Free Energy Diagrams Help Free Students from Memorization

Most organic professors can agree that we want our students to understand concepts and big pictures rather than memorize a list of facts. When determining the outcome or major product of a reaction, I’ve found that using free energy diagrams is a great way to facilitate concept based understanding over memorization. But despite their long-term … Continue reading Free Energy Diagrams Help Free Students from Memorization

Delay Reactions, Hasten Understanding

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

Getting Students to Connect Acid-Base Chemistry to the Rest of Organic Chemistry

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

Six Things Students Should Be Able to Do upon Completing Chapter 7, and One Thing They Shouldn’t

In my previous post, I described how happy I’ve been with my students’ ability to process the relatively complex interplay between kinetics and thermodynamics to understand the outcome of a competing set of chemical reactions. The specific example I gave involved the competition between transesterification and the Claisen condensation reaction, and that got me thinking … Continue reading Six Things Students Should Be Able to Do upon Completing Chapter 7, and One Thing They Shouldn’t

Building a Solid Foundation Gives the Student More Confidence

When I was in ninth grade, my family built a house. I remember my dad, who is an engineer, regularly checking on the progress and quality of the foundation. He knew that the foundation was the most important part of the house. Building a proper foundation took a lot of time, but it was important … Continue reading Building a Solid Foundation Gives the Student More Confidence

Predicting the Products of an SN1/SN2/E1/E2 Competition

When I teach nucleophilic substitution and elimination reactions, I find that students typically have very little trouble drawing each mechanism and predicting the products, so long as they are specifically told which reaction. But many students find one aspect very challenging: predicting the winner of an SN1/SN2/E1/E2 competition. In my first few years of teaching, … Continue reading Predicting the Products of an SN1/SN2/E1/E2 Competition

The Chapter Every Organic Textbook Should Have

This unique chapter is the game changer for how students perceive organic reactions. Whenever I discuss Joel’s textbook with colleagues, this chapter is the first aspect of the book that I mention. Chapter 7, “An Overview of the Most Common Elementary Steps,” briefly surveys ten steps: Proton transfer SN2 Bond formation (coordination) Bond breaking (heterolysis) … Continue reading The Chapter Every Organic Textbook Should Have