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Teaching Methods

Where does a detail discussion of atomic structure belong in H.S. Chem?

Started 4 months ago by John Varine.


For many years (1964-2002), I taught the CHEM Study course to 1st year chemistry students (Soph & Juniors). The course put off a discussion of energy levels, orbitals, detailed chemical bonding, etc. until the latter part of the year. It used the idea of elements trying to get to a noble gas electron population when reacting. The amount of chemistry that can be understood with that simple idea is amazing. The rational for it? Beginning chemistry students need some concrete knowledge of chemistry before that can really internalize the abstract idea of energy levels, orbitals, etc. We covered solubility, acid-base, redox reactions first. Once with that background, the students were in a better position to see how detailed atomic structure worked into their understanding of chemistry. Teaching detailed atomic structure early in the course provides the student nothing to "hang" that information on because they know so little chemistry. What do you think?


3 Comments

  • Jesse Bernstein

    Posted about 1 month ago

    Your RossTable 2019 over simplfies the nature of the atom and how electrons exist in an atom. For over 100 years it has been accepted that the Bohr model of the atom is incorrect and does not explain most every phenomenon observed related to the atom. Yes, the Quantum Mechanical model of the atom is difficult to comprehend by most individuals but at least give the idea a try. What I do is to mention the Bohr model for about 30 minutes and then tell the students of the incorrectness of the model because the model can not explain so much of what is observed in nature. I have found that teaching something correctly the first time is quite a bit easier than telling students incorrectly and then having to undo the damage. This is analogous to preventing pollution in the first place rather than having to provide money to clean up a superfund site.

  • Jim Ross

    Posted about 1 month ago

    I think that student understanding requires the student to have competence in making their own representations of the atom in response to the events or phenomena they are trying to explain. Most Soph and Jr students can only repeat the spdf representation they are given. Very few are able to explain such important ideas as angular momentum, magnetic field, etc. In other words, the spdf representation is not really "theirs" - they really cannot know how to use it, except in carefully scripted situations chosen for them by the teacher. As an alternative, check out this table.

  • Thomas Ellsworth

    Posted 4 months ago

    I see the logic of your idea here. My experience has been similar, in that I have always started with basic atomic structure, but this really does not give the students a view of the bigger scope of chemistry. I think your plan would give them a better sense of what chemistry encompasses and would allow them to see bigger applications early, so that they could better appreciate the why atomic structure is important.