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Education Science

Chemistry Tasks For the Computer Lab? 154

Posted by timothy
from the just-the-basics dept.
soupman55 writes "I teach Chemistry to students completing their last two years of high school. Basically it's a 'teach and test' course with a few experiments thrown in. I want to jazz up the course using computer and internet resources. For instance, I could set some tasks that require Excel spreadsheet calculations. Or I could set some web quests where students search for information online. One of the decisions to be made is: Do I use computer/internet tasks to help the students grasp the material that is already in the course, or do I help them become aware of ideas that are extensions to their course? Also, when I compare Chemistry classes with Accounting classes, it strikes me that unlike Accounting where learning to use software like Quick Books is an integral part of the course, that there is no particular software that a chemistry student must learn to use. Or is there? What in terms of chemistry and computers worked for you? Or what is there computer-wise that wasn't in your high school chemistry course but should have been?"
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Chemistry Tasks For the Computer Lab?

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  • by CastrTroy (595695) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @09:46AM (#30969964) Homepage
    Don't make the use of computers too important. While I think computers could help the course, we have to point out that this is highschool, and you really should be sticking to the basics. Unless you have some specialized software for showing specific chemical concepts, like how different atoms form different molecules, or something like that, I don't think computers have much place in the class. They should be doing real experiments. Maybe using excel or other spreadsheet to record and graph their results would be useful, with some curve fitting too. But beyond that, I think making too much use of computers will just stress students who aren't computer savvy with learning one extra thing, and distract from the information actually being taught. Short story here. When I was in university, I knew a girl taking chemical engineering, and in one course the needed to to VBA for Excel for one of their assignments. For students who hadn't done any programming apart from a single semester of C in the first semester, it was quite a task to expect them to program, and to understand the material of the assignment. Maybe kids are different now, and they are all geniuses on computers, and have no problems working with them. But I doubt it. Most kids probably won't have problems with MS Word or MSN Messenger, but probably will get quite tripped up by trying to use excel with formulas and charting.
    • Don't make the use of computers too important.

      I'll second that. There's very little point in worrying about computers and software until quite late in a university degree course (if then). Your time and resources would be better spent on concocting simple diagnostic exercises that can be completed in the lab or in tutorials in order to tell whether you have managed to get the concepts across. There's nothing reprehensible about using technology no more sophisticated than pencil and paper.

      There's a lot
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Per my subject-line above, AND IT SAVED MY A$$ IN A SCIENCE CLASS NO LESS - read on, in case you're interested:

      "Most kids probably won't have problems with MS Word or MSN Messenger, but probably will get quite tripped up by trying to use excel with formulas and charting.
      Reply to This"
      - by CastrTroy (595695) on Sunday January 31, @08:46AM (#30969964) Homepage

      I don't know about today: I have personally found that today's young computer scientists in academia are QUITE IMPRESSIVE (because I have returned to academia for more advanced studies in this field to "upgrade/update" my skills, & mainly in JAVA):

      I.E.-> They're more proficient, overall, than the crop I 1st attended collegiate academia with 16++ yrs. ago on a Comp. Sci. degree... & they'

  • Or... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Mendy (468439) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @09:48AM (#30969972)

    ...if it's that you really want to be an IT teacher rather than a Chemistry teacher maybe you could get a new job? :)

  • by stokessd (89903) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @09:50AM (#30969982) Homepage

    You guys could whip up a nice cleaner that will get the patina of snot, chocolate bars, and despair off the keyboards. Public computer keyboards are always nasty.

    Sheldon

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by sakdoctor (1087155)

      Dishwasher makes a keyboard like new.

      • Buying a new one works even better and, considering the price of keyboards and the invested resources in cleaning them, might even be cheaper.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by cychem1 (942136)

      I used to use a program called ACD sketch I see its still around http://www.freechemsketch.com/ [freechemsketch.com] its was fun to play with for molecular modeling.FTA I kinda had to chuckle at the accounting reference, I am a chemist and that is how I see chemistry as "electron accounting". In my experience as a tutor students need to be shown how spreadsheets can be used to interpolate data for everything from balancing equations to plotting curves for kinetics, spectroscopy, pH titration ect. and even for keeping notes for

    • Mod this guy insightful. It's funny, but there is a serious need here.

    • by Ihmhi (1206036)

      It took 4 hours of scrubbing and a chemical bath to clean off 2 years worth of nicotine stains, spilled soda, and various other gunk in my 10-year-old keyboard. After it was all done it felt a kilo lighter. d:

  • dunno... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Hognoxious (631665) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @09:57AM (#30970006) Homepage Journal

    The only use I can think of is for balancing equations to work out, say, how much hydrochloric acid reacts with so many grams of sodium hydroxide. You could use vlookup (or similar) to save looking up molar masses or atomic weights, for example.

  • Not a thing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by muridae (966931) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @10:00AM (#30970018)

    Granted, it was 10 years ago that I took college level organic chemistry. The only thing I have seen in that time that would have been useful was LaTeX, for putting together nicely typed lab notes. You might, rarely, spend a week explaining how to use a graphing calculator. Keep it vague and the kids can apply it to a TI-83 or a software calc.

