Submitted by BoB LeSuer / The College at Brockport, SUNY on Wed, 07/10/2013 - 13:57

I am looking for some suggestions on innovative strategies for introducing the chemistry of main group elements to students.  Our Inorganic Chemistry class is a pre-pchem lecture and lab and I'll be using the 5th edition of Miessler/Fischer/Tarr.  (And a big thank you goes out to the authors, who have finally accepted to include at least a little bit of redox chemistry in the text.)  My issue arises with Chapter 8 (and the like), which in my opinion boils down to "read these sections, memorize these facts, quiz Monday".  Since I only pretend to be an inorganic chemist, I am unable to provide the flavor/background/insight that someone who has spent his/her glory-days (if that's what you would call grad school) fiddling with phosgene or manipulating metal carbonyls.  In addition to my low-lying comfort level with the subject matter, I haven't really settled on what I want my students to take away from their study of the main group elements.  I am fortunate in that our student body has bought in to novel teaching methods (guided inquiry, flipped classrooms, etc).  I'm struggling with finding suitable content.  If I have to develop my own content - so be it; but it would be helpful to me to know that what I'm focusing has some overlap with what others in the field find relevant.

So at the end of the day, I guess my questions boil down to:

1 - How do you teach main-group chemistry?

2 - What do you expect your students to take away from the "main group" portion of your class?

Kurt Birdwhistell / Loyola University New Orleans

For the most part I do not cover main group chemistry.  I cover a little bit of this chemistry when I discuss semiconductors, but beyond that I do not cover it in my inorganic course.  

I find it  difficult to make that material interesting.  I try not to have the students memorize reactions.  

Some of this material is covered when I discuss Acid base chemistry, also. 



Fri, 07/12/2013 - 12:32 Permalink
Sabrina Sobel / Hofstra University

You should look at Decriptive Chemistry, by Rayner-Canham and Overton. They've got a lot of interesting information on Main Group Chemistry, and good questions. The reaction schemes at the end of each chapter provide an opportunity to ask meaningful questions. You could spend some time on silicates and gemstones (TM ion substitutions create color); certainly femmechems like it.

Fri, 07/12/2013 - 13:41 Permalink
Amanda Reig / Ursinus College

My class is typically about 12-14 students.  I assign each student (randomly) either a group of the periodic table, a row of the transition metals, or the lanthanides or actinides.  With my class size that covers pretty much the whole table.  You could of course restrict this to just main group if you wanted.  Each student then makes a poster about their set of elements and we have a poster session day in class.  Students peer-grade the other posters, and are responsible for the material from 5 of the posters on the next exam (I do a series of fill in the blank questions from each poster and the students choose the sets to answer).  This gives them practice with making and presenting posters (I go around to each student to ask questions and gauge how well they engaged with the material they present).  All I really hope they take away is an appreciation for some of the interesting chemistry and/or trends for the elements they may not encounter on a day-to-day basis.

There is also a nice activity here on somewhere about a weekly "quiz" in class dealing with each section of the periodic table.  

Fri, 07/12/2013 - 21:13 Permalink
Chip Nataro / Lafayette College

I think main group descriptive chemistry is an important component of the inorganic curriculum. After reading his autobiography, I found the J. Chem. Ed. article ( by Basolo to be very interesting. I implemented this approach in my sophomore inorganic class this past spring. I would love to say it went well, but it did not. I was especially dismayed when several students proposed Na (s) and H2O (l) as products in the reaction of NaOH with SO2 (sorry, I don't recall their S containing product). Here is my take on this matter. We are teaching 'intuition'. How do you do that? I don't know. I think it comes down to seeing material. You can clearly never teach everything. But if they can see some common valences and structure types it is a starting point. Like most things in chemistry, you have to see many different examples at different times to get a true appreciation for it. 

Mon, 07/15/2013 - 11:14 Permalink
Sabrina Sobel / Hofstra University

It's definitely important. You can incorporate history into it, by discussing the limestone to concrete trandformation, production of sulfuric acid (by far the biggest chemical product by tonnage), isolation and purification of Bauxite and electrochemical reduction to aluminum - this also has a tie-in to an environmental diaster in Germany a couple of years ago when a bauxite purification plant spilled caustic solution into a nearby town. The liquid was lurid red due to high iron content - that leads to a nice discussion about how iron and aluminum often co-precipitate in minerals due to similarities in charge and size. Heavy metal contamination can be discussed in light of the recent disaster in Kentucky(?) in which coal fly ash was spilled out of a mountaintop when a containment pond failed.

Mon, 07/15/2013 - 11:38 Permalink
Anthony L. Fernandez / Merrimack College

Hello all,

I have used an approach similar to that mentioned by Amanda. I have randomly assigned a group from the periodic table (1-8 and lanthanides and actindes) to the students and they had to create a wiki page on their group chemistry.  These pages were shared with the rest of the members of the class. I then added two questions on the final exam - each student got a question based upon their assigned group and then had to choose one question from the ones based upon the other groups.

This worked reasonaly well, but I was very ushappy with the wiki software.  I did not use this assignment this year, and I am trying to retool it for the upcoming academic year. 

Mon, 07/22/2013 - 17:28 Permalink