At this point in the semester, my class has progressed past their first exam, and I have helped students on all points of content mastery. In those interactions, I have heard a number of things to make me wonder…what is the most effective way to learn the content? Do students prefer the cause-and-effect perspective or through the concept of named reactions? As an instructor, I try to offer assistance to help students in both mentalities. Both perspectives have positives and negatives. Regardless of the method, I want the students to be proficient in the content.

In the cause-and-effect method, I stress the reagents and conditions. For instance, I try to demonstrate Markovnikov and Anti-Markovnikov by stressing the reagents. In class, I teach our students that Markovnikov’s Rule helps direct additions along double bonds, the electrophile can add to the less substituted carbon. Thus, I try to teach the counter-thought of Anti-Markovnikov, by trying to impress upon them the importance of noting peroxide (H2O2), or some form of it. Here lies the cause and effect. All addition-type reactions of halogenation, hydrohalogenation or halohydrin have the hydrogen or halogen atom adding to the less substituted side. 

Another example of cause and effect would be the ring opening of an epoxide ring. Often, students have issues knowing what side of the ring to attack with the nucleophile. In cases like this, I frame the comparison between the two conditions of acidic versus basic. I use the same starting material and modify the conditions to demonstrate the differences of the attack. I remind the students that under basic conditions, the nucleophile needs to be swift and will attack the less substituted side of the epoxide, while under acidic conditions the nucleophile is the second step and will attack the more substituted carbon. I connect this topic with the previous thoughts of Markovnikov. This means that under acidic conditions the nucleophile attacks the most substituted carbon. Another way to look at epoxide ring opening and the appropriate conditions would help students remember the classification of the alcohol generated.

While the process of knowing “named reactions” can offer a label for each movement. A named reaction is a chemical reaction coined after its discoverers or developers. This can be great for students to learn the history behind the reactions, but students are often more concerned with absorbing the information. These named reactions can aid students to categorize and catalog reactions. The students can use keywords – Hofmann Reaction, Williamson Ether Synthesis, or Aldol Condensation – to help them give life to the text. The disadvantage of this method is that students get wrapped up in memorization and could lose sight of the details.

As a student, I was more interested in the cause-and-effect method. But as an instructor, I know that no two students learn material exactly the same way. I try to integrate both methods and help students see the value of detailing the reactions according to their purpose. To extend this thought further, I have chosen to offer a bonus opportunity for students to demonstrate their style of learning, i.e., study guides, quizlets, etc. I was often told that to know the material fully, you are capable of describing and teaching others, which is why I see the value of investigating new styles of my students for processing the content.

The Karty text has effectively arranged the text to suit both learning styles. The key focus is directed towards understanding the mechanisms, instead of brute-memorization of terms and reactions that you would need to know in organic chemistry. However, Karty does supplement the text with the unique and specific terms for those students who prefer memorization. Collectively, the students are  introduced to intricately woven topics that properly support the instructor in the classroom.

-Kerri Taylor, Columbus State University

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