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Teaching Non-Majors: The Art of Engagement


Cathy Middlecamp
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Madison, WI

01/29/04 to 01/30/04

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!