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2007 Fall ConfChem: Meeting the Challenges of Teaching Chemistry for General Education Students

09/09/07 to 10/20/07
Dr. Gary Trammell Chemistry Program HSB 313, University of Illinois at Springfield One University Plaza, Springfield, IL 62703

Papers and Schedule

Date Author Papers
Sept 9-15

David Pratt
(University of Pittsburgh)

P1. Chemistry in the Natural Sciences
Sept 16-22

Robert Gotwals
(The North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics)

P2. Integrating Computational Chemistry (Molecular Modeling) into the General Chemistry Curriculum
Sept 23-29

Jennifer Spillman
(University of Virgin Islands)

P3. The Natural Science of the Caribbean
Sept 30-Oct 6

Lon Porter
(Wabash College)

P4. Engaging Liberal Arts Students Beyond Introductory Chemistry: A New Course in Nanotechnology
Oct 7 – 13

Rachel Wang and Adriana Bishop
(Spokane Falls Community College)

P5. Offering Introductory Chemistry in a Learning Community versus a Stand-alone Course: Gains, Losses and Extras
Oct 14-20

Vladimir Garkov
(Mary Baldwin College)

P6. Teaching Chemistry and General Science in Cultural Context with a Travel-abroad Component


Conference Articles

Abstracts of Papers:

David W. Pratt, Chemistry, and Peter F. M. Koehler, Physics and Astronomy
University of Pittsburgh.


This paper describes the role that chemistry plays in the two-term integrated science course “Science of Everyday Life” that is being taught at the University of Pittsburgh.  The principal goals of this course are to engage students in thinking about the natural world that surrounds them, and to encourage them to develop an understanding of the fundamental scientific principles that govern its behavior, as well as to appreciate the “beauty of all things”.  The principal topics discussed in the first term include the laws of motion, work, and energy; the molecular world, including the kinetic theory of gases and degrees of freedom; sources of energy, renewable and non-renewable, and energy transfer; electricity and magnetism; atomic theory, the chemical bond; intermolecular forces; materials (including an introduction to organic chemistry); radioactivity; and the sub-atomic world.  The course continues in the second term with discussions of astronomy, geology and planetary science, energy and the environment, and biology.  All topics are taught from a conceptual point of view, though quantitative ideas (orders of magnitude, statistics, etc.) are introduced when necessary.  Knowledge of the simple physical and chemical ideas discussed early in the course gives the students a basis for understanding the more complex topics discussed later in the course.  Most instructors in the course attend all lectures, making it possible to reinforce connections between “old” topics and “new” ones as they are introduced.

Robert Gotwals


Computational science is considered by many scientists to be the fourth leg of modern science, joining observational, experimental, and theoretical science.  Computational chemistry (also known as molecular modeling) is one of the most important application areas in the computational sciences.  In North Carolina, we have built a statewide resource to provide pre-college students and teachers with access to research-grade computational chemistry resources.  We have also developed several complete courses (Intro to Computational Chemistry and Research in Computational Chemistry), and have written a textbook specifically for high school teachers and students.  Recently we have partnered with the Global Grid Exchange to provide computing resources to a national audience.  In this paper we will describe these efforts and how they can be utilized by other educators.


Key words:  computational chemistry, molecular modeling, pre-college, general chemistry

Jennifer Spillman
University of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix


“SCI 100: The Natural Science of the Caribbean” is a one-semester, 3-credit general education science course taken by all freshmen at the University of the Virgin Islands for the past 10 years.  This team-taught course focuses on four natural phenomena that potentially affect our island community:  hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis.  It should be noted that the intent of this course is not to present the natural world solely as viewed through the eyes of a chemist, but designed to incorporate many disciplines simultaneously (i.e. biology, chemistry, geology, meteorology, physics) and to highlight the contribution of each field to our current understanding of natural processes and relationships.  Specific examples illustrating the role of chemical principles in natural processes include: energy transport via convection, the role of latent heat in hurricane development, crystal size in lava as a function of cooling rate, the detection of calcium carbonate in local rock samples, mineral composition of mafic vs. felsic lava, wave properties and propagation, and density as a function of temperature and salinity of our oceans.  Our intent is for students to complete this course with a better understanding of and a greater appreciation for the natural world around them, thus ultimately developing a more informed citizenry.

