Submitted by Sheila Smith / University of Michigan- Dearborn on Wed, 09/10/2014 - 14:33

How would you define the field of inorganic?  More interestingly, how would your undergraduates define the field before their first course in inorganic?  I use a first day activity from VIPEr to ask just that question each year in my sophomore/junior level Inorganic I (no P-chem pre-req) course.  This is a much used and much modified activity (,, but it boils down to using the primary literature to help unfamiliar students understand just how broad the field is, and how much fabulous chemistry it encompasses.  I think that bringing the primary literature into the undergraduate classroom is one of the most important activities that I do.  No offense to the great textbook authors out there (and on here), but there’s just no way that an undergraduate textbook can keep up with the blinding pace of developments in inorganic. 

Now, of course, students are probably not ready to read a paper on day 1, but they can read titles and look at pictures.  So this is what I have them do: look at a single TOC from Inorganic Chemistry or a best of/most read from the last 12 months.  These lists usually contain something from all the various sub-disciplines of inorganic, and the best of lists contain really exciting advances.  I have students try to classify each article as belonging in one (or more) of the various sub-disciplines, and choose one paper for further discussion sometime later in the semester. My 20 students this semester seem (based on the list that they used) to be very interested in solar energy conversion and in bio-medicine- good news since both of these are among the big challenges that their generation will face and hopefully solve.  And now I know that I can keep their attention if I can tie the material I’m teaching in class to these big ideas that they are already interested in.

I also have students circle the words they don’t understand, because, of course, there are words they don’t understand.  (Heck... there are words I don't understand). Reading the primary literature can be a steep learning curve; but I firmly believe that every student can get something out of every paper (even if it’s only an opinion about how NOT to write), and day 1 is a good place to start.

Kyle Grice / DePaul University

I plan on adapting and implementing this approach for my inorganic chemistry course in the spring! 


Thu, 09/11/2014 - 11:01 Permalink