When I first heard Joel Karty speak about his mechanistic organization in his organic chemistry text around 2016,  I had also heard a lot of buzz about flipping the classroom. I was very curious about trying this in my own classroom, but implementing self-directed learning with a more intricate discipline like organic chemistry can seem way out of reach. The more I heard about Joel’s mechanistic organization, how accessible it was to students, and how this method requires much less memorization, the more I realized this was exactly what I was looking for. I attended an NSF-sponsored cCWCS workshop (Chemistry Collaborations, Workshops & Communities of Scholars) where I heard more about this organization in action, and heard feedback from other professors that lead me to decide to try flipping my organic chemistry lecture that Fall semester using this text.

My class meets for lecture every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for 50 minutes, so I decided to try out flipping my organic class on Fridays only as an experiment during the fall semester of 2016. At the same time, I also decided to switch textbooks to Karty’s Organic Chemistry. I felt that this textbook, which utilized a unique approach to learning organic chemistry through mechanisms rather than the traditional function group organization was a perfect fit for the “flipping my classroom experiment.” By helping the students to really understand the material rather than full memorization only, it allowed me to step back and usher in more self-directed learning, while also encouraging the students to learn from each other.

In executing this plan, the first and most difficult change I had to make was to become comfortable with switching up my lecture format to fit a more independent study model. In order to do this, I had to become more comfortable with recording my lectures and with online resources. I’ve used various software for two years now and can find no reason to go back to lecture-only classroom structure. I show PowerPoint slides on half of the screen and Paint software on the other, with which I can draw anything necessary during the lecture or pre-copy and paste items before recording. I post these recorded lectures a week in advance by uploading them to YouTube and providing the URL to my students. Sometimes I either collect a copy of their notes or quiz them to provide incentive for watching the online lecture videos.

During class on Fridays, we work on problems related to the online lecture, most of which I pull from the Karty textbook. I have introduced a variety of activities into Friday class periods including worksheets, mini-quizzes, online quizzes, old exam reviews, individual problems from the book that they answer and explain on the whiteboard, etc.

Motivated in particular by the pka coverage in Karty’s text, I pulled together an idea that is now one of my favorite “Flippin Friday” activities. I bring in individual slips of paper with one organic structure on each. Students are given a slip of paper with an organic acid or base, then they compare it to their neighbor’s structure and rank the two based on relative acidity. Each group of two students then compares their ranking to those from another group. Afterward, we then review the results and talk about inherent problems with predicting relative pka values.

Friday lectures are now fun! Students are energetic, and real, active learning takes place because the focus is on students sharing their ideas. I can use Fridays for pre- and post-exam reviews, for class cancellation make-ups, for a more detailed review of complex topics, etc.  I sometimes bring in a bag of small gifts for students to compete for, which works great for engaging them in a fun way.

Switching to Principles and Mechanisms was the easiest textbook transition I have ever made.  My students actually enjoy reading the textbook; it is written at their level and gives them plenty of explanation as well as practice problems. This textbook is modular enough that I had no issues with the transition to flipping my classroom every Friday. I truly believe I am a better teacher because of the mechanistic approach employed by Karty’s textbook combined with the flipped classroom concept; seeing the students turn Friday lecture into a think-tank reinvigorates me as the instructor, and them as students.

-Dan Esterline, Thomas More College
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