Volume IV: What works, what matters, what lasts


21st Century Pedagogies

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What Are ChemConnections Modules?

The ChemConnections modules are topical modules for the first two years of college chemistry that were developed and tested by the ChemLinks Coalition and the Modular Chemistry Consortium as part of the National Science Foundation’s Systematic Change Initiative in Chemistry. These two- to four-week modules start with relevant real-world questions and develop the chemistry needed to answer them. In the process, students model how chemistry is actually done and discover connections between chemistry and other sciences, technology, and society. In order to develop critical thinking skills as well as cover chemical content, modules feature student-centered active and collaborative classroom activities and inquiry-based laboratory and media projects, rather than relying primarily on traditional lectures and verification laboratories.

Over a hundred faculty from more than forty two-year colleges, four-year colleges, and universities in these two consortia participated in developing and testing a variety of modules dealing with chemistry and the environment, technology, and life processes. The modules are available from W. W. Norton.

Modules can be used in several ways in the classroom, depending on the instructor’s preference. Some faculty may choose to use modules for their entire course, while others may use only one or two modules to add a relevant topic of current interest to their existing curriculum. The modular approach is flexible enough to accommodate a variety of teaching and learning environments. The Guide to Teaching with Modules and instructor manual for each module help instructors make these decisions.

Through this broad base of testing and revision, the ChemConnections modules are adaptable to a variety of institutional settings. By offering options of varying depth, each module can be adapted for use in a variety of courses for non-science students, science and technology majors, and potential chemistry majors. Our goal is to enhance scientific literacy, as well as technical competence, for all students. In short, we want students to learn as scientists learn—by doing chemistry in a rich, modern, investigative setting centered around core principles in chemistry.

Additional information about the modules is available at http://chemlinks.beloit.edu/ and http://mc2.cchem.berkeley.edu/. Information about workshops on using modules and other active learning methods for chemistry is available at http://www.cchem.berkeley.edu/~midp/. For information about examination copies or testing modules, visit W. W. Norton at: http://www.wwnorton.com/college/exam_policy.htm or call Erin O’Brien at 212-790-4332.

ChemConnections modules currently available are:

Earth, Fire, and Air: What is Needed to Make an Effective Air-Bag System? The development of air-bag systems for automobiles is used as a case study for introducing a variety of gas-forming reactions and their stoichiometry. Students learn how to determine mass/mole relationships, balance equations, and carry out gas law calculations.

Computer Chip Chemistry: Driving the reactions of integrated circuit design The fabrication of integrated circuits on silicon-based semiconductors is used to introduce students to the rapidly growing industry of semiconductor processing. Enthalpy, entropy and Gibbs free energy are introduced sequentially as the various fabrication steps are considered.

What Should We Do About Global Warming? Groups of students analyze the historical data on several atmospheric greenhouse gases and attempt to account for the increasing concentrations of these gases by finding their source and sink reactions. Students then design an international global warming policy based on scientific data, but also taking into consideration environmental, social, political, and economic realities.

Why Does the Ozone Hole Form? Students learn about the structure of the atmosphere and the oxygen chemistry responsible for producing the ozone layer. Rowland and Molina’s two-step chlorine-catalyzed cycle , the unique Antarctic meteorology, and heterogeneous chemistry complete the story of Antarctic ozone depletion. Using chemical kinetics in a real context is emphasized through rate concepts and calculations that answer relevant questions about ozone. Students also learn to support or refute a scientific hypothesis with evidence and consider the interplay between experimental data and theoretical models.

Build a Better CD Player: How can you get blue light from a solid? This module challenges students to think about a question in materials design, how to get light out of a solid. Light-emitting solids are essential for many high technology materials and products, including compact disk (CD) players. Students make use of the periodic table to propose color-specific emitting solids based on knowledge of periodic properties, bonding, electronic transitions, solid structures and the properties of light.

Would You Like Fries With That? The fuss about fats in our diet. Fat is an important nutrient in our diets, but some dietary fats have been linked to an increased risk of chronic diseases. Students investigate the properties of fats and oils and relate them to their triglyceride structure, gaining experience with chemical notation, polarity, thermochemistry, intermolecular forces, bond strength, cis/trans isomerism, and basic organic nomenclature. Finally, in looking at some of the fat substitutes on the market, they both justify their properties from a chemical perspective and debate their effectiveness as a part of the American diet.

How Do We Get From Bonds to Bags, Bottles, and Backpacks? This module is designed to help students learn about chemical bonding, polarity, intermolecular forces and the impact of chemical structure on the properties of materials by focusing on polymers. As they learn about the chemistry of polymers, they also learn how it overlaps with other disciplines and areas of life including materials science and recycling.

Should We Build a Copper Mine? Copper: what is its source and what does it cost? Does it matter how we produce it? What are the environmental consequences? In this module students explore the science behind these questions and develop informed answers. Case teaching, collaborative laboratory work, and classroom group problems are used to teach redox reactions, acid/base reactions, solubility, and electrochemical equilibria. Teams of students perform their own analysis and hydro-metallurgical processing of an ore sample.

Water Treatment: How can we make our water safe to drink? Students begin by learning about the hydrologic cycle and the various pathways by which dissolved substances get into a water supply. The process of dissolution is then examined in some detail, with a focus on learning about the nature of ionic and covalent substances and the factors that control their solubility in water.

Origin of Life on Earth Major events in the origin and evolution of life are examined from a chemical perspective, including the formation of the solar system, the first reproducing molecules, the evolution of metabolism, and the search for extra-terrestrial life.

Stars: What’s in a star? The only empirical information we have about stars comes from the light that reaches us. Students explore the nature of starlight in order to relate its color to blackbody radiation and temperature. They then analyze stellar spectra in terms of the electronic structure of atoms and ions.

Soil Equilibria: What happens to acid rain? This module, for use in an analytical chemistry course, considers the consequences when soil equilibria are stressed through the addition of combustion-generated sulfur and nitrogen oxides to the environment. Students consider the chemical species important in the soil system charge balance, how changes in pH, solubility, and ion exchange affect ion distributions and concentrations, and how both chemical systems and ecosystems respond. Instead of many simple problems where individual equilibria are studied separately, students question and investigate facets of a more complex problem through laboratory measurements of model and natural systems, supplemented by case studies.

How Can We Reduce Air Pollution from Cars? In burning fuel, automobiles emit compounds that are hazardous and that react in air to degrade air quality. As they analyze how different fuels combust in a car engine, students explore how an automobile engine works, how pollution is produced by an engine, and how engine conditions affect pollution, fuel economy, and engine efficiency, using key chemistry concepts about thermochemistry and gas-phase equilibria.