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Teaching Chemistry, According to the Press

You know how most newspaper articles that deal with chemistry show that the writer didn’t know very much about chemistry? Well, it looks as if people know even less about how chemistry is actually taught. Chemjobber has more here. I’ll echo his question: do they really not teach anyone at Emory what a bond is until sophomore year? Or did someone garble that part, too

20 comments on “Teaching Chemistry, According to the Press”

  1. @ChemProfCramer says:

    I suspect the curricular change vis a vis bonds would be that in the first year their “existence” is emphasized without any attempt to engage in the generally useless argle-bargle excuse for quantum mechanics that tends to be placed into first-year textbooks in an attempt to rationalize bonding to students who’ve never seen a differential equation. I haven’t studied these curricula, so I’m just guessing, but starting with a bit more phenomenology and moving on to deeper analysis later, as students acquire the relevant mathematical tools, seems entirely reasonable to me. I generally resist the idea that there is a “best” way to teach the subject — I support instead the idea that what is MOST important is an enthusiastic, engaged instructor, and tinkering with curricula is a great way to get faculty enthusiastic again if they’ve grown tired of a particular routine. Vive l’experiment (says this theorist…)

  2. Henry's cat says:

    Chromatography: the separation of organic and inorganic compounds. Genius.

  3. will says:

    I was a grad student at emory in late 90’s early 2000’s, and did a lot of extra teaching to distract myself from my tire fire of a research project. the teaching faculty that was there when i was, and for the most part still is, is pretty solid. i can’t imagine freshman chemistry being taught without discussing differences between covalent and ionic bond

  4. agsone says:

    I doubt any regular around here would think otherwise but here’s the General Chemistry 1 course description from the Emory website:
    “This course is an introduction to chemistry, the central science. The fundamentals of chemistry are essential for a greater understanding of biological and physical processes. This course aims to develop a skill set that encompasses problem solving and critical thinking. The content covers the principles of stoichiometry, solution reactions, atomic structure, periodic trends, molecular structure, bonding, and states of matter.”

  5. Wavefunction says:

    As someone who was a TA for sophomore chemistry at Emory, I can assure you that I taught everyone what a “bond” is! Multiple times.

  6. overthetop says:

    I received my BS in chemistry from Emory a dozen or so years ago, and I can quite confidently confirm that freshman and sophomore chemistry classes teach chemical bonds. I’m pretty sure in 1st year general chemistry we had exams with questions asking us to identify ionic and covalent bonds from a series of disclosed compounds.

  7. Hap says:

    Is it possible that the author meant separations of organic and inorganic materials and not separations of organic from inorganic materials? I wouldn’t assume chromatography would be often used for inorganics, but I would assume it’s used (sometimes) for organometallics. (I haven’t read the article so…).

  8. It's an Education Thing says:

    My wife teaches high school chemistry and something that she sees time and again is that when a new administration/state policy/federal push/etc comes in they always have to shake things up. First it was teaching without tests and only hands on projects, then it was a ton of group work emphasis, then it is sub dividing the schools into “academy’s”, on and on. The ideas are always drummed up as THE THING that will save education, then abandoned when the new push comes down the pipe for something new, and often times equally as useless. Politicians want to be seen as the savior of education, and to seem like that, they have to re-invent the wheel.
    I am guessing some universities have gotten in on the fun.

  9. jrftzgb says:

    So I have two observations
    1. the person who wrote this seems woefully uninformed on both chemistry and education, and heck let’s add chemical education as well. It saddens me because they could have found a post-doc with a family who could use a contract writing job, even if it is for one story, to pay the bills and pad their work experience, to do a better job writing this.
    2. in the province of Ontario we cover bonds extensively in the high school curriculum (and granted I don’t know the curriculum in most states) but I can’t imagine covalent and ionic bonds are not the newest concepts to most freshman.

  10. Anonymous says:

    If this is how The Wall Street Journal reports on things I understand, how can I trust them in areas where I do not?

