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Chemistry Tasks For the Computer Lab?

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the just-the-basics dept.

Education 154

soupman55 writes "I teach Chemistry to students completing their last two years of high school. Basically it's a 'teach and test' course with a few experiments thrown in. I want to jazz up the course using computer and internet resources. For instance, I could set some tasks that require Excel spreadsheet calculations. Or I could set some web quests where students search for information online. One of the decisions to be made is: Do I use computer/internet tasks to help the students grasp the material that is already in the course, or do I help them become aware of ideas that are extensions to their course? Also, when I compare Chemistry classes with Accounting classes, it strikes me that unlike Accounting where learning to use software like Quick Books is an integral part of the course, that there is no particular software that a chemistry student must learn to use. Or is there? What in terms of chemistry and computers worked for you? Or what is there computer-wise that wasn't in your high school chemistry course but should have been?"

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Chermistry of Love (0, Offtopic)

Jorl17 (1716772) | more than 4 years ago | (#30969944)

Tops everything else!

Dont make it too important (5, Insightful)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 4 years ago | (#30969964)

Don't make the use of computers too important. While I think computers could help the course, we have to point out that this is highschool, and you really should be sticking to the basics. Unless you have some specialized software for showing specific chemical concepts, like how different atoms form different molecules, or something like that, I don't think computers have much place in the class. They should be doing real experiments. Maybe using excel or other spreadsheet to record and graph their results would be useful, with some curve fitting too. But beyond that, I think making too much use of computers will just stress students who aren't computer savvy with learning one extra thing, and distract from the information actually being taught. Short story here. When I was in university, I knew a girl taking chemical engineering, and in one course the needed to to VBA for Excel for one of their assignments. For students who hadn't done any programming apart from a single semester of C in the first semester, it was quite a task to expect them to program, and to understand the material of the assignment. Maybe kids are different now, and they are all geniuses on computers, and have no problems working with them. But I doubt it. Most kids probably won't have problems with MS Word or MSN Messenger, but probably will get quite tripped up by trying to use excel with formulas and charting.

Re:Dont make it too important (1)

BrokenHalo (565198) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970342)

Don't make the use of computers too important.

I'll second that. There's very little point in worrying about computers and software until quite late in a university degree course (if then). Your time and resources would be better spent on concocting simple diagnostic exercises that can be completed in the lab or in tutorials in order to tell whether you have managed to get the concepts across. There's nothing reprehensible about using technology no more sophisticated than pencil and paper.

There's a lot to learn in basic chemistry, and adding unnecessary factors to the learning curve should be avoided.

Re:Dont make it too important (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30970920)

VBA for Excel for one of their assignments.

I hope your friend reported the instructor - isn't teaching people VBA a war crime in some jurisdictions? :)

But seriously, I can't think of anything WORSE to try to make real scientific graphs in than Excel. It wants to make fucking bar graphs out of EVERYTHING, and don't get me started on the clusterfuck required to produce proper error bars.

In academia, I combined Comp. Sci. w/ Sciences (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30971224)

Per my subject-line above, AND IT SAVED MY A$$ IN A SCIENCE CLASS NO LESS - read on, in case you're interested:

"Most kids probably won't have problems with MS Word or MSN Messenger, but probably will get quite tripped up by trying to use excel with formulas and charting.
Reply to This"
- by CastrTroy (595695) on Sunday January 31, @08:46AM (#30969964) Homepage

I don't know about today: I have personally found that today's young computer scientists in academia are QUITE IMPRESSIVE (because I have returned to academia for more advanced studies in this field to "upgrade/update" my skills, & mainly in JAVA):

I.E.-> They're more proficient, overall, than the crop I 1st attended collegiate academia with 16++ yrs. ago on a Comp. Sci. degree... & they're quite rational about it, as to why.

E.G.-> One truly brilliant young man I've had the luck to meet actually, in CSC oriented classes, explained it this way to me "We grew up on these machines - your peers @ that time did not. This is the 'why' of why you think we're better/stronger @ computers than your generation was. While you were learning, so were we and like you we did not stop"... it made absolute sense to me.

NOW, back on my subject-line: When I was there doing my required sciences courses, I built a database of terms (for the sciences in question) from the textbook's glossary to make up for my lab partner's leaving school (& his sticking me with a bum grade on a lab because of it, the labs were done in partnerships/teams is why)...

I built it, so that during labs, students could refer to it easily enough to get the points that were on said lab for defining pertinent terms.

IN THE END? Hey - It worked out for an A+ and, my not having to take the final even (this was the deal I made with a prof., because my lab partner "failed out/dropped out" (I never did get the REAL story on that, but it didn't matter either)).

My then former lab partners' leaving school "stuck me" with a D on a lab, which weighed in @ 40% of my grade or better - can't have that.

So, I told the prof.:

"Look, I cannot control what my lab partner does, but since you DEMAND we do labs as partners, his failing to do his end has hurt my GPA badly... so, I have an idea"

AND, that's when I wrote that database of scientific terms for he & his particular science class, and that prof. stayed 'true to his word': He liked the program, and kept it, plus he gave me a great grade for my efforts.

That program (built in VB3 for Windows 3.x) was used in the college's library for countless years in fact for that very purpose for his classes (labs definitions).

Now, since I have returned to academia recently as well as I noted above? Well, I am in another sciences class (GENETICS) & for said science class, I have already programmed up an atomic simulation via Delphi 7.x & OpenGL libs usage (based off a design I did YEARS earlier in 1999 while experimenting with OpenGL screensaver creation), to simulate the proton + neutron + electron in a Hydrogen atom (no neutron in Hydrogen though) via displaying the "in-motion" structure of a hydrogen atom for said class via programming it for the class (as a future "extra credit" project really, for this class). It's implemented as a screensaver.

Computers in the sciences - Especially in academia? DOABLE, & I have personally found that most science prof.'s tend to "relate to it" when YOU combine YOUR SCIENCE (in my case, Comp. Sci.) ,b>with THEIR SCIENCE.


P.S.=> Just some ideas, & ones I have used in academic environs many decades ago (combining sciences no less) & that I intend to use yet again too... because it's applying techniques &/or terms from both really, which is, what it is really, all about imo! These machines in computers? Perfectly lend themselves as tools to most any scientific field after all... & in many a way! apk

Or... (3, Insightful)

Mendy (468439) | more than 4 years ago | (#30969972)

...if it's that you really want to be an IT teacher rather than a Chemistry teacher maybe you could get a new job? :)

Perfect for a chemistry class (3, Funny)

stokessd (89903) | more than 4 years ago | (#30969982)

You guys could whip up a nice cleaner that will get the patina of snot, chocolate bars, and despair off the keyboards. Public computer keyboards are always nasty.


Re:Perfect for a chemistry class (2, Informative)

sakdoctor (1087155) | more than 4 years ago | (#30969990)

Dishwasher makes a keyboard like new.

Re:Perfect for a chemistry class (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 4 years ago | (#30971374)

Buying a new one works even better and, considering the price of keyboards and the invested resources in cleaning them, might even be cheaper.

Re:Perfect for a chemistry class (3, Interesting)

cychem1 (942136) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970820)

I used to use a program called ACD sketch I see its still around [] its was fun to play with for molecular modeling.FTA I kinda had to chuckle at the accounting reference, I am a chemist and that is how I see chemistry as "electron accounting". In my experience as a tutor students need to be shown how spreadsheets can be used to interpolate data for everything from balancing equations to plotting curves for kinetics, spectroscopy, pH titration ect. and even for keeping notes formally scribbled on paper towels.."shudder as my former profs heads spin"

Re:Perfect for a chemistry class (1)

awshidahak (1282256) | more than 4 years ago | (#30971402)

Mod this guy insightful. It's funny, but there is a serious need here.

