When teaching, I try to foster real-life applications between the material and students’ experiences. I try to channel my inner Ms. Frizzle, a quirky teacher from The Magic School Bus, which is a throwback to my childhood. Today’s students may not be as aware of the television show, but I still like to embody Ms. Frizzle’s passion for immersing her students in the learning process in my own classroom. Topics in organic chemistry are very abstract and can be challenging for students to pick up on as they build on the foundations. They need to brush up on general chemistry principles while simultaneously learning new content, which is no small feat. For instance, molecular shape, hybridization, bond length and strength, and acid-base theory are topics that students need to reinforce, and then adapt, within their exiting knowledge base to achieve true success in the course. 

In channeling my Ms. Frizzle, I like to use real-world examples to support these ubiquitous topics for my students. To take the connections a step further, analogies and physical props can be used to help bring these ideas to life. Here are a few of my personal favorites to share with students when I’m teaching molecular shape, hybridization, dipole moment and polar bonds, bond length and strength, and acid-base theory:

  • A book bag and the weight of books can show the decrease in bond angle for molecular geometry. (CH4 – 109 degrees; NH3 – 107 degrees; H2O – 104.5 degrees.)
  • Balloons can show the orientation of sp, sp2, and sp3 orbitals.
  • A tug-of-war or puddle pull game (typically organized by Greek life on campus) can demonstrate dipole moment and polar bonds.
  • A red rover game where the holding of hands versus the holding of elbows (or the upper arm) provides a visual for the inverse relationship between bond length and strength.
  • Mnemonics and phrases can help transfer the contents of acid-base theory, specifically Brønsted Lowry and Lewis acid and base pairs, from short-term to long-term memory. 
    • Cardinal Rule: Charge Atom, Resonance Delocalization, and Induction
    • Lewis acids accept electrons, which means that acids eat electrons, while Lewis bases donate electrons (think of the “b” in “bases” as the backwards “d” in “donate”).
  • The image of cheerleaders with pom-poms can create a visual for cis and trans isomers.

In embodying my best Ms. Frizzle, I like to remind myself that there is no need to make the course harder than it already is. Incorporating my own learning tactics from when I was a student, such as the various analogies, visuals, and real-life connections described above, adds a valuable sense of humor to the classroom. Not only does a sense of fun help lighten the mood and make the course material more memorable for students, but it also helps students occupy a headspace that sets them up for continued growth and success in organic chemistry. 

-Kerri Taylor, Columbus State University

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One thought on “How Do You Foster Real-Life Connections between the Material and Students’ Worlds?

  1. I’ve actually done an early blog post about it, but I gather questions from students and then work out and explain the chemistry to them. I let them ask anything, and usually I can do something with it. This semester we’ve talked about why does gum get hard after chewing it, how do color changing toys work, what is hyaluronic acid and does adding sugar to spagetti sauce really make it less acidic?

    It’s fun and keeps my brain fresh. I like your incorporation of real memorable stuff into class time. Chemistry can be really hard to visualize, I always have to remind myself that they don’t imagine molecules the same way I do after 20+ years of doing chemistry.

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