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Specialty Chemistry Forums => Chemical Education and Careers => Topic started by: movies on January 14, 2005, 01:34:57 AM

Title: In search of input
Post by: movies on January 14, 2005, 01:34:57 AM
Some of the staff here at the Chemical Forums, myself included, have the opportunity to teach chemistry in classrooms at universities.  This task has caused me to consider what makes a chemistry class "good" and what makes a class "bad."  I certainly had my views on what I liked and disliked when I was taking undergraduate chemistry courses, but In this thread I would like to solicit the opinions of the other users here so that we might improve our teaching abilities.

To that end, please post any thoughts you have about chemistry courses, past and present, and what you liked or disliked about them.  If you have specific examples (e.g. a particular topic that you didn't think was taught very well), I would love to hear about it and how you thought it could have been improved.

Any level or field of chemistry is applicable to this thread!

I appreciate your input.
Title: Re:In search of input
Post by: jdurg on January 14, 2005, 10:38:27 AM
I have always had a small urge to teach a general chemistry course since I love the topic so much, but never really went through with it since I'm not good at speaking in front of a group, and I wouldn't want to do high school chemistry since there is more 'crap' to deal with on that level than at a University level.  (Since at a University level, the reason why people are in the course is because they want to take it, not because they're forced to like in High School).  For me, the most important thing to do is show examples.  Just saying that 'X reacts with B' or that 'Y looks like such-and-such'.  Is meaningless.  Show a demonstration of X reacting with B.  Bring in a photograph or example of Y.  Demonstrations are crucial because they show the class what you're describing.  In high school, my teacher performed a lot of demonstrations, and for the ones that she was too nervous to do or the chemicals were too expensive for, she had laserdiscs of those demos.  (That is how I saw Rubidium reacting with water).  It is absolutely vital to show the students the topics you're discussing.  Nearly everyone I talked to who hated their chemistry classes had one thing in common; either their teacher just sat up front and lectured, or the demonstrations given were on par with a vinegar/baking soda reaction.  While it can take a bit of time to properly set up a good demo, the long lasting effects of that demonstration are greater than you believe.  That's why I love my element collection so much.  It gives me a chance to see the things that were usually talked about, but never shown.  I can see pure bromine.  I can see pure osmium.  I can see pure cesium.  When there's a chance that you'll see a good demo or something neat in class, you're more likely to show up and pay attention.  If you know that you'll just listen to a boring lecture, why go to class?

So I say that if you want to be a good chemistry teacher, you MUST give good demonstrations and show examples of what you're talking about.
Title: Re:In search of input
Post by: HNO3 on January 14, 2005, 10:49:44 AM
I must agree...demonstrations are very important.
Title: Re:In search of input
Post by: hmx9123 on May 11, 2005, 04:06:56 AM
Jdurg is right, demos are a must.

I would also say that the material has to be presented in an interesting manner.  That may sound like a cop-out, but  let me explain.  I would say the instructor needs to do the following:

- Ask questions of the class, and make sure to call on random students, not just the ones who always answer questions
- Be open to student questions, not just lecture all the way through
- Make sure demos are interspersed at appropriate moments, not just at the beginning or end of lecture
- Be energetic with voice and dynamic with movement--I had a 92 year old P-Chem professor who talked like no one else was in the room.  It was like listening to a walking corpse and probably a good deal of the reason why I hate P-Chem.
- Make sure to explain things in a logical manner and do not overestimate students' grasp.  Make sure you explain things in more than one manner

And for God's sake, don't use f-ing powerpoint for anything other than pictures.  If you want students to write something down, then write it yourself on the board or an overhead.  It paces you so that you don't go too fast.  I hate courses where teachers use powerpoint with pre-typed stuff.  The students lose so much information there.  Almost as bad are the powerpoint lectures were the teacher has given the students handouts of the notes already.  Those suck, too, because the students don't write the information down and can go to sleep much more easily.

A prof needs to hold office hours and be receptive to students.  I've know profs that just scoff at students and don't care about them.  It shows.

And last, try to let the students know why you're doing things.  If you stand up and say "This is the way I'm teaching" then they think you're a dick.  If you let them know "No, I can't regrade your test because it would be unfair to everyone else" or "I can't accept that late because there has to be a cut off point on time or no one would ever turn anything in", then they are more understanding.  If you are fair and understanding with them, they will feel like they're being treated justly.  I have known way too many professors who have become callous with their students because they have been innundated with the same problems over and over, and the students think of them (somewhat justifiably) as disinterested and unfair.
Title: Re:In search of input
Post by: Dude on May 17, 2005, 02:44:02 PM
My recollection about school courses is as follows:

In high school, a class was determined to be good or bad based upon the "coolness" or entertainment value of the teacher or subject.

