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Why Use Conceptual Chemistry?

The teaching of chemistry is supported when the instructor balances the principles of chemistry with the application of these principles to real life situations. Finding this balance is one of the key challenges to the creation of any chemistry course, but especially to the creation of a course designed to meet the needs of the student whose prime interests lie outside the realm of the sciences. Conceptual Chemistry and its many supplements are tools that can help you to find this proper balance. Throughout this curriculum, the applications of chemistry, both usual and unusual, are thoughtfully woven into a sturdy backbone of concept development.

 


Strong Concept Development
Conceptual Chemistry recognizes the vertical structure associated with the learning of chemistry. For example, one needs to learn about atoms in order understand molecules, which must be understood before learning about intermolecular attractions. There is a natural order to learning chemistry and this order is generally from simple to complex. Furthermore, because concepts build upon previously learned concepts, the process of learning these concepts cannot be rushed. Squeezing the ideas of atoms, molecules, and intermolecular attractions into a single chapter is simply too much too soon. To optimize learning, these concepts should instead be introduced at a leisurely pace, such as over the course of several chapters.


The learning of chemistry concepts is also optimized when the concepts are presented using a “spiral” approach. In such an approach, just enough depth is initially provided to allow insight into a particular application. The concept is then revisited in a subsequent chapter where further depth is provided to allow insight into yet another application. Repeated introductions to the same concept, but in a different context, allows that concept to “sink in”. This approach is fundamental to how the brain learns new information. An example familiar to most of us is the learning of someone’s name, which often happens only after meeting that person several times. Accordingly, within Conceptual Chemistry, the student will find key concepts such as the periodic table, chemical bonding, mass conservation, nanotechnology, solutions, and mixtures revisited several times over the course of several chapters. Importantly, each reiteration not only solidifies a basic understanding, it also builds upon that basic understanding.

Strong Integration of Chemistry Applications
Conceptual Chemistry recognizes that any interest we might have in the concepts of chemistry is married to the real life situations these concepts are able to explain. Water is a bent molecule. So what? Well, because it is bent, one side is slightly negative and the other slightly positive, which means water molecules stick to each other quite well. This in turn explains why oil and water don’t mix and why it takes so long to heat a pot of water, which is the same reason our oceans protect us against runaway global warming. Strong concept development, therefore, lays a foundation for understanding the happenings of our immediate universe. In Conceptual Chemistry, concepts are developed only in the context of what they are able to explain.

The Conceptual Chemistry textbook further showcases the applications of chemistry with frequent FYI paragraphs set in the margins. Questions at the back of each chapter also prod students to think about concepts in the context of real-life situations. Furthermore, chemistry-related topics, such as the Superfund Act or forensic science, are highlighted within the “Contextual Chemistry” spotlight essays appearing at the end of each chapter.

Beyond Concept Development and Chemistry Applications

It is said that the true value of any academic course is the flavor that remains after all the facts and figures have been forgotten. You can consider your course a success if in the distant future your former students recall your class as being “a fun and rewarding experience.”  Notably, a chemistry course is fertile ground for a student’s personal growth—intellectually, emotionally, and socially. This idea is addressed in my notes to the instructor in the frontmatter of the textbook. What is not addressed there, however, is a thorough discussion of a wonderful means by which this higher calling and all our other goals can be met with resounding success. I’m referring to the techniques of “student-centered learning.

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Dear Instructor,

Please write to me at John@ConceptualChemistry.com with any questions or concerns you may have about this website or about Conceptual Chemistry in general. I would look forward to hearing from you and I do my best to respond promptly.

Good chemistry to you!

John