I mentioned in a previous long-winded comment that this past summer I had a less-than-perfect teaching experience with an intro to chemistry class. I’ll likely be repeating that course this summer, so I figured as long as I’m thinking about how I might apply all these theories re: the science and art of teaching, I may as well be looking at a practical example. I’m a teaching assistant, so I don’t have much control over the design of the course, but I’m in charge of the problem solving session, so I can structure that as needed. While I’m at it, I’d love to have your comments and suggestions.
To begin, I need to properly assess the knowledge of the incoming students so that I can teach from what they understand already, and I need to shape the teaching to that. Chemistry is at its core a problem-solving discipline that taps a wide variety of mathematical tools and scientific knowledge. I’m reminded of this conclusion from How People Learn regarding the transfer of learning:
Skills and knowledge must be extended beyond the narrow contexts in which they are initially learned. For example, knowing how to solve a math problem in school may not transfer to solving math problems in other contexts.
They have likely at least seen the algebra necessary to manipulate equations for unit conversions, but they’ve likely never had to custom-build an equation to reach a goal, or if they have, they’ve forgotten. How can I lead them to this tool in their memory in a meaningful and lasting way?
The other challenge last year was motivation. It’s not a stretch to anyone’s imagination that unit conversions ad nauseum can be pretty boring and uninspiring. But it’s an essential and basic skill that actual chemists and engineers use pretty regularly. How can I impart an urgency to them to attack these problems without discouraging them or sounding condescending?