    You don't mention the funding of your school, or the tax bracket of your school district. For all we know, you want to teach a computer based course so you have more ways to fail the 75% of your students who do not have a computer at home. Really, if you want to teach IT, teach IT or programing or an Online 101 elective. I know, Teaching The Test sucks, but stick within the course. You find some experiments online to do in the classroom, you find time in the semester to add them in, and you make them relevant.

    • by Visaris (553352)

      I want the second the LaTeX. This is one of the main computer tools I find myself using in every single class, from English, to Physics, to Math, to CS, etc. This is the computer tool that should be taught early and used (if not required) in every course from then on.

      • by Visaris (553352)
        "I want the second" -> "I want to second"
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by DragonMantis (1327751)
        As a high-school teacher, I have used LaTeX in physics class. It might seem like it has a steep learning curve at first, but the students catch on very quickly. It can be used both in reports and in presenting material to each other online. MediaWiki, phpBB, and many other tools for interaction have the ability to use TeX...which makes presenting equations far easier than hacking things together with HTML codes. Also, depending on the order of the chemistry and biology courses in your school, you may want
      • by superid (46543)

        I have one son in college and two in high school. I know a huge number of their HS friends, their interests and their abilities. One in 50 would be even remotely interested or benefit from learning LaTeX, and their interest would have nothing at all to do with chemistry. If you really use LaTeX you know that it is not a word processor. HS kids are generally comfortable with a word processor and IMHO there is no benefit in teaching them a new non-chemistry concept and toolchain such as LaTeX.

      • My supervisor in my initial first-year chemistry units at university insisted on lab reports being done with pen (or even pencil) and paper. His philosophy was that the computer, with its bells and whistles of cool formatting etc offers too many distractions and is a big time-waster, and that a low-tech approach is a better way towards effective communication.

        There's time enough to deal with computers when it's necessary. Better to concentrate on what's actually important right now.
        • My first year physics labs were done in pen/paper during the lab section. I always thought it was pretty sweet...the chemistry kids would always be up really late the night before a lab was due but we just handed ours in, walked out the door, and were clear for another week.
    • by Shikaku (1129753)

      Liquid nitrogen to cool an overclocked CPU?

    • LaTeX. Essential. Good idea.
    • For all we know, you want to teach a computer based course so you have more ways to fail the 75% of your students who do not have a computer at home.

      I think it's safe to assume he's not teaching in sub-Saharan Africa.

      • by muridae (966931)

        Never taught in a county school in the southern parts of the USA, have you? Poor districts in the inner city? High school anywhere?

        Pick a railroad town, or coal mining town, or an old bust gold town. Just because you have never stopped in one of these does not mean there are not schools there. There exist school districts where there are students who do not have computers. I grew up in one, where parts of the county still have well water and septic tanks, and phone lines were just being installed 15 years a

    • Re:Not a thing (Score:4, Insightful)

      by fygment (444210) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @11:11AM (#30970456)

      Disregard the negative commentary (like any teacher is trying to fail students ... grow up!)

      In order of priority:

      a) spreadsheets - Excel, OpenOffice, whatever. How could anyone do a lab without using one for tables, calcs, and graphing? Make them mandatory for experiment reports;

      b) Latex - to show there is a paradigm other than WORD and its the software for writing journal articles.

      Finally, check out this [dmoz.org] site. I've only ever seen free molecule visualization software (eg - PyMOL) but there might be some other stuff.

      • spreadsheets [...] How could anyone do a lab without using one for tables, calcs, and graphing?

        I don't remember how, but back in the 1980s I'm sure we did.

      • by muridae (966931)

        a) spreadsheets - Excel, OpenOffice, whatever. How could anyone do a lab without using one for tables, calcs, and graphing? Make them mandatory for experiment reports;

        On paper?
        Really, write it out and understand the process of what the work represents. Do not just plug the numbers into Excel and let that model it. Worst case, you end up with students who can turn their results into a graph, but still do not understand what the graph even means. Then someone else tests them by giving them graphs and asking what it means.

        The negative commentary is hyperbole, to underscore the fact that the saturation of computers is not what us geeks normally expect it to be. We live and w

    • by irid77 (1539905)
      Most chemists don't use LaTex. Probably 95% of the papers in Journal of the American Chemical Society and Angewandte Chemie were written using Word + Chemdraw. It's just easier. We're not typesetters, so why should we learn to typeset?
      • by muridae (966931)

        Not a chemist myself, it was just one of the things I have found useful in typing up notes or homework where representing the equation in a textbook manner is more visually appealing than with a ton of parentheses. Mostly because writing out the quadratic equation as (-b +- (b^2 -4ac)^(1/2))/(2a) just looks messy to me. It is something that I wish I had available when I was taking chem, as a typed lab book would have been much easier for my professors to read.

