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2010 Fall Newsletter

The schedule for discussion is as follows:
1. November 15-17
 - Harry E. Pence
What is the best search engine for chemists?
2. November 18-21  - Sheila Woodgate and David Titheridge
BestChoice: Learning how to teach interactively over the web
3. November 22-24
 - William J. Vining
A fully assignable electronic textbook
Thanksgiving Break
4. November 29-December 1
 - Lauri McCormick McDonald
Anecdotal uses of facebook, google calendar, and 
cell phones in a high school classroom
5. December 2-5 - 
Jerry E. Honts
Resources and strategies for creating molecular animations
6. December 6-8 - 
Melanie M. Cooper, Sonia M. Underwood, Nathaniel
P. Grove, Sam P. Bryfczynski, and Roy Pargas
OrganicPad: A freehand interactive application of the development of representational competence
7. December 9-12
 - Katherine Perkins, Kelly Lancaster, Patricia
 Loeblein, Robert Parson, and Noah Podolefsky
PhET interactive simulations: New tools for teaching and learning chemistry
8. December 13-15
Masato M. Ito
Introduction of the WWW-based teaching and learning material for organic chemistry in the university
9. December 16-19 - 
Angel Herráez
"DIY Molecules" - A web application to build your own 3D chemical structures
10. December 20-22 - 
Karen Lippe
Students do not read chemistry textbooks anymore

Resa Kelly

Newsletter Articles

Abstracts of Papers

Harry E. Pence
SUNY Oneonta
Oneonta, NY, 13820

In last year's CCCE Newsletter column I lamented the fact that the long expected conflict between Microsoft and Google for technical supremacy in search engines had failed to materialize. Aside from real time search, which seemed to have little professional interest for chemists, there were few technical developments to report. Since then, there have been plenty of developments, perhaps the most significant of which was the deal allowing Microsoft to fold the Yahoo search engine into Bing, the newest Microsoft engine. As of this writing it is reported that Yahoo and Microsoft have completed the integration of their search engines in the U.S. and Canada, including Yahoo's Internet, image, and video search on both desktop and mobiles computers and mobile phones. According to a story this month, Bing has now gained a larger fraction of the search market than Yahoo and Yahoo has no plans to keep its engine up to date; therefore, Yahoo will no longer be evaluated as a separate engine in this column.

Masato M. Ito
Department of Environmental Engineering for Symbiosis
Faculty of Engineering, Soka University 1-236 Tangi-cho, Hachioji
Tokyo 192-8577, Japan

In these days, computers and networks are used in the university classes as if they had been used for decades. The blackboard has been substituted by a large screen for projecting images from our liquid crystalline displayed (LCD) projectors. Many textbooks or lecture notes are available electronically on the Internet instead of purchasing from bookstores or print services. Most announcements to students are delivered not on the traditional bulletin boards but on the www-based portal systems.

I have been teaching organic chemistry at Soka University for twenty years as a one-year sixty-hour course. Facing the changes depicted above, I have tried to introduce a new technology for assisting and improving the class teaching and learning. This article describes my experiences in this aspect for more than ten years.

William J. Vining, SUNY College at Oneonta
Susan Young, Hartwick College
Roberta O. Day, University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Beatrice Botch, University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Lauri McCormick McDonald
Chemistry Teacher, Highland Park High School

As a high school educator, one of the biggest priorities (after covering the required standards tested on state assessments) is finding a way to engage students and "meet them where they are." In a world of fast-paced and flashy media, sometimes school classrooms can feel like a time warp for students. While working to find a way to create a rigorous Pre-AP Chemistry course, I have determined that utilizing some new technologies has been successful without sacrificing course content. Over the past few years, I have incorporated Facebook, Google Calendar, and cell phones into my curriculum with favorable results.

Jerry E. Honts, Ph.D
Department of Biology, Drake University
Des Moines, IA 50311

Molecular animations have been used extensively in undergraduate science courses to teach concepts that are difficult or impossible to represent with static diagrams. Animations can assist learning by providing multiple perspectives of complex structures, or they can be useful in depicting changes in a system over time.

