Instruction of undergraduate students in the fundamentals of (Introductory and General) chemistry.
I follow the philosophy that a great teacher inspires. As much as it is important to impart knowledge, I believe it is equally imperative to inspire, to train the students’ minds to think, and to instill curiosity. Curiosity will drive them to be intrigued by the world around them and to explore that world. Through my personal experience, I learned that teaching is far more effective when students are actively engaged in pursuing new knowledge rather than being forced to study new concepts. I believe that knowledge obtained by discovery leads to a more comprehensive understanding of the topic and prepares the student mind with critical thinking ability.
Chemistry is a problem-based subject. My goal is to not teach how to solve problems in a mindless way, but to teach in a way that the students can picture their world at the atomic level and translate that to a mathematical language. I find the most effective way of teaching is to write equations, draw reactions, and solve problems on the board with them and explain them as I do it. I use PowerPoint presentations but chalk is still a very powerful tool! I find that chemical demonstrations, videos, computer graphics and animations are effective ways to present concepts and to intrigue my students. Hands-on experiences also excite them. When trying to visualize 2-D drawings of chemical structures, I found students making 3D models by themselves to be the most effective way to make them “see” molecules in 3D. At other times, analogies made to everyday life works wonderfully, such as comparing non-interactive ideal behavior of gas molecules to strangers sparsely occupying a classroom. Such techniques make my class interactive and thus, help me to get a real-time feedback on the effectiveness of my teaching. With this, I can make decisions whether to explain concepts differently or to move on to new information. At the end of each class, I want my students to leave excited about their learning, asking questions beyond the classroom chemistry and looking forward to the next class.
Learning must not be limited within the classroom walls. To successfully enforce this philosophy, I encourage my students to look for chemicals used in their daily life (packaged food items, health and beauty items, medicine etc.) and learn more about it- chemical formula, structure, sources, toxicity etc. Chemicals can be as simple as calcium carbonate in antacids (TUMS) or complicated as carrageenan in dairy products (coffee creamer) or aspartame in soda drinks. I have seen students get very excited, sometimes wonderfully surprised about their own findings and share the newly found knowledge with others.
It is also important for my students to have clarity of my expectations from them. I believe if the students have a clear knowledge of what is expected, they strive to achieve it. I have high expectations of my students and expect them to put in as much effort at being a student as I put in at being an effective teacher. I make sure the students know that it is necessary for them to ask questions, not only to answer their queries, but for me to know their level of understanding and hence modify my teaching style accordingly. All questions and comments are welcome in my classroom. I do understand that because of the diverse background of the student population with unique learning abilities, there are always some students who never like to speak up during class. For them and everyone else, I welcome questions and comments posted anonymously on the discussion board of an online learning management system. This gives an opportunity for the shy students to voice their questions/opinions and also time to get comfortable/confident in expressing themselves. I am always trying to create a comfortable, unintimidating, yet stimulating learning environment by facilitating and welcoming discussions in my classroom.
I consider each chemistry course to be a stepping-stone for the student. The goal is not only to master the learning outcomes for that course but also to be ready to use that mastery in further courses and chosen careers. The several teachers/mentors I was fortunate to have during my academic development inspired my pursuit of higher education and research. Now, I would like to do the same for the next generation of students to become experts in science and technology and become empowered individuals ready for academic achievement and success.