Mechanisms can greatly simplify learning organic chemistry because the hundreds of reactions that students need to know have mechanisms that are constructed from just a handful of distinct elementary steps. This is easy for us professors to see—after all, we’ve been through the year’s reactions and mechanisms multiple times. Students, on the other hand, must … Continue reading Ten Elementary Steps Are Better Than Four
The other day, while working through Chapter 21, I left class with a great feeling as a result of having given the following clicker question: My students were able to rule out choice (a) on their own, given that there’s no reasonable mechanism to arrive at that product with the methyl groups located there. However, … Continue reading Right Where I Want my Students to Be
We started Chapter 9 in class a couple weeks ago, where we learn how to predict the outcome of the SN1/SN2/E1/E2 competition. Similar to how it’s done in most books, we do this by first learning about the major factors that influence the rate of each reaction in this competition. But unlike other books, this … Continue reading Teaching Solvent Effects Early Helps Keep Students’ Heads From Spinning
In one of my previous posts, I described how happy I was to implement Norton’s online homework system, Smartwork, for my organic courses. For my students’ learning, nothing beats the instant feedback they get when they click “Check Answer,” which immediately helps them assess whether or not they understand the problem at hand (it’s hard to … Continue reading Taking the Frustration out of Online Homework…for You and Your Students
In my textbook, resonance is presented rather extensively in Chapter 1 (“Atomic and Molecular Structure”), ultimately teaching students how to draw all resonance structures of a given species. I like to teach resonance to that depth early in the course because it reinforces topics that are vital to student success throughout the entire year of … Continue reading When Should Resonance be Taught?
For longer than the 14 years I’ve been at Elon University, we’ve been administering the full-year ACS final exam in organic chemistry at the end of spring semester. It’s a valuable tool to assess our effectiveness in teaching the fundamental material that students are expected to know, and it also lets us see how our … Continue reading What about the First-Term ACS Exam?
Shortly after I began teaching, when I was still using a book organized by functional group, I came to dread the second exam of the first semester. The class would typically perform decently well on the first exam, but scores would plummet on the second one. I recently looked back at my records for a … Continue reading No Longer Dreading the Second Exam
In my early years of teaching, I would break the ice the first day of class by asking my students what they know about organic chemistry. Without fail, the first student to respond would say something to the effect of: “It’s really hard! I’ve heard that there are so many reactions to memorize!” A low … Continue reading Delay Reactions, Hasten Understanding
Even if a student intends to devote a great amount of time and effort to studying mechanisms and to using mechanisms to understand reactions, their efforts can be easily thwarted by the sheer intimidation of relatively long mechanisms. Years ago, when I was still teaching under a functional group organization, I would hear gasps and … Continue reading Taking the Fear Out of Lengthy Mechanisms: A Good Type of Problem from Chapter 7
Many professors agree that a strong foundation of acid-base chemistry is vital for students to understand the great majority of organic reactions they will face, and I firmly agree. Certainly, the importance of acid-base chemistry is reflected by the fact that organic textbooks typically discuss acids, bases, and proton transfer reactions early. Despite these early … Continue reading Getting Students to Connect Acid-Base Chemistry to the Rest of Organic Chemistry