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Joanne Stewart, Hope College
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Joined: 11/17/2007 - 11:05am

Does your inorganic course "hang together?"

Inorganic chemistry courses can suffer from the same problem as many gen chem courses: Too many topics in too little time. This can lead to student complaints (and our own complaints!) that the course doesn't "hang together." Not hanging together can be detrimental to student learning because it leads to a focus on the infinite "facts" to be learned, instead of the broader themes, concepts, and ways of thinking.

Have you found ways to tackle this problem? In general chemistry, I've been teaching with ChemConnections modules because I think they address this problem, and they provide a real-world context for learning. But I've struggled with how to pull things together in Inorganic.
Adam R. Johnson, Harvey Mudd College
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Joined: 11/17/2007 - 10:55am

"We must hang together, gentlemen...else, we shall most assuredly hang separately."
  --  Benjamin Franklin

Seriously,  I have had this exact problem too.  I usually open my course with some humorous reference to the fact that they just spent a whole year on one element, and now that they've had practice, I'm going to spend 12 weeks on the rest of the periodic table...

For a while, I tried to use MO theory as the glue for my entire course, but what happened was, I could get through my MO unit, Coordination chemistry, organometallics, and even bioinorganic just fine, but when I hit descriptive, and solids, it just fell apart, and students commented on how disjointed the last 2-3 weeks was. 

So, the next couple times I taught the course, I used the Nobel prizes in inorganic chemistry to "bookend" the course.  I started with 1-3 lectures on Nobel prizes in inorganic, with a brief introduction to the chemistry at a fairly low level, with promises that they would understand it more deeply by the end of the semester.  I ended the course with special topics and student presentations on modern research in the field, which worked pretty well to complement the Nobel lectures.

I am back to using MO theory as the glue running through the course, but not as overtly.  I still feel like the first 2/3 "hangs together" pretty well, but what I do is have a hard break in there, and say, "now we are going to do some different stuff," whether it be bioinorganic, solids, physical methods, or whatever I feel like throwing into that last 3-4 weeks.  If the students see it as two separate mini-courses in one, they don't seem to complain as much.

Adam R. Johnson, Harvey Mudd College
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Joined: 11/17/2007 - 10:55am

Rather than edit my post, I am adding some more details here as I prepare my Nobel starting bookend for this spring.  My first lecture is often an overview of "the field" that includes, basically, a bunch of stuff that I think is cool.  So, I throw up some interesting structures (boranes, ferrocene), M-M triple and quadruple bonding, interesting reactions (nitrogen fixation by bacteria vs. by the Haber-Bosch process).  Interspersed throughout are brief, introductory presentations on Nobel prize winning work.  Here is a list of the Nobel Laureates whose work I discuss:

Lipscomb (boranes),Wilkinson (ferrocene), Taube (electron transfer), Haber (ammonia).

Included within the Taube portion, I also include Arrhenius, Werner and Marcus, showing how their work pertains to electron transfer.

Finally, I provide a list of all the Nobel prizes in Inorganic chemistry to the students and a link to the Nobel prize site:  http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/