Revisiting Organic Chemistry

One of the baristas at a coffee shop I frequent is taking organic chemistry this fall.  Since I enjoy the material, I offerred to help her review for her exams.  So, every other Sunday afternoon or so, I meet her after her shift is finished and we review the things which her class is covering.  Here are my thoughts on her class, now that I look back with a lot more experience in the subject, both as a tutor and a student:

  1. Her professor is lazy and refuses to use, teach, or accept line drawings.  This is ridiculous – by not introducing students to the notation that everyone else on earth uses, they are unable to read anything except for the class notes which he prepares.  Textbooks, review books, websites, and other resources are completely lost on her.
  2. The professor told them not to read their book or do any problems from it because it would confuse them.
  3. No mechanisms.  They’re learning about substitution reactions right now, but they don’t know they’re called that.  What’s worse is that he introduced radicals at the same time, so I had to explain to her how they were two completely different things.  She had no idea why chlorine “substituted” for hydrogens.  I was aghast – I didn’t see radical chemistry until the last month of second semester.
  4. No real instruction in nomenclature – how do you communicate with other people if you don’t know the names of what you’re dealing with.
  5. Six weeks into the semester, and her professor has yet to mention or discuss resonance.
I’m so thankful that I had the professors that I did for organic chemistry.  In hindsight, a large part of the reason that the course felt straightforward for me was because I had professors that taught it as a science, rather than as an exercise in memorization of reactions.  If you have to take organic chemistry with a professor that doesn’t teach it like a science, you have my sympathies.  I feel really lucky – I had good professors for physics, organic chemistry, and a lot of other important aspects of my education which has really shaped the way that I think and how I learn.
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5 Responses

  1. Oh geez, her professors sounds all kinds of whack. How the heck do they learn what molecules look like without line drawings? The only method (I know of) that might be more helpful than line drawings is using those ochem model kits, but those were more for understanding shape/orientations once you ACTUALLY know what the molecule is made of.

    • I meant to add that too – her professor told them NOT to use modeling kits because it would confuse them. Yeah, learning stereochemistry is a lot easier with a modeling kit. Their professor is really bad.

  2. I wonder whether her class is using condensed structures instead. When I took OChem, I did not bother using molecular models. I did not have a set. Frankly, I thought manipulating them was time-consuming. It is true that the best introduction to OChem reactions should be mechanism-based.

  3. They aren’t using condensed structures either. I’ve tried to wean her off of Lewis structures by using things like CH3CH2CH2COOH but that confuses her too. Her professor shows every bond and particle explicitly. Which is a little bit weird and annoying. Granted, my friend is a bit lazy too – she should be willing to adopt those conventions, since it would make her life a lot easier, but I think she just wants to do the minimum to get through the course.

  4. Maybe she’s just playing dumb to try to get into your pants.

    I don’t remember the modelling kits to be all that useful, but I did find memorizing the pHs of the various functional groups to be invaluable. Also practice problems. It’s bizarre that any professor would tell a student not to practice.

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