        Not a requirement for a HS chem class, by any me

  • by John Hasler (414242) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @10:03AM (#30970036) Homepage

    > ...Accounting where learning to use software like Quick Books is an integral
    > part of the course... ...then the course is really just a vocational course in the use of a popular (but not particularly good) software package. Does the school get free copies of QuickBooks?

    High school: Headstart for proprietary lockin.

    • You beat me to the punch a bit here. I am curious to know why Quickbooks is "integral" to a high school Accounting course. In my opinion one should understand accounting before using accounting software, just as one should learn to subtract and multiply before using a calculator.

      Using Quickbooks as an integral part of a high school accounting class is strong evidence that the class may be essentially worthless.
      • by Dare nMc (468959)

        I volunteer for a "Joint Technological Education" initiative for high schools in Arizona. This is kind of the trade-off I am trying to work through. Cisco and others give away access to some hardware/software allowing the kids to become Cisco certified before graduating High school. If going to college and moving down a true engineering role is the goal, a more generic hands on tech would be best, allowing them to learn any networking hardware... However finding a job right out of high school is going t

        • But that is apples and oranges.

          A Cisco certification (Wow! That's pretty impressive for a high school) without experience generally qualifies someone for a job, let's say, in the $20k or better range (about $10-$12 or more per hour plus benefits), while knowing how to use Quickbooks is a lot more like knowing how to use Excel: you qualify for a secretarial pool at slightly over minimum wage, and at less than 30 hours per week, so no benefits.

          They just aren't the same.
          • while knowing how to use Quickbooks is a lot more like knowing how to use Excel: you qualify for a secretarial pool at slightly over minimum wage, and at less than 30 hours per week, so no benefits.

            Really? I hired a non-degreed individual with basic Quickbooks knowledge (but no relevant work experience) for $32.5k last year. Once she completes 15 credits in accounting at the local CC, I'll bump her up to $37.5k -- She's doing low-level AP work (not on Quickbooks, on MAS90), which is drudge clerical work.

            • They don't call them that anymore, but they still exist. What, never been with a company that had a "word processing" department, or "administrative assistants"? I have.

              I suppose you can pay people whatever you want.
  • There's a lot that's useful and fun in biochemistry, like fold.it, an interactive and actually useful (for learning and as part of a research effort) protein folding game. Also in regard to proteins, pyMOL (GPL version available but hidden on their website) and the pdb library make for some nice visualization. A little more advanced are molecular dynamics simulations.
  • by selven (1556643) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @10:11AM (#30970076)

    Jmol [sourceforge.net] is pretty good.

    • by muridae (966931)
      Is Jmol going to teach them the difference between trans- and cis-, or dextro- and levo-? It might be helpful in addition to learning those concepts, but this still looks like something the teacher could use, displayed to the class as a teaching aid, not as extra homework. And students who do not have good spacial recognition may still not understand how flipping the mirror version will not result in the same chemical. Good physical models, that can be passed around, can not be discounted for that.
  • by sackvillian (1476885) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @10:20AM (#30970122)

    Chemical structure drawing tools are extremely important with ChemDraw being mandatory learning at many universities, including my own. Check this list [wikipedia.org] out for a list of many similar programs including FOSS equivalents.

    Beyond that, the biggest two uses of computers in higher levels of chemistry are for literature searching (with SciFinder being a clear winner here) and computational chemistry calculations (still unfortunately done mostly on with the anti-FOSS Gaussian software) though there's no shortage of excellent open source equivalents. Avogradro, for example.

    However, literature searches aren't going to be too useful without the journal access that Universities enjoy, and frankly most computational chemistry programs are too sophisticated for students of a high school level - though 3D models of chemical structures are always much more interesting. Since chemistry is still taught by using ballpark descriptions and approximations, then successively refining those approximations, I'd be worried that almost any piece of chemistry software would be too intimidating and difficult to explain because it's designed for users with at least a year or two of university courses.

    So, I'd think that teaching the students how to draw good structures (with stereochemical accuracy if possible!) on computers would be useful, and maybe 3D structures would be somewhat inspiring, but you're running the risk of over-complicating what should be a course in the fundamentals. If you have the means, you might want to focus on real demonstrations instead, which could be as simple as a marbles to demonstrate entropy, vinegar and sodium bicarbonate for acid/base chemistry, cornstarch and water to demonstrate non-newtonian fluids, alkali metals and water to demonstrate redox chemistry, salt and ice/water to demonstrate boiling point elevation and freezing point depression, etc. etc.

    • I don't think Chemdraw helps all that much for high school level. Most molecules are simple enough that the structure is fairly obvious. I remember the most enjoyable use we found was persuading it to create the platonic solids out of carbons. We never got the icosahedron working right though, there is too much scope for sections to be inverted. It was great fun though, we were particularly excited when we found out that cubane actually existed have 'theorised' that it could be possible with our severel

      • by muridae (966931)
        Octanitrocubane. Detonation velocity of nearly 30 times the speed of sound. Keep away from High School students.
  • High School Chem (Score:4, Insightful)

    by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @10:25AM (#30970164)

    The only place I see a computer being really useful in a high school chemistry curriculum is in a lab setting. A few thermocouples and a digital voltmeter used to capture data over the course of an experiment could be used to pretty good effect.

