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Contributor II

The Role of General Chemistry

What should the role of General Chemistry in the higher education curriculum be?  It turns out that, despite numerous studies and substantial money spent on reform by organizations such as the NSF, the first semester or two of college chemistry shows some disturbing trends.  Progress has been limited in the use of interactive pedagogies.  Research shows that after students take general chemistry they view chemistry differently than chemists do.  Students are less interested in pursuing chemistry education after taking general chemistry than before they took the classes.  Misconceptions learned in general chemistry are sometimes passed on by the high school teachers who learned much of their basic chemistry in the college course.

The Society Committee on Education (SOCED) had a vigorous discussion of these issues at the 237th ACS National Meeting last Spring, and SOCED member Melanie Cooper is leading a newly-formed task force to look into ways that the ACS, perhaps in conjunction with other organizations, might address the issues with general chemistry noted above.  Possible courses of action include developing a white paper on general chemistry, establishing relationships with organizations that have common ground, and developing a set of guidelines and performance standards for what students should be able to do after one or two semesters of chemistry.

We welcome your thoughts on this issue as the task force begins its discussions.  Thanks!   - Bryan Balazs, SOCED Chair

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Re: The Role of General Chemistry

Questions regarding general chemistry are particularly important since over 50% of all undergraduates are enrolled in a two-year college/community college (1), 44% of recent S&E graduates (bachelor's and master's) attended a community college (2), and there were 180,000 community college chemistry students in F 2001 (3).  Attempting to address this issue, the ACS Guidelines for Chemistry in Two-Year College Programs ( address articulation, and student transfer.

(1) NCES, Digest of Education Statistics, 2002, 2006; CNN Student
News, 2003.
(2) Tsapogas, J. The Role of Community Colleges in the Education of
Recent Science  and Engineering Graduates. NSF InfoBrief, April 2004.
(3) Ryan. M. A.; Neuschatz, M.; Wesemann, J.; Boese, J. J. Chem.
Educ. 2003, 80, 129.

John Clevenger, Chair, SOCED Task Force on Two-Year College Activities

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Re: The Role of General Chemistry

One organization that has "common ground" is the International Society for the Philosophy of Chemistry.  It publishes a journal called Foundations of Chemistry, or rather it is published by Springer.

One of the main motivations for doing philosophy of chemistry is the clarification of concepts and ideas that occur in chemistry.  The field is of great potential interest to the improvement of chemical education but has been largely ignored up to now.

In 2011 the annual meeting of the society will take place in Puerto Rico under the auspices of IUPAC and will take place at the same time as the international IUPAC meeting there (July 30th- Aug 3rd).

A few articles have appeared in Journal of Chemical Education over the years as well as in Science & Education and related journals.

A special issue of Science & Education on the relationship between Philosophy of Chemistry and Chemical Education is currently being edited.

Dr. Eric Scerri

UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry,

and author of "The Periodic table, Its Story and Its Significance, OUP, 2007.

Books by Eric Scerri

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Re: The Role of General Chemistry

I have taught general chemistry at a private 4-year college and at two community colleges.  Northern Virginia community college encouraged the students to use on-line resources to supplement their education and assist with homework.  I have found that some students enjoy chemistry laboratory and other students do not like laboratory.  I believe the laboratory can assist in developing an interest in chemistry.  It appears that many community college stludents do not want to work and think critically in their classes.  They want multiple chice tests rather than having to work problems and show their solutions or write short answers to questions.  Grading laboratory reports provided a good indication of the students understanding of the chemical concepts demonstrated in the laboratory.

I tried to introduce my experience from over 30 years as a chemist in my lectures to enhance the learning experience.  At times I acheived interesting dialog with the students.

General chemistry textbooks have many problems at the end of each chapter and only a fraction of these problems can be assigned as homework.  I provided my students with the opportunity to write a 2-3 page paper on a subject of their choosing for extra credit near the end of the semester to see what interested them and how the topic applied to chemistry.

Fortunately, my class sizes were alway less than 40 students.  This is an advantage in getting acquainted with the students by name and face.

Dr. Ray L Hanson

Sterling, VA

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