Lon A. Porter, Jr.
Department of Chemistry, Wabash College, Crawfordsville, IN 47933, USA


The study and manipulation of matter on the nanometer scale is known as nanoscience or nanotechnology, an exploding field still in its infancy. Much of the driving force for building tiny devices and features on the nanoscale is their importance for existing and emerging technologies such as microelectronics, electromechanical systems, sensors, molecular computing, and a myriad of other applications. In response, we have designed a new course open to undergraduate students that have completed at least one semester of introductory chemistry, which focuses on the basic science behind the science fiction and the “hype.” Nanoscience provides an excellent way of learning to look at the amazing opportunities that arise when various fields of science intermingle. We utilize this as an opportunity for applying the fundamentals we teach in our subdisciplinary courses to applications and problems with a broader scope. The course revisits the origins of the field and spotlights current advances. Utilization of a central text is supplemented by the use of the primary chemical literature as well as selected works of science fiction. Furthermore, students consider the social, political, economical, environmental, and ethical ramifications of a potential “nanotech revolution.” In addition to lecture and discussion, students participate in laboratory exercises and a major writing assignment. This paper expands upon our recently published work (J. Chem. Educ. 2007, 84, 259.) highlighted in the Sept. 17th issue of Chemical & Engineering News.

M. Rachel Wang and Adriana Bishop
Chemistry Department, Spokane Falls Community College


At Spokane Falls Community College (SFCC), up to 350 students enroll in Chem. 100 (Survey of Chemistry) each year for various reasons. As a college-level, fully transferrable laboratory science course, Chem. 100 satisfies a degree requirement of the Associates of Arts and several vocational-technical programs. It also prepares students for more advanced chemistry courses. In the past five years, students at SFCC were offered an option to take Chem. 100 in conjunction with English Composition 101 (or 201, for those with more advanced writing skills) in a learning community (LC). This LC enrolls up to 45 students per section; they attend classes together, led by one instructor from each discipline, working collaboratively. The LC integrates traditional course content in both chemistry and English composition, with an added emphasis on personal and civil responsibilities to the environment. This report compares the chemistry portion of five LC sections versus traditional stand-alone Chem. 100 sections offered during the same period. Aspects compared include: course format, student profiles and completion rate, assessment strategies, curriculum issues, administrative / instructor issues, and some unexpected extras.

Vladimir N. Garkov
Mary Baldwin College, Staunton, VA 24401


The recently developed course called Science in Cultural Context introduces students to the spirit of science (and chemistry in particular) as a process as opposed to a specific body of knowledge by employing the multidisciplinary tools of philosophy, history, and geography of science.  The first unit covers the birth of modern science in Europe from a historical perspective.  The second unit teaches students the main ideas and accomplishments of chemistry from Lavoisier to Schrödinger and Watson and Crick. The philosophical aspects of science are considered in the third unit which looks at science’s uncertainty, recentness, completeness, objectivity, and unity.  Special attention is devoted to the unnatural character of the scientific way of thinking.   Unit four tries to answer Yali’s question about the reasons for Europe’s scientific and technological superiority by exploring the physical geography of science.   The fifth unit of the course compares ancient cultures and discusses the cultural geography of science including the religious, economic, political, and other human factors that gave birth to the scientific way of thinking in only one place – the agora of ancient Greece.  The last unit of the course is an optional trip to Europe, to places like Italy, Russia, southeastern Europe (Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey), or central Europe (Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Paris).  The course may also be conducted entirely on the campus of the American University in Bulgaria.  The travel component allows students to (i) study the cultural and geographic aspects of science by visiting museums, laboratories, schools, hospitals, and sights of historic and artistic significance; and (ii) explore the European culture, study the communication patterns, and look for the elements of the scientific discourse by conversing with the locals (including local university students) and by observing how people relate to each other.  The travel-abroad component presents our students with the opportunity to understand the role of science in the society from a cross-cultural perspective while helping them to appreciate and evaluate their own US culture more critically.  The course uses the following texts: The Ascent of Science by Brian L. Silver, Uncommon Sense: The Heretical Nature of Science by Alan Cromer, Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond, and Germany - Unraveling an Enigma by Greg Nees or Exploring the Greek Mosaic by Benjamin Broome.