31 Aug 2010

Introducing Inorganic Chemistry - First Day Activities

In-Class Activity

Submitted by Barbara Reisner, James Madison University
Categories
Description: 

Every time I teach inorganic, I always ask myself the question: “What’s the best way to motivate the course and get the students excited?” A long time ago, I decided it’s important to start with some music. (Until last year, Tom Lehrer’s The Elements was my favorite. As a TMBG fan, I’ve swiched to Meet the Elements.)

This year I decided to take 15 minutes today and ask my students: What is Inorganic Chemistry? I had them brainstorm in small groups of 3-4, write their definitions down, and share them with the group. Based on their definitions, inorganic chemistry is…
(1) chemistry that doesn't contain carbon.
(2) chemistry that doesn't contain hydrocarbons.
(3) the chemistry of the transition metals and their effect on the atoms around them.
(4) studying how the size and orientation of molecular orbitals affect ionic bonds.
I then took the opportunity to open up the current issue of ACS journal Inorganic Chemistry and look at the titles and graphics to demonstrate the diversity of the field and help them refine their definitions.
 
What do you do to start off your inorganic courses?

AttachmentSize
Microsoft Office document icon IC_TOC_1stDay_BAR_JLS_MJG.doc43.5 KB
Learning Goals: 

A student should gain an appreciation of the breadth of the field of inorganic chemistry.

Equipment needs: 

web access

Time Required: 
Fifteen minutes (but I limited the time). You could use as little as 10 minutes or as long as you want depending on your goals.
Evaluation
Evaluation Methods: 

I did no formal assessment on this activitiy.

Evaluation Results: 

I definitely met the goal of showing the diversity of the field and I think students were surprised at the breadth of inorganic chemistry.
 
Would I do it again? Yes. I’d probably pick a specific paper to talk a little more about or read the ToC a bit better so I could better discuss the applications of the research.

Creative Commons License: 
Creative Commons Licence

Comments

It seems that starting off the class with TMBG's Meet the Elements that it would be natural to start with the distribution of element of the universe based on nuclear fission and fussion reactions. 

I remember my inorganic instructor starting with the element distribution (great account is in Huheey) and loving it.  I have done it a few times, but I have found it falls flat with my students.  Kids today...(shake) (fist).  Maybe I need to liven it up with some fission or fusion demos...

Adam

When I do a "meet the element" kind of introduction, it's in the context of bioinorganic chemistry.  What metals are important biologically?  What metals are toxic?  What's the overlap between the two?  This is how the Metals in Biological Systems - Who? How? and Why? 5-slides about learning object starts out. Generally I've found students are pretty excited to hear about what the elements are doing in their bodies. 

One thing that I have done is to read passages from Oliver Sacks' Uncle Tungsten. This is one of my favortire books and I try to share my enthusiasm for inorganic through some of Sacks' recollections. In addition to som eof the chemistry references, I like the mention of having a home lab. The students find this quite surprising.

Randy, your Uncle Tungsten comment reminded me that Joanne Stewart has a learning object using that book.  It's called Oliver Sacks' "Uncle Tungsten" and inorganic chemistry.  She has students write chapter summaries and discussion questions based on that book.  She comments that it's "one of the most fun things she's done in a class."

I did this the first day of class (yesterday!). I first asked the students to define inorganic chemistry and got the standard answers ("not" organic chemistry, etc.), then I gave them some photocopied tables of contents from Inorganic Chemistry. I asked them to note what they saw that was expected and unexpected. For "expected" they said: metals, spectroscopy, structure and bonding. For "unexpected" they said: nonstoichiometric compounds, lots of stuff on magnetism, and lots of computational chemistry. We didn't spend long on this and it was fun.

Oh, and by the way, ACS journals now allow you to print the table of contents very easily. When you view the contents on line, there's a little box (currently labeld "new feature") that lets you view them three different ways. One of the views is "print view."

I've asked this same question every semester I've taught inorganic.  As a means of learning names quickly, I have the class fill out notecards with some basic personal information and their answers to the question "what is inorganic chemistry".  After that, I share the individual student comments anonymously.  Over the years, I've gotten similar responses to Barbara's question and it has been a great way to engage their brains on day 1.  

As most of my inorganic students have already had organic, we then talk about some of the differences...some engaging conversation usually ensues when I show the class molecules in which carbon has more than 4 bonds! 

I love (LOVE) rocking their world on the first day.  I don't usually ask for their definition of inorganic, in a formal sense, but I always put it up on the board or on the screen and ask "what is inorganic? its IN-organic.  So, whats organic?"  After a few responses, I aim them towards 'hydrocarbons' as a reasonable definition of organic, and then show HCN, CO and C60, and ask them if they are organic or inorganic.  Then I do the molecule parade from chapter one of Miessler and Tarr, showing the 5-6 coordinate C's, 2 coordinate H's, and quadruple bonds.  Its great fun to rock their world.  Then I tell them that in 15 weeks, they'll be able to describe (at a low level) the bonding in all of those molecules and their expressions are usually "uh, I think I'm in the wrong class..."  great fun.