    Otherwise chemistry at this level is all about learning basic concepts of thermodynamics, gas laws and the rules that govern the combination of atoms into molecules.

    • by vlm (69642)

      The only place I see a computer being really useful in a high school chemistry curriculum is in a lab setting. A few thermocouples and a digital voltmeter used to capture data over the course of an experiment could be used to pretty good effect.

      I can think of all kinds of calorimetry experiments, quantitative labs involving light adsorption, pH, etc, but all it really boils down to is automating the graphs and reducing the need to pay attention to the thermometers.

      Unfortunately, in a learning environment, the best time to think about whats going on was during the otherwise brainless task of reducing and graphing data... Taking that away by automation trains the kids to be lab techs, aka script kiddies, not how to think like a chemist.

      You're bette

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        That wasn't my experience at all. The mechanics of recording measurements very much interfered with the process of thinking about what was actually going on during the course of the experiment. Not only that but being able to apply multiple sensors to an experiment makes it possible to look at multiple factors simultaneously, something much harder if you are recording data manually.

        I've never found that a computer is a good reference tool in the sciences except under circumstances where you have access to l

  • It seems to me like a pointless thing to require. A student at this point should be able to figure out on their own "I can save time by using $spreadsheet/calculator". I think you should neither require nor forbid usage of tools like calculators of spreadsheets, so long the student demonstrates they actually understand what's going on.

    Teach things with an actual specific application to chemistry. Programs that render chemical structures in 3D, programs that display the periodic table, etc. Show programs tha

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Having taught undergraduate chem labs at university from '96-'01, I would argue that you should be forcing them to manually plot data on graph paper. Many of my students had been allowed to do all their "graphing" on their calculators through high school and it meant they had no solid grasp of how to use a graph to visualise and analyse data. I found that I had to teach students basic graph skills just so they could complete their physical chem labs. These students just couldn't deal with graphing *unles

    • by rangek (16645)

      One word: Solver. I have yet to find a suitable replacement for Excel's Solver anywhere else. Its uses in chemistry are extensive and educational.

      BTW, if any of y'all know of an alternative, I would love to hear about it.

    • by Dr. Spork (142693)
      I actually disagree. I thought it was really cool in chemistry class when I would copy my data points from my notebook into Excel and then have it figure out a regression line for the data. Sometimes we needed to adjust it to a logarithmic scale for the regression line to be a good fit, and the moral of that lesson is still with me. I think it's really cool to get students to work out experimentally certain values, and Excel is the most accessible way of getting them to analyze their data. Also, they learn
  • by RevWaldo (1186281) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @10:28AM (#30970182)
    I'm betting there's many a school administrator that loves the idea of teaching chemistry without using chemicals - "You can just use computer simulations! We got budgets 'n liability insurance 'n terrorism ta think about, ya know." Make sure your students still get their hands dirty, so to speak.
  • by gorehog (534288) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @10:31AM (#30970202)

    I think you are a junior in college taking education classes and are trying to get slashdot to do your homework for you. Seriously, if you are teaching 16-18 year olds about chemistry why would you want them to spend excessive time sitting in front of a computer. Hasn't someone already taught them how to do library and internet searches for information by this point? Generally speaking chemistry should not be too much about clicking on the internet and on the computer. It is about the interactions of chemicals and what effects that has. You can use computers to collect data and analyze data but you should not be spending too much time sending your students off on "webquests" and "busywork". The computer can help them prepare reports and maybe even simulate interactions at the molecular level. So, what you really need to look for are software tools that enable experiments. Look for tools that help students do equation balancing and maybe even simulate the structurte of molecules in 3D.

    • by Dr. Spork (142693)
      If you think he means that they would use the internet to gather information, you've completely missed the point. Real chemists use computers to analyze data. Of course you can't perfectly duplicate that in a high school class, but I think it is the responsibility of a good teacher to at least give them a flavor of real experimental science looks like.
  • Do your students a real favor. If any of your students are thinking of becoming chemists, you could tell them to use the computer to look for other fields of study. Companies in the US and Europe are firing chemists at unprecedented rates. If they choose that path, they better be ready to compete with Ivy League PhD's for jobs titrating paint samples.
    • by irid77 (1539905)

      Do your students a real favor. If any of your students are thinking of becoming chemists, you could tell them to use the computer to look for other fields of study. Companies in the US and Europe are firing chemists at unprecedented rates. If they choose that path, they better be ready to compete with Ivy League PhD's for jobs titrating paint samples.

      This would be horrible advice. Having a degree in Chemistry is one of the best ways to get a job, with a BS, MS, or PhD. The need for people skilled in organic synthesis, biochem, and materials science (solid state chemistry) will only grow. Chemists aren't titrating paint samples, machines do that. Chemists design the next generation of nanotech.

