Submitted by Kari Young / Centre College on Mon, 08/10/2020 - 15:51
Reflection Piece 2

For VIPEr Fellows, there are two types of people: bonding and solids. Fellows are asked to pick one of these two common topics in foundational inorganic chemistry courses as a specific focus for our course transformation efforts. When I became a Fellow, I joined the “solids” group for two reasons.

  1. The solids portion of my class was one of the weaker, less focused parts of my class. Chapter 7 appeared every year somewhat randomly tucked between molecular orbital theory and coordination chemistry.
  2. The organizers needed more Fellows to be in the solids group.

I invited solids to play a more central role in my course by giving it more time and space, but more about me and my course were transformed than just my solids unit.

Before the first Fellows workshop, my solids unit consisted of two rushed days on crystal lattices and then a few weeks later, a day on semiconductors and a random day right before Thanksgiving that was really about pigments. Solids didn’t fit into the narrative arc of my course, and even I wasn’t sure what my goals were.

After the workshop, I reorganized around the following learning goals:


Identify structure, number of atoms or equivalents, and coordination number in primitive cubic, body-centered cubic, and face-centered cubic unit cells.

Class 1

Calculate density in primitive cubic, body-centered cubic, and face-centered cubic structures.

Use the radius ratio rule to predict coordination number.

Class 2

Compare and contrast ionic, metallic, and covalent bonding

Class 3

Explain the differences in properties of conductors, semiconductors, and insulators using band theory.

Explain how dopants increase the conductivity of n-type and p-type semiconductors

Class 4

Analyze solid-state structures and spectroscopy in “Mn3+ in Trigonal Bipyramidal Coordination: A New Blue Chromophore” J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2009, 131, 47, 17084–17086

One moment of especial help was a VIPEr Fellows virtual check-in that happened right on the first day of my solids unit. While I had developed a plan during the workshop, I still wasn’t quite sure how to show students rather than tell them about the differences between ionic, metallic, and covalent bonding. Our check-in became a lightning round of ideas about lattice energy in the silver halide series and the differences between the Born-Haber cycle and the Born-Meyer equation. I was reminded that I don’t have to do everything alone; I have a whole community of experts who love to talk about teaching inorganic chemistry. Special thanks to Kevin, Weiwei, Caroline, Joanne, and Sheila for helping me think through these ideas. We all get by with a little help from our friends.

The real class did not quite follow my plan. Despite a three-hour lab session to explore the ICE model kits, my students still needed a whole class day to unpack what they were seeing. And so four class days stretched to five, and my neat, self-contained class sessions got spread out and divided. As I was teaching, I felt disappointed that my students weren’t learning as quickly as I had expected.

However, my VIPEr Fellows data helped me interpret my class in a new way. The COPUS analysis showed me that my students were engaging in the class in lots of different ways and that I had created a student-centered classroom environment that encouraged asking questions. My ACS exam scores and affect survey data showed that my students’ confidence matched their abilities, which I interpret to mean that they were using their metacognitive skills. So even though I didn’t feel like my students were learning, they really were! Going forward, I’ll work on developing my own skills for matching up my gut reactions with my students’ experiences.

So overall, I succeeded in transforming my solids unit in a meaningful way. I will keep tuning and tweaking and reflecting. More importantly, I gained

  • A model for making sustainable changes to my courses.
  • A community of experts who love to swap great ideas.
  • A new way of analyzing and evaluating my courses.