While some instructors create animations for their courses, many rely on animations provided by textbook publishers, supplied on physical media (CDs or DVDs) or deployed on the web. Even though there are numerous existing animations, some instructors will want to create new animations to assist their specific aspects of their teaching. Many instructors are intimidated by the complexity of the software used to create the animations found in textbooks and on the internet, many of which were created by artists with expertise in the digital realm. But with a little persistence, it is possible for any would-be animator to create simple and reasonably effective animations to communicate key ideas for which static figures are inadequate.

Animations can take on many forms, from simple frame-by-frame 2D animations, to complex cinematic quality 3D animations. While the latter receive the most attention, there is no strong evidence that their "realism" necessarily helps students grasp complex concepts (Smallman & St. John, 2005). An individual should weigh the cost (time and effort) required to create an animation versus the learning gains that are desired.

Melanie M. Cooper*(a), Sonia M. Underwood(a), Nathaniel P. Grove(b), Sam P. Bryfczynski(c), Roy Pargas(c)
(a) Chemistry Department, Clemson University, Clemson, SC 29634
(b) Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of North Carolina Wilmington, Wilmington, NC 28403
(c) Department of Computer Science, Clemson University, Clemson, SC 29634

One reason chemistry poses a challenge to both learners and teachers is that, for robust conceptual understanding, students must understand how and why molecular level structure affects reactivity and properties. Much has been written on the difficulties students have in translating between a symbolic, molecular, and macroscopic understanding of chemistry (1, 2) and most modern texts go to great lengths to provide multiple representations to students.1 Lewis structures are probably the most important of the symbolic representations that students encounter. Students must master not only what the representations mean, but also how and why they are constructed, and what they are used (and useful) for. Unfortunately, many students have great difficulty both drawing and using Lewis structures. For example in our work we have seen that the majority of students (even in an organic chemistry course) do not appear to use structures to predict properties in a meaningful way (3). Many students (and perhaps some instructors) confuse the rules for drawing structures with the concepts that underlie bonding, resulting in students who believe that bonds form because atoms "want" or "need" an octet (4, 5). Indeed the idea that Lewis structures are symbolic representations may well be lost on many students (for example: if asked what the bond angle is in methane, when presented with a typical Lewis structure, many students will answer 90 ).

Katherine Perkins, Kelly Lancaster, Patricia Loeblein, Robert Parson, and Noah Podolefsky
University of Colorado at Boulder

The Chemistry Education Research community has long recognized the power of animations and visualizations in the teaching and learning of chemistry (e.g. Jones and Smith, 1993; Burke et al., 1998; Tasker, 2005; Jones et al., 2005; Williamson and Jose, 2009; Sanger, 2009; Bishop and Kelly, 2009). Simulations also have the potential to transform the way science is taught and learned, and are increasingly becoming a focus of research. Simulations can be highly interactive and dynamic, make the invisible visible, scaffold inquiry by what is displayed and what is controlled, provide multiple representations, and allow safe (both physically and psychologically) multiple trials and rapid inquiry cycles. Perhaps most important, they make learning fun and engaging. Simulations can be readily disseminated and incorporated into today's classrooms - they are easily distributed over the web, often for free, and can be designed to allow for flexible use that addresses a variety of learning goals.

Sheila Woodgate and David Titheridge
The University of Auckland
Auckland, New Zealand

The BestChoice web site ( was born in 2002 out of a desire to offer additional learning support to students in large first-year university courses. The aim was to create web-based activities that modeled a one-on-one interchange with an experienced teacher. Thus it was intended that content be developed systematically, using both information and question pages, and that users receive instructive feedback in response to their answers.

Perceiving molecules as three-dimensional entities is an essential ability to be acquired by students in chemistry and biochemistry. Nowadays plenty of tools are available that allow students to visualize 3D models of chemical structures and even to interact with them on the computer screen using mouse, keyboard and user interface controls like buttons or pull-down menus.

Angel Herráez, PhD.
Dep. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Alcalá.
28871 Alcalá de Henares, Spain