The big switch (and what a switch it was), as this blog title suggests, is my reflections and thoughts on switching from a traditional functional group teaching approach to the mechanism-based teaching approach found in Karty’s textbook. My first blog (The Big Switch, Part 1) summed up my feelings and thoughts as I approached my first term teaching with Karty’s mechanistic approach. In this post, I would like to reflect on my first term and my expectations, changes, and hopes for my current term.
As I expected, the transition to the mechanistic approach for the students was great. I do think my students understood mechanisms better this year and more importantly, how to apply them in synthetics questions. I found they got concepts that sometimes would get lost on students in previous years. For example, one concept that all the students seemed to hone in on was the importance of the stereochemical implications on a reaction and how the mechanism can help them with that. This concept requires knowledge of steric effects, molecular hybridization and geometry, as well as the mechanism. These ideas, which are all covered in different chapters, were correctly applied in the context of the questions they were asked. Along with the mechanism-based approached, I think the best feature of the textbook is the reinforcement of prior topics to the current topic at hand. This was a surprise to me of how much more retention the students had over the course of the term as opposed to previous years.
My biggest concern entering the term was what the students would think of this approach. I must admit, in retrospect, this was a silly concern. The students were all in their first organic chemistry class so as far as they are concerned (especially after this last term) the functional group approach is how organic chemistry is taught. I think, now in reflection, the concern was not for my students but for myself. I think that concern stemmed from teaching organic chemistry for 17 years using the functional group approach. My concerns were not unfounded. I must admit I have struggled a bit in the transition and this is just due to the 17 years of using the same approach, with the same order of functional groups, and teaching the same exact reactions and mechanisms in the same order. I found myself in class referring to reactions that we covered (that we didn’t) and talked about reactions coming up that really were not going to be covered until next term.
I think these types of problems/mix-ups are expected and anyone transitioning from a long tenure of the functional group approach should expect a few of them. I am sure when I am teaching this course next year these slip-ups will decrease and my familiarity with the flow of the course will allow me to make the connections to previous and future material much easier.
I am going to have to say goodbye for now. I am off to organic and we are covering retrosynthetic analysis. It’s one of my favorite topics and it gets an entire chapter in Karty!
-Corey Stilts, Emira College
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