I did a version of this on this first day using Joanne's extension with the table of contents from IC.  I gave each group a different issue and asked them to note what they saw that was unexpected.  The biggest surprises were the dna/proteins and the computational aspects.  This also gave me a chance to plug the fact that it's the 50th anniversary for IC. 

I think it went well and certainly got the attention of a few students.  It also prompted a brief spontaneous discussion of what non-innocent ligands are!

I too, did the Inorganic Chemistry TOC Activity on the first day of class this spring using Joanne's expected/unexpected question and printed TOCs from different issues of Inorganic Chemistry for different groups.  I teach 2 different courses in Inorganic: an Intro Inorganic course (gen chem is the prereq) for sophomores/juniors and an Advanced class for juniors/seniors.  I found it interesting to compare and contrast the two classes in their responses.  The younger students just seemed to pick out key words from random titles that they labeled as "unexpected" (Amanda, I had a group that focused on the non-innocent ligands, too!), whereas the older students gave more thoughtful responses.  Obviously, they had more experience with the "expected" realm of inorganic chemistry than the Intro Inorganic class.

Before breaking up into groups, we also had a discussion about how they might classify the different subdisciplines of inorganic chemistry.  Again, the younger students really needed help thinking about this, and in the end, I provided them with the 6 subdisciplines on the VIPEr home page.  The Advanced class came up with these on their own and also added Physical Inorganic Chemistry and Nanomaterials.  In addition to expected/unexpected, I asked the groups to label each article in their TOC with one of the subdiscipline classifications, but not to spend too long debating any one article (in some cases, they might fit more than one subdiscipline).  We ran out of time in the Intro Inorganic class so most of them did not get very far with the classification.  So, on the first problem set, I asked them to finish looking through their TOC, this time online where they could see the graphical image posted with the title.  I asked them to identify at least 3 papers where their initial classification changed once they saw the graphical image.  I think the subdiscipline they struggled with the most was solid state and materials chemistry; they were often unable to recognize an extended solid from the formula or the name of the compound in the title.

Finally, I asked each group to pick ONE article from their TOC that they would like to "learn more about."  In my Intro Inorganic course, I was just curious to see what they would pick.  In my Advanced Inorganic class, I am actually following up with these 3 groups and their choices.  We will be taking 3 class periods in the last month of the semester to devote to reading and discussing these papers, with the students in charge of presenting any background information that is needed to understand the paper and leading the class discussion.  We'll see how it goes!  Some of their choices are interesting AND challenging!  But they seem excited about it.

If you want to see the format of how I presented this to the students both on the first day of class and the follow-up problem set question, see the document that I attached above.

I used this activity on day one of my junior/senior level course. Here are some responses from the students. Inorganic chemistry is:

1) Everything that organic chemistry is not (I loved this one!)                      

2) Bonding metals to complexes

3) Complexes with really strange charges (Really cute!)

4) Complexes with colors

I also included the TOC from Inorganic Chemistry.

Sibrina 

I used this exercise on my first day of my organometallics senior/junior level course. Some students had another inorganic course and other students did not. Some will take another inorganic course before graduating. I first had the class provide me with a definition of inorganic chemistry. I broke the students into groups and I provided them with the TOC for Inorganic Chemistry and Organometallics. I had the students look first at Inorganic Chemistry and had them come up with the subdiscipline areas (bioinorganic, organometallics, materials, solid state, etc) based on the topics in the journal. I then had them compare and contrast the types of studies that were reported in each journal, looking for similiarities and differences. We also defined organometallics based on the journal articles. We then concluded by coming up with a definition of inorganic chemistry based upon the journal. 

I used Maggie's handout as a guide.

I also used these TOCs as a guid for a ChemDraw assignment where I have the students load ChemDraw onto their computers and they then practice drawing different metal complexes found in the articles. 

A great exercise to tie together my students that had different backgrounds. 

I asked my 18 inorganic chemistry students to define inorganic chemistry. Here is one definition that I just had to share, "Inorganic chemistry is the unknown, the great knowledge void where the lawless transition metals reign in chaos and fear."

Sibrina

I adapted this idea for the first day of my junior Inorganic course last Fall (and am remembering to post this due to the VIPEr workshop!). I tweaked it in a couple ways:

1) I asked them to look at the TOC of Chemistry of Materials, instead of Inorganic Chemistry. I liked how the titles generally gave a context, underscored the importance of inorganic chemistry in a variety of systems, and showed how difficult it can be to draw clear lines.

2) I asked students to read the TOC before the first day and answer an electronic questionnaire where they identified inorganic, organic, and hybrid materials, as well as the contexts they found most interesting. 

Students were able to accurately categorize compounds and this gave me a nice introduction to who they were and what they were interested in before class started.

 

 

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