    • by vlm (69642)

      Do your students a real favor. If any of your students are thinking of becoming chemists, you could tell them to use the computer to look for other fields of study. Companies in the US and Europe are firing chemists at unprecedented rates. If they choose that path, they better be ready to compete with Ivy League PhD's for jobs titrating paint samples.

      Well, I transferred out of the field more or less for the same reasons about 2 decades ago. Has the outlook for chemists ever been bright? Ever?

      Aside from our whopping two anecdotes, Nothing wrong with making a homework assignment be researching the occupational career outlook for chemists, as compared to ... whatever it is the kids have selected as a major. Making it clear that the point is not to kiss up to the teacher by sugar coating everything like a journalist.

    • UGH no wonder they have to fire people.

      Grand advice.

      EVERYONE is firing and laying off nearly all fields at unprecedented rates.

      These are high school kids he is talking about. You do realize that there are other fields who could use a decent chemistry background:
      1) Physicians
      2) Nurses (reminder that there is in fact a nursing shortage)
      3) teachers (if our teachers had a better science background, our students would be better prepared to work in any field in the modern age)
      4) journalists (how many stupid medi

  • Don't lose focus (Score:2, Insightful)

    by JustNiz (692889)

    >>> I could set some tasks that require Excel spreadsheet calculations. Or I could set some web quests where students search for information online.

    OK firstly what is it you teach again? Chemistry or Computing? If this is your plan it sounds like computing to me.

    Secondly, Excel specifically? Really? You're teaching them computing skills specific to a single commercial software product and computing platform?

    Try and avoid teaching skills (especially computing skills)that are too specific, and that a

  • Some kids have problems with three dimensions, so the graphics capabilities can help to visualize molecular geometry and atomic or molecular orbitals. Electrostatic maps can help to show the polarity of molecules. Spreadsheets can be useful because of the ability to change parameters dynamically with the slider bars (note: it works for Excel as well as OpenOffice).

    There are many apps at National Science Digital Library for K-12 classes. The main site is http://nsdl.org/ [nsdl.org] and the chemistry link is http://c [chemeddl.org]

  • Math Math Math (Score:5, Informative)

    by superid (46543) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @10:57AM (#30970352) Homepage

    My friend is a university chemistry professor. She has complained endlessly that her incoming students lack fundamental math skills. They mindlessly write down whatever their calculator tells them even though it may be off by many orders of magnitude. They are unable to formulate or solve simple ratios and they have almost no concept of significant digits. I know these aren't chemistry skills but if you want students to succeed in college chemistry, I think it would help if you substantially reinforce the math while you are introducing basic chemistry topics.

    • by Chelloveck (14643)

      My friend is a university chemistry professor. She has complained endlessly that her incoming students lack fundamental math skills. They mindlessly write down whatever their calculator tells them even though it may be off by many orders of magnitude.

      Amen. My son is a high school senior. His Algebra II teacher actually encourages the use of graphing calculators and Excel for plotting equations. So my son plugs in the numbers and copies the graph into his homework. Except he only ever plots points at integer

      • by six11 (579)

        Bah. Kids. And I have no idea what his teacher is thinking!

        Teacher is probably thinking about making sure students can pass the next state standardized test, which probably doesn't ask for students to interpret the meaning of an equation or function.

        Teacher is probably thinking about catering to helicopter parents demanding little Jimmy's grade to be raised because he tried really hard, because dealing with helicopter parents is a gigantic pain in the ass, and Teacher isn't paid enough to deal with that cra

      • by kbielefe (606566)

        And those problems are fixed how by graphing manually? Using a tool the wrong way doesn't make the use of the tool wrong. The whole point of graphing software is that you can easily draw it over and over again with different ranges until you get it right. If you can't find reasonable ranges under those simplified conditions, how will you when you have to spend the time to calculate every point yourself? Teach your son how to use excel properly.

    • by JaWiB (963739)
      The most useful thing I learned in high school chemistry was that units behave like variables. I wouldn't have made it far as a physics major if I didn't recognize when the result of a formula has the wrong units or that you can't add meters to seconds.
  • There WERE no microcomputers when _I_ took Chemistry!

    Seriously though, Chemistry as you no doubt know, is all about being able to visualize. It's all about understanding these atoms and molecules flying around in comparative vacuums, being able to imagine their shapes and how this affects their interaction with each other and other substances, and being able to imagine the charges distributed across these shapes. I myself had no trouble "getting it" and being able to "see it". However any program that helps

  • by drjoeward (1366975) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @11:26AM (#30970530)

    I'm going to rant for a second.

    It is classes like this that have made my job even harder. I teach college level chemistry (general, organic, and analytical). We have so many students who have come with "chemistry" on their high school transcript, but when they get into the first general chemistry class, they don't remember anything. Chemistry, as with most sciences is an experiential course, you HAVE to DO in order to learn. otherwise it's just memorizing facts from a book for some test, then that information is promptly forgotten (or more precisely inaccessible, since they are not being asked the same stupid test question)

    With the number of students who have a visual and experiential learning styles, I find it sad that we do not have better science students coming out of high school.

