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2004 Winter ConfChem: How and Why Should We Teach Chemistry for Non-Science Majors?

01/12/04 to 02/10/04
Paul Kelter Renee Cole Department of Chemistry Department of Chemistry and Physics University of Illinois Central Missouri State University Urbana, IL 61801 Warrensburg MO 64093

Most campuses have a chemistry course for students majoring in a non-science related subject. There is no nationally agreed-upon curriculum for these courses - a reflection of the different ideas about the purposes of the course. This conference will present papers that consider different content and approaches which have been taken to the teaching of these courses.

Online discussion will be a prominent feature of the conference so please join us in discussing these papers. For more information please contact one of the organizers:


Papers and Discussion Schedule


Paper 1: The How and The Why
Carl Snyder, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL,

Paper 2: Chemistry for Non-Science Majors: What Do They Need to Know and How Do We Teach It to Them
Ed Baum, Grand Valley State University, Allendale, MI,

Paper 3: Teaching Chemistry to Non-Science Majors by Modeling Research Activity
Frank Schmidt and John Adams, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia MO,

Paper 4: Teaching Chemistry Within a Physical Science Course for Non-Science Majors: A Hands-On Approach
Michael Epstein, Mount Saint Mary's College, Emmitsburg, MD,

Paper 5: Teaching Science to Everyone
Larry Weir and David DiMattio, St Bonaventure University, St Bonaventure, NY,

Paper 6: Teaching Non-Majors: The Art of Engagement (pdf)
Cathy Middlecamp, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI,

Paper 7: Chemistry and the Environment: A General Education Course to Interest Unenthusiastic Students
Alicia Wilson, AKL Informatics, Birmingham, AL,

Conference Articles

Abstracts of Papers:

Carl H. Snyder
Chemistry Department
University of Miami
Coral Gables, FL 33124


How? By examining the behavior of the ordinary substances of our everyday lives. Why? To understand what science is and how the principles of science not only govern the physical world we live in but affect as well the societal judgments we make in managing that world. This How/Why duo evolves into two themes that play major roles in teaching chemistry to non-science students: 1) The substances of our daily lives are all chemicals. (Use plenty of common consumer products in lecture demonstrations.) 2) An understanding of science helps clarify some of the most important societal problems we currently face. (What are some realistic alternatives to the gasoline engine?) This paper will explore these topics in detail.

Edward J. Baum
Chemistry Department
The Honors College
Grand Valley State University
Allendale, MI 49401


There are a variety of opinions on what non-science majors should get out of their science courses. Consider that many of our non-science majors will gain a great deal of control over our scientific establishment and its activities in their professional capacities as legislators, public administrators, jurists, business executives, and so on. Most will give their opinions on some scientific and technological issues as voters at the polls. What do we want to communicate to these individuals while we have the opportunity? This paper presents the argument that chemistry courses for non-science majors should be about more than science literacy, a term that means different things to different people. They should also help our non-science students develop critical reasoning skills needed by citizens living in a technological society. Furthermore, our teaching methods should make sense in view of the objectives.
We offer two courses in chemistry for non-science majors at Grand Valley State University. One is a standard lecture course. The other is a guided-inquiry course with laboratory. Both present chemistry on a need-to-know basis in the context of societal issues. We have been assessing the two courses to determine their relative merits in improving scientific literacy and in promoting critical reasoning skills. Our results will be discussed.

Francis J. (Frank) Schmidt, Department of Biochemistry, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia MO 65212, U.S.A.;

John E. Adams, Department of Chemistry, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia MO 65211, U.S.A.;


Teaching Chemistry to non-majors remains an important challenge to the chemical educational community. We teach Chemistry as a component of an interdisciplinary two-semester course sequence. The course explicitly models the research activity of professional scientists: reading the literature, brainstorming to develop hypotheses, testing and interpreting the results. In support of this concept, we have changed the traditional prescriptive format of laboratory exercises to a format that explicitly models the scientific literature. The outcome of the courses suggests that the format supports scientific reasoning and understanding of science as a process.

Michael Epstein
Mount Saint Mary's College
Emmitsburg, MD


Beginning in the fall of 2004, Mount Saint Mary's College will incorporate into the core curriculum a two-semester science course sequence for non-science majors. All students who are not science majors will be required to take a course in physical science followed by a course in biological science. In preparation for this event, I have been developing a workshop-style course in physical science that (a) incorporates elements of physics, chemistry, and astronomy; (b) provides students with a heavy dose of technology as well as the fundamentals of each discipline; (c) develops critical thinking skills; and (d) is designed to keep the interest of non-science majors. This paper will describe how chemistry is integrated into the broad framework of the course and relate my experience in teaching the course for the 3 previous semesters.

Dr. Larry Wier
Associate Professor & Chair, Chemistry Department, St. Bonaventure University

Dr. David DiMattio
Assisitant Professor, Physics Department, St. Bonaventure University


Five years ago the general education requirements for undergraduates at St. Bonaventure University underwent a major revision; our faculty replaced distribution requirements with a fixed set of required courses in a newly created Clare College. The new science requirement, Clare 102, was called "Inquiry in the Natural World" consisting of a lecture (3 credits) and a lab (1 credit). The course uses an historical approach to examine key development in Physics, Chemistry, and Biology. It is the only science course that non-science majors must take at the University. Learning objectives, active learning exercises, and pre- and post-course testing are incorporated in the course design. Eight semesters of experience later, we will review what worked and what did not.

Cathy Middlecamp
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Madison, WI


What engages students? And what engages us in engaging them? Both of these questions need our attention as we consider how and why we should teach chemistry to non-science majors. Without engagement, learning becomes a chore, if not an impossibility. Likewise, without engagement teaching can become a task without a greater meaning. Thus, the engagement of all involved in the teaching and learning processes would seem to be a worthy goal. Worthy or not, however, it is not simple to achieve. Nor, at least in my experience, is engagement a goal that can be accomplished without a considerable investment of time and energy.
In this paper, I will first briefly describe a philosophy of engagement taken now by five consecutive authoring teams of Chemistry in Context, a project of the American Chemical Society. Most of what I discuss, however, will relate to the art of engagement and how I practice it at different levels. I will draw from my experiences of having taught non-science majors using Chemistry in Context for 10 semesters and having served on the authoring team through 3 editions, including the current one. Examples of engagement will be taken from Chapter 7 of Chemistry in Context, "The Fires of Nuclear Fission". I will hope to demonstrate both where engagement has worked well and where the challenges lie. And truly, I look forward to engaging the participants in this on-line symposium in these and other issues!

Alicia Wilson
AKL Informatics
1821 11th Avenue South #55503
Birmingham, AL 35255


Chemistry and the Environment was a general education course that effectively captured the interest of unenthusiastic students. Topics like dinosaur extinction, nuclear chemistry, environmental implications of agricultural cloning, and acid rain integrate well with typical introductory chemistry subject material. Class participation and retention of material were improved by the use of humor and drama. Sensitivity toward preconceptions and religious beliefs of students also helped decrease their hostility toward chemistry. Efforts to make chemistry seem less intimidating also improved student attitudes. Student evaluations indicated that by the end of the semester the students generally felt successful and had favorable attitudes toward studying chemistry.