What's Different about this course?

Chemistry 121/122 is a one semester introductory chemistry course for non-science majors. In the Fall of 1994, I taught this course in an experimental fashion under the auspices of the Maryland Collaborative for Teacher Preparation (MCTP), an NSF-funded pre-service elementary teacher preparation program for students intending to teach science and mathematics in the middle grades. Before becoming involved in MCTP, I had not taught a Freshman course in many years (having been assigned to upperdivision and graduate courses), and I had never taught the "non-science" major course before. All of my previous teaching had been more-or-less in the lecture/lab tradition of standard college teaching. I had no formal connection to the College of Education.

After a year of participation on the MCTP activities (readings, workshops, conferences, seminars, sample lessons, demonstrations, school visits, etc), I developed and taught the Chem 121/122 course to a small groups of students, most of whom were elementary education majors in the MCTP program. Here is how my involvement in MCTP make a difference:

1. Course content . I "covered" less material that I probably would have, but I spent more time thinking about what were the really important concepts and topics. I did choose a textbook (the new and highly regarded ACS text "Chemistry in Context"), based some of the course activities on that text, but added a number of activities of my own.

2. Course structure . I scheduled three two-hour class meetings per week rather than the usual one-hour lecture and three-hour lab schedule. This structure allowed for greater flexibility: depending on the topic and the students' progress, sometimes we would meet for several class periods running in the laboratory, in the computer lab, or in the regular classroom.

3. Teaching methods . I did not lecture; rather, most class time was devoted to small-group cooperative activities that involved working with information sources, data, observations, hands-on maniplulatives, computer-based activities, or laboratory experiments, interspersed with small-group and whole-class discussion.

4. Use of technology . Computers were used in several parts of the course as tools: for example, spreadsheets were introduced early on and developed as an approach to complex multi-step quantitative problem solving and graphical data display; molecular modeling software was used to develop students' ability to visualize and work with bonding and 3-dimensional structures.

5. Accessment . Grades were based primarily on written assignments, experiments, and exams. The exams used an essay and word problem format rather than a multiple-choice format. In the last formal activity of the course, student groups were asked to list the most important concepts and skill developed in the course and to compose several test questions to access mastery of those skills and concepts, including one "performance accessment", with the promise that the best questions would be used on the final examination.

6. Course Journal . For the first time, I kept a course journal that recorded my daily class activities, difficulties, students reactions, things that worked and that didn't work. The journal was composed on a word processor and then distributed via e-mail to the MCTP listserve (MDCETP@UMDD.UMD.EDU) for scrutiny and comment by the whole Collaborative. The feedback from the Collaborative made me feel less alone in this enterprise and provided may helpful tips.

Tom O'Haver
College Park