Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Chemistry of Teaching Chemistry

The word "chemistry" has been used as defined by dictionaries as "the emotional or psychological interaction between two people, especially when experienced as a powerful mutual attraction: as in their affair was triggered by intense sexual chemistry" Or "interaction between people working together; specifically: such interaction when harmonious or effective chemistry
> (Merriam-Webster) http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/chemistry retrieved 3/25/2014.This interpretation of the word has been so useful that even some dating services use it as a advertising tool. One even use it a the name for their dating agency. Why they use the name chemistry? Why is that they want to show some kind of scientific foundation? Why would clients rely on a (pseudo-) scientific explanation of how the dating system works?
The answer my friend is blowing in the wind! Science gives confidence! One might think that because something is scientific it will be supported by factual observation of reality. When one expresses the opinion that there is some chemical interaction in the brain that makes one like someone is because there is ample evidence that there are bio-chemical reaction in the brain as the mind is elucidating.
So the question is how do we develop a chemistry in class? How can a professor instigate and encourage an emotional/psychological interaction between the students and between the students and the professor? The answer is not simple or direct. There must be hundreds of didactic techniques and teaching tricks. I will share here in this space some of the ones that I have used in recent years, such as POGIL (Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning) developed by chemists and Flipping that has become wide spread and multidisciplinary.
Chemistry has been known to be the weed-out tool in the liberal arts, as a winnow tool to show students what their true calling is, as many come to the hard sciences without the preparation, talent, or true desire for these disciplines. They come because they are told "is the right thing to do" and parents want their children to go to medical school so they can make money. Of course all of these reasons are the wrong reasons to go to college.
Once the student realizes that his/her calling is not in the hard sciences they will be free to choose among a myriad of options within the liberal arts or business. These hard sciences are in many ways magnets that bring students to college and help admission number to go up.
So thinking about chemistry, the science; how do we use the chemistry of the classroom, the emotional relationship created and developed by the professor to enhance learning and enjoyment of the science? Can one enhance a "chemistry" of support of learning difficult subjects? If so how can we do it?

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