Re:Perfect for a chemistry class (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 4 years ago | (#30971472)

It took 4 hours of scrubbing and a chemical bath to clean off 2 years worth of nicotine stains, spilled soda, and various other gunk in my 10-year-old keyboard. After it was all done it felt a kilo lighter. d:

dunno... (2, Informative)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970006)

The only use I can think of is for balancing equations to work out, say, how much hydrochloric acid reacts with so many grams of sodium hydroxide. You could use vlookup (or similar) to save looking up molar masses or atomic weights, for example.

Why Excel? (0, Flamebait)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970008)

> I could set some tasks that require Excel spreadsheet calculations.

Why do you have to specify a particular Micrososft product? Couldn't you at least say "require spreadsheet calculations"?

Better, though, would be tasks that require calculations that could be done with software (preferably software that actually produces correct results).

Not a thing (5, Insightful)

muridae (966931) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970018)

Granted, it was 10 years ago that I took college level organic chemistry. The only thing I have seen in that time that would have been useful was LaTeX, for putting together nicely typed lab notes. You might, rarely, spend a week explaining how to use a graphing calculator. Keep it vague and the kids can apply it to a TI-83 or a software calc.

You don't mention the funding of your school, or the tax bracket of your school district. For all we know, you want to teach a computer based course so you have more ways to fail the 75% of your students who do not have a computer at home. Really, if you want to teach IT, teach IT or programing or an Online 101 elective. I know, Teaching The Test sucks, but stick within the course. You find some experiments online to do in the classroom, you find time in the semester to add them in, and you make them relevant.

LaTeX (1)

Visaris (553352) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970112)

I want the second the LaTeX. This is one of the main computer tools I find myself using in every single class, from English, to Physics, to Math, to CS, etc. This is the computer tool that should be taught early and used (if not required) in every course from then on.

typo (1)

Visaris (553352) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970142)

"I want the second" -> "I want to second"

Re:LaTeX (3, Informative)

DragonMantis (1327751) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970184)

As a high-school teacher, I have used LaTeX in physics class. It might seem like it has a steep learning curve at first, but the students catch on very quickly. It can be used both in reports and in presenting material to each other online. MediaWiki, phpBB, and many other tools for interaction have the ability to use TeX...which makes presenting equations far easier than hacking things together with HTML codes. Also, depending on the order of the chemistry and biology courses in your school, you may want to, as someone recommends below, look at PyMol or another 3D molecular viewer. There are also a number of decent Java packages that don't a local installation to run (which depending on how good your tech support is about installing new packages might be easier if the available computers already have Java installed).

Re:LaTeX (1)

superid (46543) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970402)

I have one son in college and two in high school. I know a huge number of their HS friends, their interests and their abilities. One in 50 would be even remotely interested or benefit from learning LaTeX, and their interest would have nothing at all to do with chemistry. If you really use LaTeX you know that it is not a word processor. HS kids are generally comfortable with a word processor and IMHO there is no benefit in teaching them a new non-chemistry concept and toolchain such as LaTeX.

Re:LaTeX (1)

BrokenHalo (565198) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970464)

My supervisor in my initial first-year chemistry units at university insisted on lab reports being done with pen (or even pencil) and paper. His philosophy was that the computer, with its bells and whistles of cool formatting etc offers too many distractions and is a big time-waster, and that a low-tech approach is a better way towards effective communication.

There's time enough to deal with computers when it's necessary. Better to concentrate on what's actually important right now.

Re:Not a thing (1)

Shikaku (1129753) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970126)

Liquid nitrogen to cool an overclocked CPU?

Re:Not a thing (1)

zbharucha (1331473) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970224)

LaTeX. Essential. Good idea.

Re:Not a thing (1)

Arthur Grumbine (1086397) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970422)

For all we know, you want to teach a computer based course so you have more ways to fail the 75% of your students who do not have a computer at home.

I think it's safe to assume he's not teaching in sub-Saharan Africa.

Re:Not a thing (1)

muridae (966931) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970550)

Never taught in a county school in the southern parts of the USA, have you? Poor districts in the inner city? High school anywhere?

Pick a railroad town, or coal mining town, or an old bust gold town. Just because you have never stopped in one of these does not mean there are not schools there. There exist school districts where there are students who do not have computers. I grew up in one, where parts of the county still have well water and septic tanks, and phone lines were just being installed 15 years ago. I have developed computer programs to take to schools in the last 2 years, where the school did not even have a pentium 3 era computer to run them on.

Since the poster did not provide any information about that, I figured my responses should be applicable to situations at both ends of the spectrum; where computers might only be available in the school labs, or where every student has the top line gaming machine at home. Strangely, my opinion for chemistry remains unchanged: A computer is not needed for high school chemistry, and at the college level it can get you a lot of extra data, and help you make your reports more readable.

Re:Not a thing (3, Insightful)

fygment (444210) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970456)

Disregard the negative commentary (like any teacher is trying to fail students ... grow up!)

In order of priority:

a) spreadsheets - Excel, OpenOffice, whatever. How could anyone do a lab without using one for tables, calcs, and graphing? Make them mandatory for experiment reports;

b) Latex - to show there is a paradigm other than WORD and its the software for writing journal articles.

Finally, check out this [] site. I've only ever seen free molecule visualization software (eg - PyMOL) but there might be some other stuff.

Re:Not a thing (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970518)

spreadsheets [...] How could anyone do a lab without using one for tables, calcs, and graphing?

I don't remember how, but back in the 1980s I'm sure we did.

Re:Not a thing (1)

muridae (966931) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970596)

a) spreadsheets - Excel, OpenOffice, whatever. How could anyone do a lab without using one for tables, calcs, and graphing? Make them mandatory for experiment reports;

On paper?
Really, write it out and understand the process of what the work represents. Do not just plug the numbers into Excel and let that model it. Worst case, you end up with students who can turn their results into a graph, but still do not understand what the graph even means. Then someone else tests them by giving them graphs and asking what it means.

The negative commentary is hyperbole, to underscore the fact that the saturation of computers is not what us geeks normally expect it to be. We live and work in a field where multiple computers per person is normal. High schools exist in places where there are old computers because the families can not afford new ones. Or afford a computer at all. The poster did not say that they work for a private magnet school, catering to high technology parents and students. I chose my advice based on the type of school I went to, that had 10 to 15 year old computers in their main 'computer lab'. And, before the snark begins, it was one of the better public county schools compared to the others in the Appalachia area of Virginia. Could get better by moving to a larger city, but that was not where the family worked.

Re:Not a thing (1)

irid77 (1539905) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970476)

Most chemists don't use LaTex. Probably 95% of the papers in Journal of the American Chemical Society and Angewandte Chemie were written using Word + Chemdraw. It's just easier. We're not typesetters, so why should we learn to typeset?

Re:Not a thing (1)

muridae (966931) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970646)

Not a chemist myself, it was just one of the things I have found useful in typing up notes or homework where representing the equation in a textbook manner is more visually appealing than with a ton of parentheses. Mostly because writing out the quadratic equation as (-b +- (b^2 -4ac)^(1/2))/(2a) just looks messy to me. It is something that I wish I had available when I was taking chem, as a typed lab book would have been much easier for my professors to read.

Not a requirement for a HS chem class, by any means. But one of the few things I thought could be useful. Not having used Word in . . . ages, the last I remember was that it's depiction of formulas was atrocious.

Re:Not a thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30970912)

Don't forget Mathtype. That's what some people submitting to the Journal of Physical Chemistry (my old research group for one) use.

Bookkeeping is not accounting (4, Insightful)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970036)

> ...Accounting where learning to use software like Quick Books is an integral
> part of the course... ...then the course is really just a vocational course in the use of a popular (but not particularly good) software package. Does the school get free copies of QuickBooks?

