I became a chemist out of curiosity: I have always been a curious person and wanted to find out what the fundamental reason for any physical phenomenon was: Why do materials behave like this? Why do people get sick? Why do antibiotics work? How do you make that antibiotic? And so on… More specifically, my deepest interest was actually organic synthesis since I found so rewarding being able to synthesize a single enantiomer of a structural – complex compound; it is like being an architect of molecules! It also makes me remember that nature is still by far a better molecule architect than scientist but we can definitively try and learn a lot along the way. This is one of the reasons I am passionate about chemistry and probably the answer I would give any of my students when they ask me the reason for choosing chemistry as my major.
My goal as a chemistry college – level teacher is to provide students with a portfolio of tools to help them become competitive in science or whichever profession they decide to pursue. In order to accomplish the later, I incorporate active learning, real world situations and regular assessments. After completing my course, students will be able to explain standard chemistry concepts that college students must fulfill to graduate such as: outlining functional groups or predicting reaction products; additionally and equally important, my students will have been involved in activities designed to develop and help them excel at competencies such as team working, scientific writing and critical thinking. I am certain that by outshining at these skills they will set themselves apart from other professionals in their field. Lastly, I want to motivate my students to like science; I am well aware that not many students will pursue a career in science but I will do my best to make their probably “once in a life-time” encounter with chemistry is as enjoyable and useful as possible. I want them to feel that it was worth coming to class and putting so much effort into learning those new concepts.
In order to engage my students in the course, I incorporate real world chemistry in the class. For example, for an introductory course I would ask my students to think of a specific daily activity or product that might involve chemistry, correlate it to the concepts seen in class and present it in groups in front of the class. For the more advanced courses case, I would probably ask them to present a paper, where the concepts reviewed during the classes are used in cutting edge scientific research. This gives them the opportunity to become familiar with literature search tools as well as strengthen their communication and team working skills.
I normally tell my students that the process of learning chemistry is similar to that of learning a new language: you have to memorize new vocabulary and you have to be actively involved; else you will never be able to speak the language on your own. It is the same with chemistry, students are required to memorize certain names, values and formulas but that is just the beginning, the end goal is for them to be able to use those concepts and apply them to solve practical problems. In order to help this transition be a smooth one, I would start with traditional lectures since it is what they are more familiar with and then as the semester progresses opportunities for students to engage in active learning are provided; for instance I incorporate demonstrations, collaborative projects or even team “races”. From my experience, problem – based – learning (PBL) is one of the most effective ways of learning. It keeps students motivated, challenged and focused and that is why I would try to give a PBL project per semester to students.
I believe setting the expectations clear for your class from day one is fundamental to maintain a good student – teacher relationship. I expect students to turn in their assignments on time as well as to attend the lectures, unless a valid excuse is presented in both cases. The same way, students can expect for me to be on time and prepared for the class, return their graded assignments within 24 hours from the submission deadline as well as to value their feedback. In order to help me track better the progress of the class I would ask them, at the end of each chapter, to anonymously write down the questions they might have. I would read through them and make sure that they are all answered the following class. Additionally, they can count on having problem sessions and office hours available since some students might be shy to ask questions in front of the class.
I think that assessments are of vital importance to my courses since they allow me to measure the extent at which my students have been learning the class material and give me the opportunity to take a step back and evaluate my teaching performance as well. Because of these reasons, I put a reasonable amount of time in designing them; a rule of thumb I would use to design an exam is that I should be able to answer the exam in 10 min, for them to be able to finish it in a 50 min period. I think after 50 min. students are just tired and their poor performance could be blamed on a lengthy exam. The latter, could especially hold true if the students have been working hard, turning all their homework in but still perform poorly on the exam. Other reasons could be: confusing questions or miscommunicating the concepts during class. Commonly for lecture classes, three partial evaluations and a cumulative final exam would be a standard way of assessing students learning goals. There should also be some room for other activities, quizzes and homework but that can be adjusted on the specific needs of the class depending on the level. It is definitively different they way a laboratory course would be evaluated compared to a lecture –based one. For laboratory classes I would weigh the laboratory reports almost as important as students’ attendance to the session when they actually put to practice the concepts and skills.
By recognizing chemistry is a core subject for all STEM majors I assume the responsibility of providing the opportunities and resources, as described above, that are necessary for my students to achieve their learning goals during my course which will set the base for any of their upper – level classes and ultimately, professional careers. I do so by setting clear expectations, incorporating real world situations and active learning into my classes as well as by assessing my students’ progress towards the specific course learning objectives.