    I know it's not your fault, it's no child left behind and administrations that believe the only assessment of learning is a standardized test. I know chem teachers in my area who have had their labs shut down because of adminstrators who don't seem to want to understand what it takes to have a safe lab, and thus the first problem and everything is removed and you are relegated to theory only.

    Also I have to agree with others, too much emphasis has been placed on calculators and the like in high school I have students who can't divide by 10 without their calculator, not that they can't do it, but because they are trained to need to do it. Also include some basic algebra, solve for x. make sure that you go over word problems and show them out it is a simple ratio or a straight line equation that just needs to be manipulated. All of these are simple skills that they should get out of high school, but seemingly don't.

    That said I do have some ideas for resources.

    one good place to check out is the chemcollective at http://www.chemcollective.org/ [chemcollective.org] they have a lot of online simulators, including a virtual gen chem lab (although I find it rather limited). it is funded by the National Science Foundation and is part of the National Science Digital Library.
    Also check out the rest of the NSDL. they have online and software resources for most sciences for K-12 and higher ed (don't be afraid to look at materials higher than the grade you are teaching, give them an extra challenge to apply their materials.

    Maybe include some kitchen chemistry.

    Someone mentioned chemdraw, It is the defacto standard in the industry and I used it for 10+ years. However, I highly recommend ChemSketch from ACD/Labs. they have a full featured free version that does nearly everything chemdraw can do and sometimes more. it does full IUPAC nomenclature w/ stereochemistry. it even interfaces with several online databases, such as pubchem.

    As for excel, it can be useful, but mainly for crunching lab data. I can teach a student excel in a 1/2 of lab period, but their low algebra skills makes it difficult for them (and painful for me) to convert what we are doing in the lab to mathematical equations in excel.

    lastly, check out the journal of chemical education. If you have access to it great. If not, it's not an expensive journal and it has a lot of good resources, both lab and computer.

    • I am a Ph.D. Chemist with 28 years of industrial experience (Dow Chemical) as an analytical chemist. I have over 30 publications in the scientific literature (some of them ground-breaking), have presented talks at national and international scientific meetings, and in my narrow area of expertise, was world renowned for my work in ultra-trace determination of toxic substances (mostly dioxin) in the environment.

      I agree with almost everything you said. I would add the resources of the American Chemical Society

    • Like the other replies to this post, I completely agree -- I wish more teachers thought like this (and not *just* in chemistry). Teaching chemistry using "theory only" is like teaching programming using pen and paper (which I'm old enough to remember, and greatly resent).

      This is about mnemonics. Associate formulas, tables, ratios and reactions with visual memory -- seeing is remembering. Sometimes you don't even have to do the experiment in class -- if something is either dangerous or expensive, there's p
  • Spartan is a very good program for molecular visualization. It will calculate ground state energies, electrostatic surface areas, and orbital energies. It is a very useful supplement when you are talking about lowest energy conformations and bonding. It's a bit expensive, though, even for educational use. Most departments I have been to have one or two dedicated copies that the students have to share. There are some alternatives listed here,

    http://www.ch.ic.ac.uk/local/organic/mod/software.html [ic.ac.uk]

    Most of them

    • I wouldn't recommend Spartan to high-school students. They can't possibly understand what the software is calculating without a thorough understanding of quantum mechanics, thus relegating the software to a toy with no practical application.
      • by Rutulian (171771)

        Not necessarily. We aren't talking about doing transition state searches or anything like that. Simply using it as a visual tool can help students to better understand the Lennard-Jones potential, the van der Waals radius, and their implications on bonding. The geometry optimizations and electrostatic potential calculations allow you to explore the predictions made by MO theory. You don't have to understand the quantum mechanics to know that a higher energy conformation is less favorable than a lower energy

      • I wouldn't recommend Spartan to high-school students. They can't possibly understand what the software is calculating without a thorough understanding of quantum mechanics, thus relegating the software to a toy with no practical application.

        You could say the same thing about many synthetic organic chemists, but they still seem to get something out of using quantum chem programs. In my high school chem class, we definitely hit the basics of QM, so it might be elucidative for the students to see that you can predict spectroscopic and thermochemical molecular properties ab initio from QM laws.

        One effective use of computers in the classroom that I've seen was from my advisor in grad school, who used the web to find videos of all sorts of dange

