Let me begin by answering a different, but related, question: How far does Joel Karty get by the end of the first semester? The answer is that I typically cover 13 chapters, or roughly half the textbook. For several years, I was covering the first 13 chapters in order, ending the first semester with Chapter 13, the first chapter devoted to multistep synthesis strategies. Chapter 13 is a good way to end the first semester because, while introducing strategies for designing multistep syntheses, it forces students to review the reactions they learned in the previous 4-5 chapters. Lately, however, I have been teaching Chapters 1-12 and Chapter 14 in first semester, saving Chapter 13 to begin the second semester. This has worked well because my institution has a seven-week layoff between semesters (we have a January term), so Chapter 13 helps my students review reactions from first semester while learning new synthesis strategies.
We have a 14-week semester, which gives me an average of one week per chapter. But the key is average. On some chapters I take half a week, while on other chapters I take a week and a half. As I explain in greater detail in some subsequent FAQs, my pace slows down or speeds up depending on (1) how much exposure my students had to the topic in general chemistry, (2) how much I feel my students have retained about that topic, and (3) how relevant the topic at hand is to material later in the book.
I want to emphasize that pace is very important because, as instructors, we tend to feel pressure to cover as much of the book as possible, and this pressure often causes us to march through the book more quickly than we might want. However, much of the book is an unfolding story of chemistry—a great deal of what appears later in the book depends on what appears earlier in the book. Therefore, a student who has a strong foundation of the early topics will enjoy greater success with less effort when it comes to later topics. Conversely, students who proceed too quickly to the next topic without mastery of the foundational material will tend to struggle later on. Our goal, then, is to strike the right balance when it comes to pace: slow enough that students can maintain mastery before moving on to the next topic, but fast enough that, by the end of the year, we have taught everything we wanted to.
Even though our goal is strike the right balance for pace, I feel strongly that, in your first year teaching with this book, it is far better to err on the side of slower pace than faster pace, especially in Chapters 1-7. Because of the dependence that later topics have on the foundational material in these chapters, slowing down in the early going to ensure mastery of the foundational topics actually facilitates speeding up later on, especially in second semester. This may seem counterintuitive, but it’s true—experienced by a number of our adopters already. Some adopters even reported, for the very first time in their teaching careers, finishing the entire textbook!
So, whereas I began answering this FAQ by saying how far I typically get in the book by the end of the first semester, each instructor will be different. The critical piece is for your students to maintain mastery—and therefore confidence—as they proceed from one topic to the next. If that means you can cover 13 chapters in the first semester, then great. But if that means that you can cover through Chapter 10 or 11 by semester’s end, then that’s okay, too, especially because of the way the book lends itself to picking up the pace in second semester.
-Joel Karty, Elon University
For more frequently asked questions, please visit our FAQ page at teachthemechanism.com