Spectroscopy: Seeing (and Using) the Big Picture

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

Using Lab Reports to Reinforce the Mechanism

My students learn organic chemistry in a mechanistically organized course and I want to make sure they really understand how the mechanisms apply to reactions that are synthetically useful. There are many approaches that I use to reinforce their learning such as quizzes, practice problems, and SmartWork assignments. I previously talked about why I am … Continue reading Using Lab Reports to Reinforce the Mechanism

Mechanisms in Class, Mechanisms in Lab

I have always used a mechanistic approach when teaching organic chemistry. Every class I have taught, I started the first day saying, “Do you want to try to memorize hundreds, if not thousands, of individual reactions, or do you want to learn to understand how about ten reactions take place, so you can apply them … Continue reading Mechanisms in Class, Mechanisms in Lab

Playing Musical Chairs with Spectroscopy

As a Synthetic Organic Chemist by trade, I use NMR spectroscopy heavily for analysis and structure identification. When designing a course in organic chemistry, it comes as no surprise that I want my students to be comfortable mining information from an NMR spectrum and using it to solve problems. A mechanistically organized course lends itself … Continue reading Playing Musical Chairs with Spectroscopy

Teaching the Mechanism Means Testing the Mechanism

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

Solving the IR Puzzle

My three year old son recently has shown interest in solving puzzles. He dumps the pieces on the floor and randomly clicks them together until he finds a match. This is often the same approach that students take to problem solving in organic chemistry. To help my students work more systematically, I introduce IR early … Continue reading Solving the IR Puzzle

Is Learning Organic Chemistry like Learning a New Language?

Over the years, I've heard many organic faculty use the phrase: “Learning organic chemistry is like learning a foreign language.” I've certainly used the phrase myself to give advice to my own students, in an attempt to convey that both subjects are cumulative and require a lot of practice. This year, however, I find myself … Continue reading Is Learning Organic Chemistry like Learning a New Language?

It’s Elementary: First Steps to Active Learning

For most of my teaching career I have organized my course by mechanism class rather than by functional group. Even so, year after year I observed my students struggling with reaction mechanisms. Neither elaborating mechanisms on the board in class nor assigning challenging mechanism problems in practice or homework sets seemed to improve my students’ … Continue reading It’s Elementary: First Steps to Active Learning

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

Intermolecular Attractions and Solubility: A Classroom Demonstration For A Difficult Topic

An understanding of solubility, melting points, and boiling points based on intermolecular attractions, or intermolecular forces (IMF), is critical in academic research as well as industrial work. For example, I know that the following facts: Methylene chloride is a better solvent for the extraction of the products of LAH reductions than diethyl ether. Stearic acid … Continue reading Intermolecular Attractions and Solubility: A Classroom Demonstration For A Difficult Topic