  • There's plenty of excellent software packages out there for chemists, but would a high school student really know what to do with them? If you really want students to familiarize with molecules on a computer screen, I'd suggest going for Molden, Moldraw, or some other molecular visualization tool. If I were you though, I'd forget about computers and teach them some basic thermodynamics.
  • I have to say that unless you are studying chemistry at university computers play a very limited role - even then I'd say you only really use software significantly when studying for a graduate degree. Having said that, there are some resources that may be useful 1. Labskills e-learning software http://www.labskills.co.uk/ [labskills.co.uk] This software was designed to allow students to gain some understanding of practical chemistry, the principle being that it allows them to explore using lab equipment and basic react
  • I teach college chemistry. At the HS level you really don't need a lot of computer experience, but the students need to have basic math skills and be able to use their calculators - including scientific notation, exponents and logs. Being able to make graphs and use related spreadsheet skills would be helpful. For example, measure transmittance of a sample, have the spreadsheet calculate Absorbance and then plot Abs vs Concentration to make a Calibration Curve. Add a trendline, too. More for fun, you c
  • Amidst the sea of negativity, I feel obligated to point out that this has been done. Much to my surprise, it worked. Course development was through The Shodor Foundation [shodor.net] and a faculty member from the NC School of Science and Mathematics, Bob Gotwols. The course is aimed at advanced students but who haven't had diff eqns yet. They use WebMO [webmo.net] as a front end to GAMES, GAUSIAN, and all the other usual suspects. Hardware was fairly modest - seemed like maybe two or four linux boxes.
  • I offer this advice: Teach them to graph experimental data, either with Excel or any other software. However, only do so AFTER they have learned to graph the old fashioned way (pencil & paper). I am often frustrated by my students' complete lack of understanding of (1) what constitutes a proper scientific graph and (2) what information that should be able to glean from the results. If you want to do them an even larger favor, teach them how to perform a manual linear regression of their hand-drawn gr
  • More lab time! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by multipartmixed (163409) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @11:47AM (#30970660) Homepage

    Kids don't need to play with computers. Computers are no longer novel.

    Kids need LAB TIME. Chemistry lab time is fun, for everybody. IIRC my high school chem classes were 2 lecture + 1 lab.

    If you are getting enough lecture time in that you can think of "jazzing up" the course with computers, get them to throw some lithium into a beaker full of water or something instead.

  • Just the basics (Score:2, Insightful)

    by amide_one (750148)

    I'm a chemistry prof, currently teaching the "general chemistry for science majors" track at a comprehensive university. (So, these aren't the most brilliant students ever, but they're not stupid; most did take at least one chem class in HS, and about half took Honors or AP level.)

    We teach them spreadsheets in lab, and they pick it up fairly quickly. The best way for most of them is by peer example, which is why it works better teaching that in a lab setting. We expect to teach them spreadsheets, even th

  • You could try to introduce basic computational chemistry through ChemOffice or PCmodel. Have them find the lowest energy conformation for a particular cyclic structure. Have them explain why adding a particular group at a particular location increases the conformational energy. Or just integrate this into their lab reports by having them create these 3d/kekuli structures in ChemOffice and paste them into their reports. Searching through the literature for chemical information is a very important skill to d
    • by scheme (19778)

      You could try to introduce basic computational chemistry through ChemOffice or PCmodel. Have them find the lowest energy conformation for a particular cyclic structure. Have them explain why adding a particular group at a particular location increases the conformational energy. Or just integrate this into their lab reports by having them create these 3d/kekuli structures in ChemOffice and paste them into their reports.

      We're talking about high school students. Without quantum mechanics, they're not going to be able to really understand what they'll be calculating or the methods behind the calculations. They'll essentially be plugging a structure and/or numbers into some software and cutting/pasting the results into their reports. That's not going to help anyone. Same with literature searches, most high schools don't have access to scientific journals or aside from the odd journal or two, they'll be limited to abstract

  • I would recommend Avogadro [openmolecules.net]. It is a molecular editor and viewer released under the GPL. For high school students, it could be used as a substitute for the ball and stick model kits. It has a simple interface and most of its basic functions can be learned within an hour or two.
  • Not just for teaching the core ideas, but to demonstrate that chemistry can be fun, and you get to play with fast computers. In fact, my lecturer in molecular modelling admitted that he got into the field partly because of the pretty pictures. I have also focused on the modelling aspects in my chemistry studies, mostly due to my past experience in computational physics.

    I would like to note that my primary career is in teaching, and I have discussed the use of computers in science teaching with lots of ex

  • by rocker_wannabe (673157) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @12:24PM (#30970938)

    The most important thing is to not give them any real experience with using chemicals and put the fear of God into them so they will never be tempted to do any real chemistry experiments. This will keep any of them from creating explosives and joining a Jihad, which would probably cause you to either go to jail or at least get on a no-fly list. Just teach them the laws of thermodynamics, gas laws and a lot of theory without ANY practical experience which will keep everyone safe. They will be so bored that most will lose any desire to pursue any further study of chemistry.

    Actually, you should think of yourself as an anti-chemistry teacher. Why invite trouble when you can give students A's without any risk to yourself. Remember, big-brother is watching you!

    THIS MESSAGE WAS BROUGHT TO YOU BY YOUR FRIENDLY HOMELAND SECURITY DEPARTMENT

  • My high school chem teacher, in the late-80's, forbade us from using calculators. Instead, he made the entire class buy slide rules, and do /all/ of their calculations with those. At first, we thought he was nuts -- why waste time learning to use a slide rule when you could do it all that much faster with a calculator. Then, after a while, we realized that there was a method to his madness -- that getting "good enough" calculations that were within the right order of magnitude, was much more important than
  • http://www.ks.uiuc.edu/Research/vmd/ [uiuc.edu]

    I know their website shows off the incredibly complex molecular structures that VMD is capable of simulating, but it also does a great job with simpler structures that you're likely to run across in a high school course. It's also open source and runs on Windows, Mac, Linux (along with just about any other unix variant http://www.ks.uiuc.edu/Development/Download/download.cgi?PackageName=VMD [uiuc.edu]).

