There were two places in Joel’s text that surprised me: where 1,2 versus 1,4 addition to a conjugated diene appeared—Chapter 11—and where direct versus conjugate nucleophilic addition to polar pi bonds appeared—Chapter 17. Both of these chapters introduce basic concepts and then expand all the way to complex applications, much further than a functional-group organized text would go right away. I was worried that this seemingly vast amount of material would be too much for students to handle, but I was wrong.
As a new professor, I had mixed feelings about spring break. On the one hand, I was so ready for a vacation, but on the other, I remembered what it was like as a student that time of year. Your mind is on anything but classes. Not only are you looking forward to a week at the beach (or at least anywhere but campus), but you’re also starting to see summer on the horizon. For organic students who have made it through a semester and a half of a tough subject, it’s easy to understand why many of them “check out.” That’s why I felt a bit apprehensive about scheduling exam two the Friday after my students returned from break. Not only was I asking them to jump right back into organic full swing, but the material we had covered for this second exam was definitely not trivial (not that there is really a “trivial” chapter in organic!).
Exam two covered chapters 17-20 of Principles and Mechanisms, and if you’re familiar with the textbook, you know this is quite a bit of material. However, we got through the exam with few complaints. A few days later, I entered the grades into the grade book and started to suspect that I’d done something wrong. The average for this test was about 5% higher than any of my previous exams throughout the year. While there could be multiple contributing factors for this jump in scores, I can’t help but attribute most of it to the hard work of my students and the success we’ve seen with a mechanistically organized course.
Elon University is located in central North Carolina and we don’t often have severe winter storms. In fact, in my previous 12 years at Elon, not once did we have a cancelled day of classes during our fall or spring semesters. This spring semester, however, four days of classes were lost to winter storms, three of which were on days I teach my Organic 2 class. Based on how I designed my syllabus, I figured I could sacrifice one or two days of class, but certainly not three. I found myself in a position in which I had to make up at least one entire class period worth of material. I decided to accelerate the class somewhat for the next few meetings. To accomplish this, I gave students, ahead of time, several clicker questions that I would normally present for the first time during class. I asked students to solve the problems on their own, after having read assigned sections from the textbook. During class, I didn’t need to use the time they otherwise would use to solve the problem and submit their answers. Furthermore, I cut down on the time spent in class we would typically devote to discussing each of the clicker questions.