CH 25 and 26. I have a 4 hour lab once a week and use part of that time to have a quiz and work on questions from the back of the chapters. I use SMARTWORK for each chapter and the students like the program. I too an curious as to how much of the book other professors cover in a year.

    1. That is awesome! Do you generally spend about a week per chapter? Are there any in that first semester that take more time than others?

      1. I spend about one week per chapter. I also teach CH 15 early in in the first semester so that the students will have plenty of time using the FTIR in lab.

  2. Small school here too – one non-carbon chemist and me (carbon chemist). I’m in my 4th year with the Karty text, and each year I get a little further. I finished Chapter 8 in Fall 2014, Chapter 9 in 2015 & 2016, and Chapter 10 this fall (though I didn’t test Ch10 material until spring term). I give an online homework assignment reviewing Chapters 1-9 (and this year, Chapter 10) that is due within a week or so of the spring semester so we can merge right back in to more reactions and the beginnings of synthesis. I got to Chapter 23 last spring and look to do at least the same this year. (Note: My students’ ACS Final Exam scores are growing every year!)

    1. So if you extrapolate that out eventually you should be able to cram the whole book into the first semester, right? Were there sections in particular that you know went faster as the years went by or did things just go smoother in general?

      1. I’ve learned to take my time with Chapters 6 & 7 for big payoffs later, with lots of review examples as I move through Chapters 8, 9, & 10. Also, I “teach” nomenclature predominantly through online homework assignments with only brief mention during class examples and when teaching isomers in Chapter 4.

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