    • by cashman73 (855518)
      I'll agree that VMD is something that is definitely worth teaching about. It's free, and easy to install and use on a variety of platforms. I'd also recommend introducing them to the Protein Data Bank [rcsb.org], which is a free database of x-ray/nmr structures of proteins. Though it gets a bit more into biochemistry and molecular biology from a basic high school chemistry course, some of the simpler structures available there would give a student a good introduction to some of the applications of computational chemis
  • The most valuable online resource in my opinion as far as chemistry goes are the various online databases of material safety data sheets. Students should be encouraged to look these up before handling a new chemical that they haven't used before.
  • ...was a research project. Basically we picked a chemical compound (it couldn't be an element or a single element compound) and had to do a poster on the history, common usage, etc. I think water was disqualified for some obvious reasons. Of course, the computer wasn't necessary, and this was around the time that wikipedia was discouraged as a source (especially a primary source). However the fact was that traditional encyclopedias only contain maybe a paragraph or two for a given subject, and attemptin
  • 1. In HS I found that chemistry was a bunch of here is how it works with little reasoning behind any of it. Enable your students to go beyond that, teach them how chem lit works. Have them go to the library and look up old metallurgical patents. 2. Inorganic chemistry is really cool, except when you teach it from a stupid text book. Many people say they don't get science because it DOESN'T make sense from a text book. Some of these people would make great scientists and don't even know it because they do n
  • Jazzing up beginners chemistry classes (biology and physics too) with computers strikes me as an attempt replace real teaching with simulations. Besides there is no reason to teach them bad science skills (Excell) in science class. As you noted science is not accounting. Guess in which field being creative is good and where it is bad.

    My advice would be:

    1. Make damn sure all of your students can balance chemistry equations and can move from moles to grams to liquid volumes with ease.

    2. Get their hand wet.

  • Or some sort of modeling.
  • The one thing that stuck out to me about this post was your suggestion of using Excel to do scientific computations. As a physicist and a software developer, this idea sends (bad) chills up my spine. I have seen so many real-world engineers struggle to make Excel do what they need (rather for computation, data analysis, or data plotting), rather than spend a weekend learning how to use a much better tool.

    Somehow, learning to use Excel to solve your problems ropes them in so that they just continue to use

  • You mentioned webquests in your post, which are fine, but I would suggest you use them sparingly. When I taught HS Chem, I had a single page (front/back) webquest designed around the Physics 2000 Science Trek. http://www.colorado.edu/physics/2000/index.pl [colorado.edu] This was an excellent site I thought for learning about some of the physics underlying atomic structure, although I skipped over the Polarization part of the trek. There are other websites out there that are like this one, but designed around different
  • What an awesome opportunity ...

    As a parent of school age kids I am sad to see them rushed trough so much test-oriented useless material followed by senseless amounts of will-breaking assignments and tests.

    My kids spent a significant amount of years through Montessori education. On that environment, they pursued areas of interested on their own with the guidance of classroom guides. The main difference is that the kids chose their area of work (they do have to complete a minimum required across all other a

  • . . .but nothing I would spend more than one class session on. It is a chemistry course, after all, and these are tools to use, not programs they are going to be reverse-engineering. And despite what most of the people here seem to think, not everyone is a computer wizard, and some intelligent students have an honest-to-God difficulty in learning how to do something as simple as performing a linear regression in Excel, and the sooner they learn what the software is capable of, the sooner they'll start exp
  • For me, by far the most useful application of technology in chem class has been an online forum where all the students can give and receive assistance on the homework. There's over 100 people in my course to participate in it, it may be less effective if you're not teaching a particularly large high school.
  • Experiments (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Stooshie (993666) on Monday February 01, 2010 @11:41AM (#30981818) Journal
    Nothing, of course, can replace actually carrying out experiments yourself when learning chemistry. As well as the excitement of some of the experiments it teaches you that an experiment never really goes "wrong" as such, just an unexpected / unplanned result (was it your setup or the assunotions that were wrong).

    However, a great site for watching experiments and learning about the elements is periodic videos [periodicvideos.com]. They have a video on each element and lots of experiments that are perhaps too dangerous for a school lab.
  • http://www.vernier.com/ [vernier.com] makes some outstanding equipment at assorted prices. The Loggerpro software (free 30-day demo, 190 bucks for an unlimited site license), combined with a data logger and a couple instruments (e.g. thermometer and ph meter), total cost maybe...400 dollars...would allow you to run a demonstration experiment, gather the data, distribute it to the students, and then have them analyze it on their own copies of the software (which includes a variety of analysis/graphing/statistical tools).

"In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current." -- Thomas Jefferson

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