High school: Headstart for proprietary lockin.

Re:Bookkeeping is not accounting (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970528)

You beat me to the punch a bit here. I am curious to know why Quickbooks is "integral" to a high school Accounting course. In my opinion one should understand accounting before using accounting software, just as one should learn to subtract and multiply before using a calculator.

Using Quickbooks as an integral part of a high school accounting class is strong evidence that the class may be essentially worthless.

Re:Bookkeeping is not accounting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30970928)

You beat me to the punch a bit here. I am curious to know why Quickbooks is "integral" to a high school Accounting course. In my opinion one should understand accounting before using accounting software, just as one should learn to subtract and multiply before using a calculator.

Using Quickbooks as an integral part of a high school accounting class is strong evidence that the class may be essentially worthless.

The majority of high school classes fit that...

If Biochemistry is ok... (1)

matt4077 (581118) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970064)

There's a lot that's useful and fun in biochemistry, like, an interactive and actually useful (for learning and as part of a research effort) protein folding game. Also in regard to proteins, pyMOL (GPL version available but hidden on their website) and the pdb library make for some nice visualization. A little more advanced are molecular dynamics simulations.

From the open source world (2, Informative)

selven (1556643) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970076)

Jmol [] is pretty good.

Re:From the open source world (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30970154)

Jmol is a nice program for visualizing computer simulations, but I don't see it fitting into a high school student's education.

Re:From the open source world (1)

muridae (966931) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970200)

Is Jmol going to teach them the difference between trans- and cis-, or dextro- and levo-? It might be helpful in addition to learning those concepts, but this still looks like something the teacher could use, displayed to the class as a teaching aid, not as extra homework. And students who do not have good spacial recognition may still not understand how flipping the mirror version will not result in the same chemical. Good physical models, that can be passed around, can not be discounted for that.

Re:From the open source world (1)

gilleain (1310105) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970944)

Is Jmol going to teach them the difference between trans- and cis-, or dextro- and levo-?

Well, if you display a pair of molecules, one cis-, one trans- then maybe it could help :)

More interesting than Jmol itself are the many websites that use it as a teaching tool : []

I particularly like this symmetry tutorial [] which is a bit advanced for high school, maybe.

Don't forget about youtube (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30970100)

Don't forget about Youtube. There are tons of interesting experiments on there that the kids can watch.

saturated sodium acetate solutions used to form columns on the desktop
glowing pickle
solubility of styrofoam peanuts in acetone
gummy bear destruction with potassium chlorate

I'm a chem prof and frequently refer students to certain links to try and grab their interest/attention since there simply isn't enough class time to do everything I want to do.

Re:Don't forget about youtube (2, Funny)

muridae (966931) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970162)

Sugar and sulphuric acid to demonstrate the change in volume between reactants and product.
Rust and aluminium powder
Sugar and potassium nitrate

ChemDraw is useful, but be wary. (3, Informative)

sackvillian (1476885) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970122)

Chemical structure drawing tools are extremely important with ChemDraw being mandatory learning at many universities, including my own. Check this list [] out for a list of many similar programs including FOSS equivalents.

Beyond that, the biggest two uses of computers in higher levels of chemistry are for literature searching (with SciFinder being a clear winner here) and computational chemistry calculations (still unfortunately done mostly on with the anti-FOSS Gaussian software) though there's no shortage of excellent open source equivalents. Avogradro, for example.

However, literature searches aren't going to be too useful without the journal access that Universities enjoy, and frankly most computational chemistry programs are too sophisticated for students of a high school level - though 3D models of chemical structures are always much more interesting. Since chemistry is still taught by using ballpark descriptions and approximations, then successively refining those approximations, I'd be worried that almost any piece of chemistry software would be too intimidating and difficult to explain because it's designed for users with at least a year or two of university courses.

So, I'd think that teaching the students how to draw good structures (with stereochemical accuracy if possible!) on computers would be useful, and maybe 3D structures would be somewhat inspiring, but you're running the risk of over-complicating what should be a course in the fundamentals. If you have the means, you might want to focus on real demonstrations instead, which could be as simple as a marbles to demonstrate entropy, vinegar and sodium bicarbonate for acid/base chemistry, cornstarch and water to demonstrate non-newtonian fluids, alkali metals and water to demonstrate redox chemistry, salt and ice/water to demonstrate boiling point elevation and freezing point depression, etc. etc.

Re:ChemDraw is useful, but be wary. (1)

Quantumstate (1295210) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970594)

I don't think Chemdraw helps all that much for high school level. Most molecules are simple enough that the structure is fairly obvious. I remember the most enjoyable use we found was persuading it to create the platonic solids out of carbons. We never got the icosahedron working right though, there is too much scope for sections to be inverted. It was great fun though, we were particularly excited when we found out that cubane actually existed have 'theorised' that it could be possible with our severely limited chemistry knowledge.

Re:ChemDraw is useful, but be wary. (1)

muridae (966931) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970728)

Octanitrocubane. Detonation velocity of nearly 30 times the speed of sound. Keep away from High School students.

High School Chem (3, Insightful)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970164)

The only place I see a computer being really useful in a high school chemistry curriculum is in a lab setting. A few thermocouples and a digital voltmeter used to capture data over the course of an experiment could be used to pretty good effect.

Otherwise chemistry at this level is all about learning basic concepts of thermodynamics, gas laws and the rules that govern the combination of atoms into molecules.

Re:High School Chem (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970370)

The only place I see a computer being really useful in a high school chemistry curriculum is in a lab setting. A few thermocouples and a digital voltmeter used to capture data over the course of an experiment could be used to pretty good effect.

I can think of all kinds of calorimetry experiments, quantitative labs involving light adsorption, pH, etc, but all it really boils down to is automating the graphs and reducing the need to pay attention to the thermometers.

Unfortunately, in a learning environment, the best time to think about whats going on was during the otherwise brainless task of reducing and graphing data... Taking that away by automation trains the kids to be lab techs, aka script kiddies, not how to think like a chemist.

You're better off using the computer as a communication and reference tool. Write an essay about some facet of chemistry or chem engineering, using the computer to research. In google maps, you can see an aerial view of such and such chemical plant. Use that as inspiration to ask, "why" type questions.

Another fun thing to do is essentially simulated large scale experiments via spreadsheets. Essentially doing the same word problem multiple times via spreadsheet.

Why Excel? (1)

vadim_t (324782) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970180)

It seems to me like a pointless thing to require. A student at this point should be able to figure out on their own "I can save time by using $spreadsheet/calculator". I think you should neither require nor forbid usage of tools like calculators of spreadsheets, so long the student demonstrates they actually understand what's going on.

Teach things with an actual specific application to chemistry. Programs that render chemical structures in 3D, programs that display the periodic table, etc. Show programs that actually could make things less tedious, clearer and more interesting in chemistry class, instead of turning your class into yet another boring lesson on the usage of office applications.

Re:Why Excel? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30970266)

Having taught undergraduate chem labs at university from '96-'01, I would argue that you should be forcing them to manually plot data on graph paper. Many of my students had been allowed to do all their "graphing" on their calculators through high school and it meant they had no solid grasp of how to use a graph to visualise and analyse data. I found that I had to teach students basic graph skills just so they could complete their physical chem labs. These students just couldn't deal with graphing *unless* they had their calculator. They hadn't *really* learned about graphing they had learned how to use their calculator to get a "correct" mark for a problem.

By all means introduce computers/graphing calculators into your lessons, but ensure the students already have the fundamental knowledge and that the computer is simply there as a tool to allow larger amounts of data to manipulated. Teach the theory not the tool!

