8 Mar 2014

Remembering where my students are

Submitted by Barbara Reisner, James Madison University

I’m teaching the first semester of inorganic chemistry for the first time in nearly 10 years. I’d forgotten how much fun this class is! In that amount of time, I also have forgotten where my students are…

This semester, I’ve been doing more structured in class activities than I’ve done in the past. Last Wednesday, with a grant proposal due, I didn’t have time to put together one of my daily group worksheet so instead I asked everyone to take out a sheet of paper and write a question they had about what we had done in class today. I asked them for questions twice more during class and came home with well over ~150 questions related to what we’d done in class that day.

My students impressed me with the quality of the questions… How are band gaps measured experimentally? Can other types of energy input cause conductivity? Can electrons be conductive in two and three dimensions? How are the physical properties of metals explained by the band model? Equally good were the questions that reminded me about the differences in our ability to synthesize inorganic ideas… Is Rn a conductor or an insulator? How do you know when to use band theory or regular MO theory? What types of elements are good conductors and good insulators?

On Friday in class we went back to the basics - the elements of the periodic table as we talk about them during the first week of general chemistry - and tried to put their knowledge of the elements into an inorganic context now that we had a few more ways to talk about bonding, structure, and reactivity. If it weren’t for being too busy to write a question, i would have forgotten how important it is to cycle back and build a bridge between the models we are learning this semester and the foundations from general chemistry.

And now it’s midterm break at JMU. Time to regroup and get ready to jump back into (ionic) solids after a weekend at the ACS meeing in Dallas.