Context Is Everything!

So, coming back to the gray-hair issue that I mentioned in last week’s post, I have been teaching for long enough that sometimes I need to take a step back and remind myself that most of my students don’t know very much chemistry, especially not the chemistry of their day-to-day lives. This relates to the second thing I have to applaud about Karty’s textbook after using it since 2014: the end-of-chapter sections.

I can spend 55 minutes talking about alkene additions, carbocation stability, polarizability, and reaction energy diagrams, and for me, they go by lightning fast. For my students, though, it is hard work writing notes, paying attention in case I ask questions, and trying but failing to disguise or hide their cell-phone addictions.

I have always felt it was absolutely necessary to break up the time spent talking about rules, patterns, and reactions with some relatable material. Having all of the “Organic Chemistry of Biomolecules” material spread out throughout the chapters, instead of all being in one place, allows me to drop in very interesting pieces of knowledge every now and then. Some examples include how plants form terpene molecules and how so much of our biology is dependent on protein shape, as well as other examples on the organic molecules of food, and I make sure to keep all these examples within the context of the chapter’s lesson.

Even though, in a way, I am using these real-world connections as a break from the lecture, my students are still learning the material during this time. This makes lecture feel less like a one-off, or something they don’t need to pay attention to, since the topics are also covered in their book and homework. As a result, these real-world applications give students something they can engage with right away.

For example, at the end of Chapter 4, there is a section on saturated and unsaturated fats. These are terms that most people are familiar with from their daily encounters with food, but organic students can now relate their chemistry knowledge and life experiences to these concepts. This is a different kind of learning experience than sitting in class trying to work out what a Fisher projection means.

A textbook may not be the only important factor for students’ success in organic chemistry, but what I have noticed over the years is that it can make my life, and my students’ experiences, easier. I have found that if I consistently take advantage of the organizational differences in Karty’s textbook, my students will have a better experience and learn more.

Over these 6 years, I know for sure that I haven’t become an easier grader, but I have gotten older, perhaps wiser, and definitely grayer, and I have a much better textbook than the younger guy in the photo.

-Andrew Robak, Keuka College

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