6 Aug 2019

Foundational Inorganic Chemistry for First Years

Submitted by Michelle Personick, Wesleyan University
Cohort 1
Reflection Piece 1

One of the biggest hesitations I had coming into the VIPEr workshop is that my class is a bit different from the courses of other VIPEr fellows because I teach a large (55-85 students) general chemistry course rather than a sophomore or junior/senior inorganic course. We cover a lot of foundational inorganic content in my course, but there are special considerations for a course where the students are primarily first years, with some sophomores. For many students, this is their second college chemistry course (and second semester on campus). For other students who place directly into the second semester of the sequence due to AP credit, my course may be their first college chemistry course and perhaps the first time they’ve had a chemistry class at all in 2-3 years.

I use twenty minute POGIL-type group activities every class period in my junior/senior level Advanced Inorganic course, which meets for 80 minutes twice a week. However, given the logistical challenges of a large class with first years in a fixed seat lecture classroom, I didn’t see a clear path forward to implementing that style of activity in my general chemistry course, which meets for only 50 minutes three times per week. We also have short semesters (12 weeks), so I always feel there’s not enough time to cover the content I’d like to cover as it is. However, discovering the many different forms of learning objects available on the VIPEr website gave me a lot of ideas for my course.

I didn’t have much experience with literature-based classroom activities before the workshop, so my perspective on that particular type of activity definitely changed over the course of the weekend. In particular, suggestions from workshop leaders for literature activities with appropriate content along with advice on how to adapt them to introductory level students helped me come up with a plan for implementing a few of these activities in my course. During the work time provided, I was able to easily adapt the “Fivefold Bonding in a Cr(I) Dimer” literature discussion activity from the VIPEr website for use in my course next spring.

I think the literature discussions will fit really nicely with something my colleague and I have already been implementing in this two semester sequence, which is “badges.” Badges are guided skill-building activities that the students complete outside of class time. They’re designed around fundamental chemistry skills that students wouldn’t necessarily acquire from standard course content and lectures. Some badges we’ve developed include: Constructing a Scientific Argument, Using ChemDraw, Science Information Literacy, and Using Computational Chemistry to Visualize Chemical Bonds. The Computational Chemistry badge is adapted closely from the “Viewing Molecular Orbital Calculations with GaussView” laboratory from VIPEr.

The Science Information Literacy badge introduces students to approaches for reading the chemical literature. In the past, I’ve assigned this badge mid-semester because I’ve been reworking it. Next year, I plan to assign the badge toward the beginning of the semester, and then add two to three literature discussions afterward. One will be the adapted “Fivefold Bonding” discussion, which I think will provide a really nice opportunity to re-focus on a fundamental conceptual understanding of molecular orbitals and bonding at a point in the semester when the students tend to have switched to just filling in MO diagrams and counting bond order. We don’t usually cover delta bonds, so the literature discussion will challenge students to apply what they know about sigma and pi bonding to a new context, and will serve as a transition to our coverage of introductory coordination chemistry. I’d like to also have a literature discussion that fits with the broad topic of the chemistry of ions in aqueous solution (hard-soft acid-base theory, Bronsted acid/base concepts in solubility). My current plan is to develop a discussion based on an article about metal-organic frameworks to use the opportunity to expose students to materials chemistry as well.

As others have mentioned, the 2019 VIPEr Fellows Workshop was a particularly fantastic opportunity for community building and for tackling pedagogical challenges and exchanging ideas. The time provided to actually work on our courses was great as well, and overall I left feeling energized and excited about the prospects for my course next spring.

 

Comments

We have been talking about using badges to recognize certain laboratory competencies, but I really like the idea of using them for general scientific skills. We typically try to build some of those skills (reading the lit, writing reports, oral communication skills) across our chemistry curriculum; thereby "scaffolding" them over an extended period of time. But I could imagine having badges for them with "levels" built in. For example, in gen chem, students learn how to write a results section and they learn peer review. That could be level 1 for writing. Then in organic, they learn how to keep a very detailed laboratory notebook and expand their report writing skills. That could be level 2. I can't actually imagine ever being organized enough to pull something like this off. But one can dream!