Re:Why Excel? (1)

rangek (16645) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970784)

One word: Solver. I have yet to find a suitable replacement for Excel's Solver anywhere else. Its uses in chemistry are extensive and educational.

BTW, if any of y'all know of an alternative, I would love to hear about it.

Don't go overboard using computers (3, Insightful)

RevWaldo (1186281) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970182)

I'm betting there's many a school administrator that loves the idea of teaching chemistry without using chemicals - "You can just use computer simulations! We got budgets 'n liability insurance 'n terrorism ta think about, ya know." Make sure your students still get their hands dirty, so to speak.

I don't tihink you are actually a teacher yet (2, Insightful)

gorehog (534288) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970202)

I think you are a junior in college taking education classes and are trying to get slashdot to do your homework for you. Seriously, if you are teaching 16-18 year olds about chemistry why would you want them to spend excessive time sitting in front of a computer. Hasn't someone already taught them how to do library and internet searches for information by this point? Generally speaking chemistry should not be too much about clicking on the internet and on the computer. It is about the interactions of chemicals and what effects that has. You can use computers to collect data and analyze data but you should not be spending too much time sending your students off on "webquests" and "busywork". The computer can help them prepare reports and maybe even simulate interactions at the molecular level. So, what you really need to look for are software tools that enable experiments. Look for tools that help students do equation balancing and maybe even simulate the structurte of molecules in 3D.

Another career (1)

methano (519830) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970206)

Do your students a real favor. If any of your students are thinking of becoming chemists, you could tell them to use the computer to look for other fields of study. Companies in the US and Europe are firing chemists at unprecedented rates. If they choose that path, they better be ready to compete with Ivy League PhD's for jobs titrating paint samples.

Re:Another career (1)

irid77 (1539905) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970436)

Do your students a real favor. If any of your students are thinking of becoming chemists, you could tell them to use the computer to look for other fields of study. Companies in the US and Europe are firing chemists at unprecedented rates. If they choose that path, they better be ready to compete with Ivy League PhD's for jobs titrating paint samples.

This would be horrible advice. Having a degree in Chemistry is one of the best ways to get a job, with a BS, MS, or PhD. The need for people skilled in organic synthesis, biochem, and materials science (solid state chemistry) will only grow. Chemists aren't titrating paint samples, machines do that. Chemists design the next generation of nanotech.

Re:Another career (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30971048)

Chemists aren't titrating paint samples, machines do that. Chemists design the next generation of nanotech.


Chinese, Indian and Japanese chemists design the next generation of nanotech.

Re:Another career (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970448)

Do your students a real favor. If any of your students are thinking of becoming chemists, you could tell them to use the computer to look for other fields of study. Companies in the US and Europe are firing chemists at unprecedented rates. If they choose that path, they better be ready to compete with Ivy League PhD's for jobs titrating paint samples.

Well, I transferred out of the field more or less for the same reasons about 2 decades ago. Has the outlook for chemists ever been bright? Ever?

Aside from our whopping two anecdotes, Nothing wrong with making a homework assignment be researching the occupational career outlook for chemists, as compared to ... whatever it is the kids have selected as a major. Making it clear that the point is not to kiss up to the teacher by sugar coating everything like a journalist.

Re:Another career (1)

drjoeward (1366975) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970600)

UGH no wonder they have to fire people.

Grand advice.

EVERYONE is firing and laying off nearly all fields at unprecedented rates.

These are high school kids he is talking about. You do realize that there are other fields who could use a decent chemistry background:
1) Physicians
2) Nurses (reminder that there is in fact a nursing shortage)
3) teachers (if our teachers had a better science background, our students would be better prepared to work in any field in the modern age)
4) journalists (how many stupid media stories have their been because a reporter doesn't have a clue)
5) politicians (well lets not go there, as I'm sure anyone in the chemistry community knows the story of the town council who nearly banned dihydrogen monoxide, because it was dangerous)

I could go on and on. Just because they are taking a chemistry class and he wants them to have a better experience and be a little better prepared does not mean that they will all aspired to be a paint chemist. Besides chemistry is also very important in interdisciplinary fields such as bio tech, molecular biology, materials, nano tech, etc. I have many friends who are chemists, who do not hold what you would likely call a chemist position.

besides in 5 years when these students graduate from college, the outlook may be very different, especially with the baby boomers retiring from their seniority protected positions.

Don't lose focus (1, Insightful)

JustNiz (692889) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970322)

>>> I could set some tasks that require Excel spreadsheet calculations. Or I could set some web quests where students search for information online.

OK firstly what is it you teach again? Chemistry or Computing? If this is your plan it sounds like computing to me.

Secondly, Excel specifically? Really? You're teaching them computing skills specific to a single commercial software product and computing platform?

Try and avoid teaching skills (especially computing skills)that are too specific, and that are bound tightly to a commercial product. If you really have to teach that stuff in a Chemistry course at all, then at least use Open Source.

Some ideas (1)

whovian (107062) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970330)

Some kids have problems with three dimensions, so the graphics capabilities can help to visualize molecular geometry and atomic or molecular orbitals. Electrostatic maps can help to show the polarity of molecules. Spreadsheets can be useful because of the ability to change parameters dynamically with the slider bars (note: it works for Excel as well as OpenOffice).

There are many apps at National Science Digital Library for K-12 classes. The main site is [] and the chemistry link is []

The NIST Webbook ( has a lot of reference data.

You could probably just do a web search on a particular topic and find several versions of java applets that people have come up with.

Math Math Math (4, Informative)

superid (46543) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970352)

My friend is a university chemistry professor. She has complained endlessly that her incoming students lack fundamental math skills. They mindlessly write down whatever their calculator tells them even though it may be off by many orders of magnitude. They are unable to formulate or solve simple ratios and they have almost no concept of significant digits. I know these aren't chemistry skills but if you want students to succeed in college chemistry, I think it would help if you substantially reinforce the math while you are introducing basic chemistry topics.

Re:Math Math Math (1)

Chelloveck (14643) | more than 4 years ago | (#30971074)

My friend is a university chemistry professor. She has complained endlessly that her incoming students lack fundamental math skills. They mindlessly write down whatever their calculator tells them even though it may be off by many orders of magnitude.

Amen. My son is a high school senior. His Algebra II teacher actually encourages the use of graphing calculators and Excel for plotting equations. So my son plugs in the numbers and copies the graph into his homework. Except he only ever plots points at integer values near 0. So naturally his graphs don't represent how the curve really looks. Is there a singularity? He'll never see it. Even if it's at one of the integers he's plotting, Excel just throws #NaN and ignores the point in the graph. He graphed a cubic once, but the graph was just a straight line. Well, yeah, in that range, that's what it looked like. He completely missed the idea of the roots and plotted a wholly uninteresting portion of the curve.

Bah. Kids. And I have no idea what his teacher is thinking!

Re:Math Math Math (1)

six11 (579) | more than 4 years ago | (#30971848)

Bah. Kids. And I have no idea what his teacher is thinking!

Teacher is probably thinking about making sure students can pass the next state standardized test, which probably doesn't ask for students to interpret the meaning of an equation or function.

Teacher is probably thinking about catering to helicopter parents demanding little Jimmy's grade to be raised because he tried really hard, because dealing with helicopter parents is a gigantic pain in the ass, and Teacher isn't paid enough to deal with that crap.

Teacher is probably thinking how to maintain basic social order in the classroom.

Teacher is probably thinking how most of these kids don't actually care, and that their parents don't seem to as well. Teacher wonders if school is just glorified day care.

The bar is so unbelievably low in basically every subject in K-12 education that it is simply astounding this country doesn't crash and burn. Teacher is probably not thinking about the long-term societal impacts of letting most students get through their class without a lasting, basic understanding of the subject.

