All Downhill After the Aldol

Ah yes, it is that time of year again; a seven week coast to the Organic Chemistry II finish line. All the elementary steps have been introduced and discussed multiple times and it feels like review from here. Most texts seem to end with reactions like Aldol condensation and Robinson Annulation. A functional group approach … Continue reading All Downhill After the Aldol

Favorite First-Semester Chapter: Chapter 9

My favorite chapter to teach in first-semester organic chemistry has to be Chapter 9 (“Nucleophilic Substitution and Elimination Reactions 1”) from Karty's text. The introductions of S­N2/E2 and SN1/E1 reactions begin in Chapters 7 and 8, respectively, but Chapter 9 puts these reactions to the test and suggests to the students that reactions do not … Continue reading Favorite First-Semester Chapter: Chapter 9

Building on their Knowledge: From Atoms to Multi-Step Synthesis to Curing Sick Puppies

Karty’s mechanistic approach to organic chemistry provides the content organization to facilitate student success. In a functional group approach students are more likely to apply an incorrect mechanism to solve a synthetic problem. This is because classification by functional group does not provide an organizational level that allows students to classify reactivity. Organization by functional … Continue reading Building on their Knowledge: From Atoms to Multi-Step Synthesis to Curing Sick Puppies

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?

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

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

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

Improvements on Retrosynthetic Analysis

Success in organic chemistry is heavily reliant on a student’s ability to identify patterns. Until recently, I organized my course by functional group. It was only after I adopted Joel Karty’s approach that I recognized that the variety of reactions used to synthesize each functional group can vary widely and that this variance makes it … Continue reading Improvements on Retrosynthetic Analysis

Reasoning By Analogy

For twelve years I’ve taught organic chemistry to a mixture of chemistry and biology students. I always begin Organic I by asking my students this same question: Why are you taking this class? Some students respond that the curriculum plan for their major or career requires the organic chemistry course sequence. For other students, organic … Continue reading Reasoning By Analogy