  11. anon says:

    The article quotes Erland Stevens from Davidson, who is (in?)famous on this site for his medicinal chemistry MOOC.
    Also, the article does NOT say that Emory doesn’t teach chemical bonding in its introductory courses. Instead, the author seems confused about the difference between chemical bonding and intermolecular forces. Let’s hope the quoted Emory undergraduate studies director is not confused in that way. (Granted, “hydrogen bonding” blurs that distinction and the best way to describe and teach it is currently disputed.)
    And the author’s definition of chromatography isn’t exactly wrong, it’s just clumsily written.

  12. Algirdas says:

    Obviously you can not trust WSJ in other areas, just as you imply. Doing otherwise would be a classical instance of Murray Gell-Mann amnesia effect.

  13. Alphagamma says:

    Hap @7: I believe anion-exchange chromatography using EDTA is the main method used to separate lanthanides.

  14. Anonymous says:

    “If this is how The Wall Street Journal reports on things I understand, how can I trust them in areas where I do not?”
    It’s certainly not just The Wall Street Journal. It is a problem with journalism as a whole. The more you know about the topic of any news article, the more you realize how wrong (or, in many cases these days, intentionally misleading) it is.

  15. Anonymous says:

    It’s an Education Thing – the group work foolishness extended to colleges too. When I was in grad school about 15 years ago, we were encouraged to give the kids lots of group work exercises at our TA assignments. Luckily, I had already seen enough fads come and go during my 12 years in the public school system that I rolled my eyes at the group work activities they gave me, and gave old-school lectures with chalk in defiance of what I was told to do. I’m glad to see this fad has since been relegated to the scrap heap of open classrooms, intensive scheduling, modern math, etc. I remember when I was in high school in the mid-90s and group work was becoming the new hot thing to do in education, one kid would do all the work and the other 3 would have a conversation the whole time.

  16. Sili says:

    one kid would do all the work and the other 3 would have a conversation the whole time

    Because someone didn’t bother actually changing the projects to fit the workform.

  17. lynn says:

    They certainly covered chemical bonds in my high school chemistry course [upstate NY back in the early 60s]. And probably introduced them in junior high science.

  18. Anonymous BMS Researcher says:

    That course description “chemistry, the central science,” has a very familiar ring: my freshman Chem text decades ago had the title Chemistry, the Central Science. I suppose that’s where they got the phrase. If that text is still in print I suppose it’s gone through a few revisions since then!

  19. Chemjobber says:

    #18: ABR, you may be interested to know that one of the pieces of evidence of the recent arrest of ISIS sympathizers/wannabe bombers in New York City was that one of the suspects was looking for advice in bombmaking from the aforementioned textbook.

  20. Benscon says:

    As a person who TAed for the organic chemistry sections (one of the most difficult instructors, Dr. Soria), I can tell that our gen. chem sequence only “exposes” (for those who say that they do teach it..I don’t consider teaching students seeming random bonding in a vacuum as teaching the nature of bonding, or nor do I think it should be left to organic chemistry or an intermediate/advanced inorganic course) students to the idea of chemical bonding. As a person above cited, tests ask stupid questions like “identify an ionic or covalent bond” (a very low level question), they typically do not cover things like formation of ionic/hydrogen bonds, and many non-covalent forces. Like, unless you are in one instructors class, you never get “use forces to show why these two molecules interact”. What they teach in gen. chem is still the traditional, “memorize what types of bonds these are,their hybridization, and molecular geometry”. They need to teach it more effectively in a functional context. It for example, shows in organic chemistry when the other top instructor (Weinschenk) asks his students at the beginning of the year to draw a simple lewis structure (nitromethane) and maybe 1-2 people between both sections are successful. So whatever is “taught” in gen. chem doesn’t stick and isn’t effective. Structural-functional relationships, like at almost every college, have yet to be emphasized in general chemistry. One can only pray that the new sequences finds some way to beat it into students.

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