Re:Math Math Math (1)

JaWiB (963739) | more than 4 years ago | (#30971178)

The most useful thing I learned in high school chemistry was that units behave like variables. I wouldn't have made it far as a physics major if I didn't recognize when the result of a formula has the wrong units or that you can't add meters to seconds.

No 2 data entry (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30970414)

Surely you did a degree in chem if you're teaching it.

My experience even at phd level is that people just don't do data entry.
If you're doing real chemistry. The computers are attached to sensors of some type and plot the data for you. You can change the scale from time to time. Zoom in on interesting areas. But basically anything you're going to teach in excel is out dated by the couple of years later they end up using it.
Really who enters data anymore? That's what the Apis and such are for. The only time you have any real interaction is preparing a report. You insert /copy paste the graphs into a doc. And describe what's going on.
The chem that you should be teaching is to enable them to know which part of the represention is important. IT people will teach the copy paste. Etc.
All the software will have changed in a couple of years anyway.

You insensitive clod (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970432)

There WERE no microcomputers when _I_ took Chemistry!

Seriously though, Chemistry as you no doubt know, is all about being able to visualize. It's all about understanding these atoms and molecules flying around in comparative vacuums, being able to imagine their shapes and how this affects their interaction with each other and other substances, and being able to imagine the charges distributed across these shapes. I myself had no trouble "getting it" and being able to "see it". However any program that helps to demonstrate these concepts would probably be worthwhile. Certainly even power point slides in color and pseudo "3D" would be better than trying to figure out the tetrahedron the teacher was trying to make in chalk on a blackboard.

However you must remember that Chemistry inevitably involves a lot of math - albeit simple math. And teenagers are some of the laziest creatures in the world. Therefore no matter how you sugar coat it, you will always get students dragging their feet because they're not prepared to do the actual work. There's only one way to get good at math, and that's practice practice practice! No computer program can fix that.

More chemistry experiments! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30970502)

I recommend more chemistry experiments. At high school I think the main emphasis should be on experiments and the wonderment of the subject. Most kids aren't going to use the calculations they learn so it is best to show them chemistry. For the bright ones this will also encourage them to dig deeper. My chem teacher was great, all I can remember is doing loads of experiments, and goods too, sprinkled with some calculations.

ChemDraw (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30970510)

Is a pricey bit of software, but if you could use it to teach it would be great. Especially if you to incoporated organic chemistry into your lessons.

Re:ChemDraw (1)

cashman73 (855518) | more than 4 years ago | (#30972254)

ACD ChemSketch [] is free, and is very similar to ChemDraw.

Teach and Test and no experiments.... (5, Informative)

drjoeward (1366975) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970530)

I'm going to rant for a second.

It is classes like this that have made my job even harder. I teach college level chemistry (general, organic, and analytical). We have so many students who have come with "chemistry" on their high school transcript, but when they get into the first general chemistry class, they don't remember anything. Chemistry, as with most sciences is an experiential course, you HAVE to DO in order to learn. otherwise it's just memorizing facts from a book for some test, then that information is promptly forgotten (or more precisely inaccessible, since they are not being asked the same stupid test question)

With the number of students who have a visual and experiential learning styles, I find it sad that we do not have better science students coming out of high school.

I know it's not your fault, it's no child left behind and administrations that believe the only assessment of learning is a standardized test. I know chem teachers in my area who have had their labs shut down because of adminstrators who don't seem to want to understand what it takes to have a safe lab, and thus the first problem and everything is removed and you are relegated to theory only.

Also I have to agree with others, too much emphasis has been placed on calculators and the like in high school I have students who can't divide by 10 without their calculator, not that they can't do it, but because they are trained to need to do it. Also include some basic algebra, solve for x. make sure that you go over word problems and show them out it is a simple ratio or a straight line equation that just needs to be manipulated. All of these are simple skills that they should get out of high school, but seemingly don't.

That said I do have some ideas for resources.

one good place to check out is the chemcollective at [] they have a lot of online simulators, including a virtual gen chem lab (although I find it rather limited). it is funded by the National Science Foundation and is part of the National Science Digital Library.
Also check out the rest of the NSDL. they have online and software resources for most sciences for K-12 and higher ed (don't be afraid to look at materials higher than the grade you are teaching, give them an extra challenge to apply their materials.

Maybe include some kitchen chemistry.

Someone mentioned chemdraw, It is the defacto standard in the industry and I used it for 10+ years. However, I highly recommend ChemSketch from ACD/Labs. they have a full featured free version that does nearly everything chemdraw can do and sometimes more. it does full IUPAC nomenclature w/ stereochemistry. it even interfaces with several online databases, such as pubchem.

As for excel, it can be useful, but mainly for crunching lab data. I can teach a student excel in a 1/2 of lab period, but their low algebra skills makes it difficult for them (and painful for me) to convert what we are doing in the lab to mathematical equations in excel.

lastly, check out the journal of chemical education. If you have access to it great. If not, it's not an expensive journal and it has a lot of good resources, both lab and computer.

Re:Teach and Test and no experiments.... (1)

WebSorcerer (889656) | more than 4 years ago | (#30972118)

I am a Ph.D. Chemist with 28 years of industrial experience (Dow Chemical) as an analytical chemist. I have over 30 publications in the scientific literature (some of them ground-breaking), have presented talks at national and international scientific meetings, and in my narrow area of expertise, was world renowned for my work in ultra-trace determination of toxic substances (mostly dioxin) in the environment.

I agree with almost everything you said. I would add the resources of the American Chemical Society (

Some of the skills a chemist (or any scientist) needs beyond a knowledge of chemistry are (in no particular order):

1- Documenting your work in a way that stands up to legal scrutiny. (Without documenting what you have done, it is as if you never did it because no one can benefit from it.)

2- Presenting your work orally. (scientific meetings, work-group meetings, job performance reviews, ...)

3- Knowledge of the scientific literature in your current area of endeavor. (Has what you plan to do been done before? Can you benefit from what has been done before?)

4- Planning projects. (How should you go about achieving a project's goals?)

You could help your students prepare for a degree in science by making them aware of the importance of these other skills.

spartan (1)

Rutulian (171771) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970540)

Spartan is a very good program for molecular visualization. It will calculate ground state energies, electrostatic surface areas, and orbital energies. It is a very useful supplement when you are talking about lowest energy conformations and bonding. It's a bit expensive, though, even for educational use. Most departments I have been to have one or two dedicated copies that the students have to share. There are some alternatives listed here, []

Most of them involve getting something like Cambridgesoft's Chem3D and using it as a frontend for GAMESS or Guassian. Both are also very good programs....

If you're looking for something more low-key, any kind of kinetics experiment usually involves some sort of regression analysis. It's a good opportunity to teach them something like R or Matlab. And SciFinder scholar is also a good program for doing database searches for compounds and reactions reported in the literature. Despite some of the other replies you have had already, it is important to know what tools are available and be familiar with them if you are interested in any kind of future in research. It also helps ground you in the fundamental concepts you learn in a textbook, but probably don't get much chance to apply otherwise.

Re:spartan (1)

cranky_chemist (1592441) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970738)

I wouldn't recommend Spartan to high-school students. They can't possibly understand what the software is calculating without a thorough understanding of quantum mechanics, thus relegating the software to a toy with no practical application.

Re:spartan (1)

Rutulian (171771) | more than 4 years ago | (#30971468)

Not necessarily. We aren't talking about doing transition state searches or anything like that. Simply using it as a visual tool can help students to better understand the Lennard-Jones potential, the van der Waals radius, and their implications on bonding. The geometry optimizations and electrostatic potential calculations allow you to explore the predictions made by MO theory. You don't have to understand the quantum mechanics to know that a higher energy conformation is less favorable than a lower energy conformation. So when you are learning about dihedral angles and conformational isomers, being able to do the energy calculations can help you understand the concept better.

