B.S., 2009, University of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Graduate Diploma for Scientific Management and Leadership, 2014, University of Ottawa
Ph.D., 2014, University of Ottawa
chemical education, organic chemistry, mechanistic organization, currciulum development, laboratory development
Introductory organic chemistry courses have been organized in the same way for many years. This organization, called the “functional group approach” classifies reactions based on the functional group involved. In this approach, the structure of the functional group is introduced along with the nomenclature associated with that functional group, its properties, as well as the many reactions it undergoes. In order to show visually how molecules react with one another, organic chemists use curved arrow notation to describe the “reaction mechanism” for each reaction. The ability to draw reaction mechanisms is key to understanding organic chemistry. Most reaction mechanisms have key patterns and similarities that can make it easier to predict how molecules will react with one another. One issue with the functional group approach is that these mechanistic patterns are often not emphasized, in favor of neatly classifying molecules by their functional groups. This can be detrimental in an introductory organic chemistry course, as it tends to lead students to attempt to memorize reaction mechanisms instead of understanding them.
Our research focuses on organizing the material in introductory organic chemistry by similarity in reaction mechanisms, rather than functional groups, in order to promote a deeper understanding of organic chemistry. Along with working on this new organization, we are investigating new methods of assessing understanding of organic reaction mechanisms in large classes.
Many undergraduate organic chemistry laboratories involve students performing recipe-type experiments where they are following a given procedure to produce a known product. This laboratory experience is quite different from the way that “real-world” research laboratories operate. Most of the time, researchers need to identify and develop their own procedures for experiments, and many times the experiments do not work or give unexpected results. We are working on developing laboratory experiments for introductory organic chemistry that are more closely related to a research lab experience. These experiments involve allowing students to propose their own procedure and interpret data from the experiments to form their own conclusions. These laboratories will enable students to be better trained in critical thinking and problem solving skills that are necessary for many career paths.