How the Ten Elementary Steps Unified My Course

For years I told my students they shouldn’t merely memorize a list of reactions. But what were my actions really telling them? In the last textbook I used, the alkene chapter began with nomenclature, then covered Markovnikov addition of H-X and water, halogenation and halohydrin formation, and ended with hydroboration/oxidation. The next chapter that covered … Continue reading How the Ten Elementary Steps Unified My Course

The Right Time for Synthesis?

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?

What about the First-Term ACS Exam?

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?

Helping Students Learn How to Learn

I had been going through Ken Bain’s What the Best College Teachers Do with a new faculty member this semester. The overarching theme of Bain’s book is that the best college teachers are student-centered. These “best teachers” are constantly trying to get into students' heads to help them learn how to learn. It is not … Continue reading Helping Students Learn How to Learn

Making a Commitment (But Not to Traditions)

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)

Using Resonance Structures to Make Connections Between Mechanisms

Mechanisms can greatly simplify organic chemistry thereby allowing us to draw connections between reactions that might otherwise appear to be unrelated. With some reactions, however, I have found that the way in which the mechanism is presented can have a dramatic effect on whether a student successfully makes these connections. Consider, for example, the halogenation … Continue reading Using Resonance Structures to Make Connections Between Mechanisms

The Benefits of a Mechanistically Organized Book When Teaching a 2-cycle Approach

Two-cycle organic chemistry is a pedagogical approach that has gained in popularity over the last couple decades. It’s a rather simple idea: The first semester course is treated as something of a survey, dealing primarily with the fundamentals, whereas the second semester revisits many of the same topics from the first semester, but treating them … Continue reading The Benefits of a Mechanistically Organized Book When Teaching a 2-cycle Approach