Re:spartan (1)

TeethWhitener (1625259) | more than 4 years ago | (#30971610)

I wouldn't recommend Spartan to high-school students. They can't possibly understand what the software is calculating without a thorough understanding of quantum mechanics, thus relegating the software to a toy with no practical application.

You could say the same thing about many synthetic organic chemists, but they still seem to get something out of using quantum chem programs. In my high school chem class, we definitely hit the basics of QM, so it might be elucidative for the students to see that you can predict spectroscopic and thermochemical molecular properties ab initio from QM laws.

One effective use of computers in the classroom that I've seen was from my advisor in grad school, who used the web to find videos of all sorts of dangerous or complicated reactions that he couldn't do in the classroom (stuff like large scale thermite reactions, or suspending liquid oxygen in a magnet). I do agree with most of the rest of the people here that actually doing the reactions will be much more enjoyable and eye-opening than watching a video of them. But I know that today's safety-obsessed culture probably doesn't permit you to do a lot of the reactions you want to do in the classroom.

Not strictly necessary at this level (1)

CuSO4 (1088225) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970572)

There's plenty of excellent software packages out there for chemists, but would a high school student really know what to do with them? If you really want students to familiarize with molecules on a computer screen, I'd suggest going for Molden, Moldraw, or some other molecular visualization tool. If I were you though, I'd forget about computers and teach them some basic thermodynamics.

Chemistry is much more about practical skills (1)

the_Khemist (1609989) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970578)

I have to say that unless you are studying chemistry at university computers play a very limited role - even then I'd say you only really use software significantly when studying for a graduate degree. Having said that, there are some resources that may be useful 1. Labskills e-learning software [] This software was designed to allow students to gain some understanding of practical chemistry, the principle being that it allows them to explore using lab equipment and basic reactions and play around in a way that it is not easy to enable them to do in a lab. It's not supposed to replace labwork, more give them some preparation and complement practical chemistry. 2. There are some interesting videoclips on youtube, but you need to hunt and sift through lots of rubbish. You might find the channel called periodic table of videos (run by staff at the University of Nottingham) [] 3. You might find ChemSpider useful. ( It's a site which aims to bring together knowledge relating to chemicals. Depending on the compound you might be able to find spectra (UV, NMR IR etc) and other interesting information the record for cholesterol ( is a good example of the sort of information you might find. 4. If you really need to use a chemical drawing package there are several programs that are free (as in beer) software, symax ( or Acdlabs ChemSketch ( - this would be my recommendation. 5. You might find [] an interesting read 6. It's probably above the level of your students but this can be fun/educational too. [] I hope this is useful

Basic Math skills and maybe graphing (1)

spwathen (1734134) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970604)

I teach college chemistry. At the HS level you really don't need a lot of computer experience, but the students need to have basic math skills and be able to use their calculators - including scientific notation, exponents and logs. Being able to make graphs and use related spreadsheet skills would be helpful. For example, measure transmittance of a sample, have the spreadsheet calculate Absorbance and then plot Abs vs Concentration to make a Calibration Curve. Add a trendline, too. More for fun, you could also look at the 3D structure of smallish molecules. I recommend Avogadro, [] it can build 3D structures so you don't have to find the molecule files to look at.

Take a look at WebMO as used by Shodor and Gotwols (1)

erikscott (1360245) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970640)

Amidst the sea of negativity, I feel obligated to point out that this has been done. Much to my surprise, it worked. Course development was through The Shodor Foundation [] and a faculty member from the NC School of Science and Mathematics, Bob Gotwols. The course is aimed at advanced students but who haven't had diff eqns yet. They use WebMO [] as a front end to GAMES, GAUSIAN, and all the other usual suspects. Hardware was fairly modest - seemed like maybe two or four linux boxes.

As a chemistry teacher at a community college... (1)

cranky_chemist (1592441) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970654)

I offer this advice: Teach them to graph experimental data, either with Excel or any other software. However, only do so AFTER they have learned to graph the old fashioned way (pencil & paper). I am often frustrated by my students' complete lack of understanding of (1) what constitutes a proper scientific graph and (2) what information that should be able to glean from the results. If you want to do them an even larger favor, teach them how to perform a manual linear regression of their hand-drawn graph (see [] for an example). Linear regression isn't that difficult: once you get past all of the fancy symbols, it's really just arithmetic. Only then should they progress to Excel. A sample lesson plan would look something like this: 1. Perform an easy experiment to collect data (P-V data from a Boyle's law experiment would be a good example). You only need four or five data points. 2. Have the students graph the data by hand. Emphasize the components of a proper scientific graph (descriptive title, properly labeled axes that include units, etc.). 3. Have them draw an "eyeballed" best-fit line through the data and then teach them to calculate the equation of that line. 4. Now have them perform a manual linear regression and compare this new straight-line equation with their estimated equation. This is an excellent opportunity to teach them the usefulness of linear regression. 5. Now teach them to construct the same graph in Excel or other graphing software and have the software perform the linear regression. Again, they should compare their results to the computer's results. The idea is to teach them that tools like Excel or ONLY TOOLS. Software is not a magic black box that miraculously spits forth meaningful numbers. They are simply tools that save scientists time, and scientists must understand what the software is doing before he/she can "trust" the results. Best of luck to you.

More lab time! (3, Insightful)

multipartmixed (163409) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970660)

Kids don't need to play with computers. Computers are no longer novel.

Kids need LAB TIME. Chemistry lab time is fun, for everybody. IIRC my high school chem classes were 2 lecture + 1 lab.

If you are getting enough lecture time in that you can think of "jazzing up" the course with computers, get them to throw some lithium into a beaker full of water or something instead.

Re:More lab time! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30971760)

Computers are no longer novel.

That really depends on the school. In some places, the kids are still totally technologically lacking because they have no computers at home, and the districts have little money for computers. Some of these kids have VERY little concept of how to even open a web browser or Word. In some circles, computers are still very novel.

Computational Sensors? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30970664)

I am struggling to remember exactly what was taught in high school chemistry, but I am fairly certain pH and acid/base concepts are taught in the class? That could be an interesting experiment to do using computers and data acquisition software. You could tie it in with molarity/mole studies by say.. taking three bases or acids and splitting them in to three marked containers, X, Y and Z. Have groups of students take the pH of those "mystery" flasks (maybe 3 groups of kids per container to try to at least get 1 group to do it right). The groups could then get together and titrate X in to Y or whatever and use the pH sensor attached to the computer to record the changes. They'd end up getting a sigmoidal curve, have them compute the rates and things? Calculate proton levels using pKA calculations.

Something like that? Caveat: liquids near school PCs. Maybe have the sensor wired through a hole in a box that they set the flasks in just in case they spill?

Just the basics (2, Insightful)

amide_one (750148) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970674)

I'm a chemistry prof, currently teaching the "general chemistry for science majors" track at a comprehensive university. (So, these aren't the most brilliant students ever, but they're not stupid; most did take at least one chem class in HS, and about half took Honors or AP level.)

We teach them spreadsheets in lab, and they pick it up fairly quickly. The best way for most of them is by peer example, which is why it works better teaching that in a lab setting. We expect to teach them spreadsheets, even the engineering students.

If you really want to help your students learn chemistry by using technology, then focus on what they're worst at. You *are* keeping records on how well they do on different concepts or types of questions, right? (There's an excellent use for "spreadsheets in the classroom", even if it's just behind the scenes.) Use that data to identify one or two concepts per year. Maybe computers could be used to animate gas molecules to help them picture kinetic theory. Maybe computers could be used to do nice "3D" displays of crystal structures. Or maybe the easiest and most effective way to get that across would be with a hands-on model, or a game.