In undergraduate college, a class was determined to be good or bad based upon whether the professor indicated clearly why you were doing what you were doing.  The heart of many classes gets into very mechanical procedures (deriving equations, memorizing names, reaction mechanisms, etc.) without a clear and constant reminder of why a student is doing all of these activities and what ultimate benefit will be obtained from that subject matter.

Most of my graduate school classes simply sucked.  The professors used the class as a way to lure students into their research group or as a necessary evil to justify their job.  I agree with hmx9123, Powerpoint should be used for research presentations only.  Professors that use Powerpoint or transparencies to TEACH a class are lazy bums and should be reprimanded by the university.
Title: Re:In search of input
Post by: petegt on July 26, 2005, 12:35:40 PM
I teach high school chemistry.  I've had good success so far with my kids.  Here are some key things I've done/seen:

-Be engaging.  Don't just lecture.  I try my hardest to have some sort of video/demo/lab once a day.  Is that tough?  Heck yes!  But It's worth it for the kids.

-Have a style of teaching that makes you show your enjoyment of it.  I said stupid stuff all the time like, isn't that hydrogen spectruum so amazing!  And I do a little dance.  Kids think i'm nuts but they are happy to see i'm interested in it.

-Challenge.  There's nothing worse than only giving them a little and not trying to make thme do work that they don't think tehy can do.  Most teachers in my area have a tendency to writeoff kids and give up and only do a little bit.  I give mine a good amount of work to keep them busy.  And my management and instruction are all the better.  In the begining it's tough for them and even for me to keep assignments up and running and checking them.  But you gotta do it.

-Take any and all questions that pertain to chemistry.  I usually take a question that doens't eem to fit and somehow end up making it fit.  If I don't know the answer to a question i say, sorry I don't know but I will get back to you on that.

Hopefully this helps.

Title: Re:In search of input
Post by: movies on July 26, 2005, 01:42:35 PM
-Take any and all questions that pertain to chemistry.  I usually take a question that doens't eem to fit and somehow end up making it fit.  If I don't know the answer to a question i say, sorry I don't know but I will get back to you on that.

This is a really great point that I hadn't considered before.  I remember hounding my science teachers in high school about the various science topics I became interested in and for the most part they happily answered my questions.  I really took that for granted, but in retrospect there was no better way to encourage my interest in science.  I think that more teachers should be aware of the fact that a big part of their job is to be a resource to the students, not just a lecturer.
Title: Re:In search of input
Post by: Linkiroth on July 28, 2005, 09:39:52 PM
I may only be a high school student, but let me put it by a quote from my class.

"I love when Mr. C blows **** up!"

Demonstrations, jokes, participation. Livelyness! I love Chemistry, however, it, like most topics, can get dull. Keep the class exciting. Depending on the size of the class, you can do different things. I.E. The first day of school last year, the first thing my teacher does, Takes Sodium (Actual Na, not a compound, it was vacuum sealed and etc to prevent oxidation) and water... and throws the sodium into the water. Although it was a small amount and preformed behind a plastic hood, it was still a brilliant display. I don't care how smart someone is... I don't care how boring someone is. Everyone loves to see things blow up.

Best lab: 5 minute ice cream.

We did everything except handle the Liquid Nitrogen... Tell me that free ice cream doesn't make chem the best class ever.

I haven't attended courses in a university setting, so I don't know if this would apply, and I'm sorry if it doesn't. Just giving some ideas out there.

Title: Re:In search of input
Post by: lemonoman on August 03, 2005, 08:55:00 AM
Demos will indeed keep students interested, and paying attention is class...the other thing is that for the mathematical part of chemistry, demos aren't that helpful.  And for some reason, its this mathematical part that makes students hate chemistry.  I think that if students had a good math background in them, then this part of the class might also be more interesting, and they would learn more from it.

What I notice in University is that people either like or hate chemistry.  None of this in-between stuff  :P

One thing that keeps people interested is to hear good reviews of the professor/teacher from other students before the class even begins.  If they go in expecting a good class, they'll be more attentive, and understand more.  If they go in expecting a boring old geezer, then they'll be tainted for the duration.  In that respect, the vitality/uderstandbaility/enthusiasm of the professor can be what makes a class 'good'.