18 Sep 2017

Laying the Foundation

Submitted by Sheila Smith, University of Michigan- Dearborn

I'm just starting the third week of my Foundations Inorganic Course, which I like to call GenChem III. This is the course where I tell my science majors the "why?" behind all those pesky Periodic Trends we made them memorize in GenChem. I teach my course pretty heavily focused on bonding and much less on Periodicity. But we do spend some time early on in the course on the orbitals, shielding effects and the repercussions on periodicity. The plan is not unique to me; my course fits nicely into the "Fundamentals and Selected Topics" umbrella described in the 2016 survey paper "Foundation Coursework in Undergraduate Inorganic Chemistry: Results from a National Survey of Inorganic Chemistry Faculty" by J. Raker et al, [J. Chem. Educ.201592 (6), pp 973–979] I'm sort of just working through the first two chapters of Miessler, Tarr and Fischer. But I am enriching that material with lots of active learning and it's a true pleasure to have a small class this term, which makes that even more fun.  

Here's my course in LOs, so far

Wk1, Day 1overview

IC top 10 first day activity*

*modified to use latest Inorganic Chemistry Journal TOC

Wk 2, Day 1orbitals

First day review of atomic orbitals*

*slightly modified, because my class is so small

Wk 2, Day 2more orbitals, shielding


Trends in Z* of 4s and 3d orbitals in first row transition metals

Wk 3, Day 1shielding, periodic trends

Trends in Z* of 4s and 3d orbitals in first row transition metals

Athletic periodic trends


The first day gave us a chance to just look over the breadth of inorganic chemistry, and the students were surprised by the many research topics that fall under the auspices of "Inorganic Chemistry". I don't spend much time on the hstory of the development of atomic theory, but we dive right into what they memorized about oritals and orbital shapes. There's a lot of drawing on day 2. I bring a big box of colored pencils. Students are shaken to realize that they don't remember orbital shapes so well, and I send them home with instructions to dig out their genchem texts and review. I use the Orbitron to discuss the Schroedinger Equation and its relationship to orbital shapes. If you've never played around on the website, it has a wealth of information for students to explore in addition to pretty pictures of orbitals. Shielding is new material for most of them, so I send them home with a cheatsheet and the first question of Karen Holman's beautiful Slater LO for the fourth period. I assign each of them one of the elements K to Mn for which to calculate Z* for a 4s electron and a 3d electron. We start Day 4 with their answers for that question and it leads perfectly into periodic trends.   

It may be hard to keep up the pace of all these activities each day, but so far, my students are all actively participating each day, and it seems like they are having fun. 

IONiC's new NSF grant is totally focused on the Foundations course, so look for more discussions like this one in the coming months.  



This sounds like a fun inorganic chemistry course! Kudos!


I've resolved to make my inorganic course more active next spring - I can already see the potential!  Love the picture of your students.