Students in the first semester chem class - and again, these are STEM majors, many of them in calc/precalc for math - are weak on some very basic concepts: Units & unit conversions. The mole. Names of ions - it's astonishing that some of them don't seem able to understand that there's a difference between words like "chlorite" and "chlorate" or "sulfate" and "sulfide". (Then again, they're just as insensitive to errors in English spelling.)

Teach them how to take "the chemistry" in a problem and decide whether it's better to express that relationship in math, or to analyze it in a qualitative ("cartoon picture in my head") sense. Help them learn to pick the right formula, plug in the given values in the right spots, and manipulate it to get the right answer. Help them start to look for patterns in different kinds of problems - "isotopic abundance problems" and "density of a mixture of two liquids" are indistinguishable once you strip off the chemistry and start working them algebraically, but it takes some of them literally forever to see that they aren't radically different kinds of problems. Instead of expanding coverage, it might even help to reduce coverage - drop a couple of chapters if it gives them more time to really understand the basics. What's the point in getting them turned on by making nanotubes in lab or whatever other sexy demo/lab project you can come up with, if they go off to college and discover they're already behind from the first week of classes?

Would computers help with that? Sure. Some kind of Flash game, maybe; I'm trying to decide whether an idea I've had for one would be more effective as Flash or as hands-on game pieces. But computers aren't automatically the solution to "they can't convert miles to nanometers".

And no, I don't know of any "chemistry software" that I'd expect them to know coming in. Molecular modeling tools might be a help, but the good ones are expensive to license and require deeper knowledge to use than 99% of HS students probably have. Spreadsheets might be useful, but again, they'll learn those as freshmen anyway.

options (1)

samu0086 (977811) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970686)

You could try to introduce basic computational chemistry through ChemOffice or PCmodel. Have them find the lowest energy conformation for a particular cyclic structure. Have them explain why adding a particular group at a particular location increases the conformational energy. Or just integrate this into their lab reports by having them create these 3d/kekuli structures in ChemOffice and paste them into their reports. Searching through the literature for chemical information is a very important skill to develop as 6 hours in the library can potentially save 6 months in the lab. But as a high school, I doubt you have access to Merck Index online or the other expensive chemical databases. I think an ability to search MSDS databases would be appropriate for high school students. These are can be found for free online and you build good safety habits by making your students comfortable searching for safety information (ignition temp, vapor pressure, hazards, etc...) for chemicals they will use. Most university programs teach these skills anyway but they will have a head up on the assignment. gl hf dd.

Re:options (1)

scheme (19778) | more than 4 years ago | (#30971596)

You could try to introduce basic computational chemistry through ChemOffice or PCmodel. Have them find the lowest energy conformation for a particular cyclic structure. Have them explain why adding a particular group at a particular location increases the conformational energy. Or just integrate this into their lab reports by having them create these 3d/kekuli structures in ChemOffice and paste them into their reports.

We're talking about high school students. Without quantum mechanics, they're not going to be able to really understand what they'll be calculating or the methods behind the calculations. They'll essentially be plugging a structure and/or numbers into some software and cutting/pasting the results into their reports. That's not going to help anyone. Same with literature searches, most high schools don't have access to scientific journals or aside from the odd journal or two, they'll be limited to abstracts from the articles they find. Looking up chemicals/hazards in the merck or sigma handbook/website is much more useful.

Avagadro (1)

norletsk (1567121) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970836)

I would recommend Avogadro [] . It is a molecular editor and viewer released under the GPL. For high school students, it could be used as a substitute for the ball and stick model kits. It has a simple interface and most of its basic functions can be learned within an hour or two.

3D molecular modelling (1)

TeknoHog (164938) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970874)

Not just for teaching the core ideas, but to demonstrate that chemistry can be fun, and you get to play with fast computers. In fact, my lecturer in molecular modelling admitted that he got into the field partly because of the pretty pictures. I have also focused on the modelling aspects in my chemistry studies, mostly due to my past experience in computational physics.

I would like to note that my primary career is in teaching, and I have discussed the use of computers in science teaching with lots of experts. It is true that the core concepts and laboratory work are essential, but it is still a good idea to use some extra motivation for students with different interests.

The Most Important Thing is.. (2, Funny)

rocker_wannabe (673157) | more than 4 years ago | (#30970938)

The most important thing is to not give them any real experience with using chemicals and put the fear of God into them so they will never be tempted to do any real chemistry experiments. This will keep any of them from creating explosives and joining a Jihad, which would probably cause you to either go to jail or at least get on a no-fly list. Just teach them the laws of thermodynamics, gas laws and a lot of theory without ANY practical experience which will keep everyone safe. They will be so bored that most will lose any desire to pursue any further study of chemistry.

Actually, you should think of yourself as an anti-chemistry teacher. Why invite trouble when you can give students A's without any risk to yourself. Remember, big-brother is watching you!


Just teach them to indent their code (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30971084)

When I used to assist undergrad. computer labs 20+ years ago I could spot the Chemistry students' work from the other side of the (large) terminal room.
They invariably used a "close packing arrangement" to cram as much code as possible on each line.

Accountancy, Maths and Engineering majors' code also had tell tale "fingerprints" - I suppose first instincts are to preserve style when transcribing algorithms to code.
Blackboard space must have been tight in the Chemistry lecture halls.

Suggestions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30971092)

I'm not a chemistry teacher, but I am a scientist. I thought that a good exercise for school kids, where they could use the internet and gain an awareness of how chemistry affects them everyday, would be to take some consumer product (could be a food, shampoo, other cosmetic, basically anything that you put on, or in, yourself) and look up what all the things in the ingredients list are and write a small essay about them. Lots of the ingredients in things have complicated names, but they're quite common between things.

In the way of computing stuff, I would think something like PyMol would be cool. PyMol allows one to view the molecular structures of proteins. You can go to the Protein Data Bank (PDB) and download the atomic coordinates for any protein that has had its structure solved. This might not be considered "proper chemistry" but it's not too far away either :o) Proteins are really the workhorses of the cells in our bodies, so people should definitely take more interest in free resources like these. They also have a "molecule of the month", if you can't find a protein that you like :o)

Have fun

Chemistry and slide rules ( ! ) (1)

coganman (524265) | more than 4 years ago | (#30971206)

My high school chem teacher, in the late-80's, forbade us from using calculators. Instead, he made the entire class buy slide rules, and do /all/ of their calculations with those. At first, we thought he was nuts -- why waste time learning to use a slide rule when you could do it all that much faster with a calculator. Then, after a while, we realized that there was a method to his madness -- that getting "good enough" calculations that were within the right order of magnitude, was much more important than getting perfect calculations that were off by a factor of 100 or 1000. Knowing that there are exactly 5,515,631,995,531,583.83 atoms of carbon in 1 microgram of sugar is much less useful than knowing that there are about 5-7 x10^20 atoms of carbon in one gram. More generally, this attitude gave us the mindset of thinking in terms of being able to do quick estimates that were generally "good enough" approximations, and, more importantly, being able to do those order-of-magnitude estimates to know when something /isn't/ right. Thanks to how ingrained that thought process became, it's become extremely useful in the 20+ years since, whether I'm doing some estimate involving finance, economics, computer science, or most anything involving numbers. And, having talked to some other students who'd taken the class with me, they have the same memories -- thanks to being forced to think in terms of appropriate orders of magnitude thanks to the slide rule, it's helped them thru the rest of their professional lives.

