Nearly every semester, I am asked a question that I’ve never been asked before. I have found that by giving students some rules of thumb (ROTs), I can help them understand the basics while also giving them specific strategies for solving organic chemistry problems. More recently, I’ve recognized that the mechanistic organization helps enforce my … Continue reading Rules of Thumb
A common complaint I have gotten from students for years centers on the “Predict the Products” section of my exams. While they can derive every mechanism for every part of every question (late in second semester, each of my 5-6 Predict the Product questions might have 3-4 reactions in sequence), they don’t have time to … Continue reading Karty Makes the Reaction Notebook Easy
Like many other instructors, I do the majority of spectroscopy instruction in my laboratory. It seems natural to integrate spectroscopy problems into lab exercises, and to use the molecules we make as the platform for understanding how to analyze them. Most organic texts I have seen introduce spectroscopy towards the end of the first semester … Continue reading Spectroscopy: Seeing (and Using) the Big Picture
At Butler, we have four learning goals for our students in organic chemistry: to learn the language, drawing style, and three-dimensional structure of organic molecules; to know and apply organic reactions; to demonstrate understanding of reaction mechanisms; and to integrate this knowledge through synthesis. Of these learning objectives, the most difficult for students to embrace … Continue reading The Right Time for Synthesis?
I have always approached my organic sequence as a mechanism-driven course. Every reaction that we discussed in class started with a mechanism to show how it wasn’t really anything new, but an extension of the types of behaviors we had learned to describe and anticipate. I avoided texts that listed reaction after reaction as completely … Continue reading Memorization Not a Choice: Mechanisms Matter
Exam questions are a primary medium by which students learn what their instructor values most in the course. If we evaluate what we value, questions should test the mechanism and thus emphasize conceptual understanding, utilize real applications, and require deep thinking. And for me, the most important reason to pose mechanistic questions is to see … Continue reading Teaching the Mechanism Means Testing the Mechanism
I did not realize my commitment to traditions—in my personal life and in the classroom—until recently. In my personal life, I discovered that I was married to a person who did not know that: Christmas trees are decorated while listening to Christmas music and not with a basketball game on in the background; salads are … Continue reading Making a Commitment (But Not to Traditions)
I began teaching organic chemistry some 11 years ago at Elon University, a moderately sized liberal arts school in central North Carolina. Like many professors just starting out, I was eager and committed to my students’ success. I knew that mechanisms were the key to this success because focusing on mechanisms worked for me as … Continue reading Functional Groups, Mechanisms, and Memorization