VMD is pretty cool (1)

Wannabe Code Monkey (638617) | more than 4 years ago | (#30971212) []

I know their website shows off the incredibly complex molecular structures that VMD is capable of simulating, but it also does a great job with simpler structures that you're likely to run across in a high school course. It's also open source and runs on Windows, Mac, Linux (along with just about any other unix variant [] ).

Re:VMD is pretty cool (1)

cashman73 (855518) | more than 4 years ago | (#30972170)

I'll agree that VMD is something that is definitely worth teaching about. It's free, and easy to install and use on a variety of platforms. I'd also recommend introducing them to the Protein Data Bank [] , which is a free database of x-ray/nmr structures of proteins. Though it gets a bit more into biochemistry and molecular biology from a basic high school chemistry course, some of the simpler structures available there would give a student a good introduction to some of the applications of computational chemistry.

While most of the professional molecular modeling software (InsightII, Sybyl, MOE, etc) will likely be out of the price range of a high school course, ArgusLab [] is free and pretty decent for some basic small molecule type stuff. The Accelrys Discovery Studio Visualizer [] is a freely-available version of Discovery Studio, which is also pretty decent. There's a Windows and Linux version of this.

Depending on how advanced your students are, you may want to introduce them to some molecular dynamics. NAMD [] is freely-available for Windows/Linux/Mac, and there are some good tutorials available. However, this might be getting a bit too advanced for a basic high school course, and might be a bit better to introduce at the undergraduate/graduate level. For most high school students, I'd probably teach them the basics would ArgusLab first.

Material safety data sheets (1)

smorar (520638) | more than 4 years ago | (#30971452)

The most valuable online resource in my opinion as far as chemistry goes are the various online databases of material safety data sheets. Students should be encouraged to look these up before handling a new chemical that they haven't used before.

The only thing I used a computer for... (1)

Braedley (887013) | more than 4 years ago | (#30971470)

...was a research project. Basically we picked a chemical compound (it couldn't be an element or a single element compound) and had to do a poster on the history, common usage, etc. I think water was disqualified for some obvious reasons. Of course, the computer wasn't necessary, and this was around the time that wikipedia was discouraged as a source (especially a primary source). However the fact was that traditional encyclopedias only contain maybe a paragraph or two for a given subject, and attempting to find something substantial on one chemical in the library was difficult, if not impossible.

Granted, this says nothing of the other possibilities of using a computer in the class. Statistical modeling of reactions, physical modeling of compounds and their interactions with other compounds, all could make use of the computer.

history and logic (1)

pooh666 (624584) | more than 4 years ago | (#30971474)

1. In HS I found that chemistry was a bunch of here is how it works with little reasoning behind any of it. Enable your students to go beyond that, teach them how chem lit works. Have them go to the library and look up old metallurgical patents. 2. Inorganic chemistry is really cool, except when you teach it from a stupid text book. Many people say they don't get science because it DOESN'T make sense from a text book. Some of these people would make great scientists and don't even know it because they do not take things on faith! Dump the book but cover the topics in your own way. I bet you find some of those so called non science people really getting it when you present things in a logical/historical rather than a factual dump sort of way. Both of these will naturally result in a lot of Internet and lit research that both you and your students will have to do. And it is probably totally impractical for "modern" education"

Gaussian (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30971510)

Every computational chemist learns to use Gaussian/GaussView at some point, why not use those?

Get their hands wet and teach (1)

pesho (843750) | more than 4 years ago | (#30971840)

Jazzing up beginners chemistry classes (biology and physics too) with computers strikes me as an attempt replace real teaching with simulations. Besides there is no reason to teach them bad science skills (Excell) in science class. As you noted science is not accounting. Guess in which field being creative is good and where it is bad.

My advice would be:

1. Make damn sure all of your students can balance chemistry equations and can move from moles to grams to liquid volumes with ease.

2. Get their hand wet. Do as many experiments as you can. You can do things like analytical inorganic chemistry reactions (color change, precipitate formation) to identify ions in solution, titrations to measure concentrations, reactions that illustrate properties of some organic molecules like using glucose to reduce silver ions and turn the glass tube into a shiny mirror.

ADME & Toxicology stuff (1)

msimm (580077) | more than 4 years ago | (#30971884)

Or some sort of modeling.

Not chemdraw or LaTex (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30972020)

As a Caltech grad student in chemistry and a multiple-year TA in gen chem there, I have to agree with several of the above posts which stress the importance of lab work over simulated experimentation. I disagree that chemdraw or chemsketch would be useful, as these programs are designed mainly for creating pictures of organic molecules using skeletal notation; unless you are planning to teach a little orgo (which I am all for, by the way, since most people never see any until their second year of college, and it's a completely different way of thinking about chemistry than what most high-schoolers see...might make some students interested who otherwise are not, and it's incredibly relevant to drug design and nutrition), chemdraw is a waste of time. LaTeX is mainly useful for properly formatting mathematical documents, and would be unnecessary in high school chemistry. The most useful things I can think of for you would be the use of excel to create plots of experimental data to show how the formulas can be used to determine unknowns, or possibly introduce them to, which has nice accurate pictures of all the atomic orbitals, or maybe have them use the Internet to write a report about a significant chemical process.

Please, No Excel! (1)

paploo (238300) | more than 4 years ago | (#30972158)

The one thing that stuck out to me about this post was your suggestion of using Excel to do scientific computations. As a physicist and a software developer, this idea sends (bad) chills up my spine. I have seen so many real-world engineers struggle to make Excel do what they need (rather for computation, data analysis, or data plotting), rather than spend a weekend learning how to use a much better tool.

Somehow, learning to use Excel to solve your problems ropes them in so that they just continue to use it to solve their problems, no matter how difficult it is for them to wrangle Excel into doing it. Excel is a *financial* program that MS had added some scientific functionality to in order to sell more units to naive individuals who were never taught that there was anything better.

You talk about calculation packages, so I'll start there: If you want a calculation package, you could look at finding a freeware alternative to one of the big computing programs like MatLab, Maple, or (for more symbolic kinds of math) Mathematica. There are a number of ones out there. Alternatively, you could just as easily teach them how to do calculations in a programming language like Ruby or Python, so that the knowledge they learn will set them up for using a real programming language later in life.

That all being said, I'm not sure that Chemistry class is the best place to be teaching a computer course. There is plenty to teach in Chemistry that can be made interesting via hands-on experiments. Additionally, it is important to build the paper and pencil skills for each empirical law, before one can write or understand any (even simple) program that will aid in their calculation.

However, there is one place where I do think a computer is helpful: processing experimental data and plotting. Again, Excel is a horrible choice for this! There are a number of ones that are useful for students, such as DataGraph for MacOSX. These need to be able to take a columns of data, create new columns that apply formulas using previous columns, and *scientifically* plot the data, complete with real regression curve fitting and even error bars. This may sound similar to Excel, but it is not! Excel's plotting engine is written for financial applications, and produces awful quality scientific output. (Indeed, I've had college professors that would not accept any chart formatted in Excel!)

Webquest (1)

eagle52997 (691489) | more than 4 years ago | (#30972216)

You mentioned webquests in your post, which are fine, but I would suggest you use them sparingly. When I taught HS Chem, I had a single page (front/back) webquest designed around the Physics 2000 Science Trek. [] This was an excellent site I thought for learning about some of the physics underlying atomic structure, although I skipped over the Polarization part of the trek. There are other websites out there that are like this one, but designed around different topics which might be just as useful in a chem or physics classroom. If you choose to include some programming as another poster mentioned, you could always choose to have a class project where students design applets to help illustrate basic concepts - maybe ones NOT shown on any websites they've visited as a part of the class. Students at first completed my webquest during class, and then when the course schedule went to 8 per year/4 per day instead of 7 per year and we had less classtime, I began assigning the webquest as a homework/project.
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