Sparking Interest and Engagement in Introductory Chemistry for Non-STEM Majors

Professor Elaine Bernal has adopted Chem101 in her Introductory Chemistry class for non-STEM majors where she uses the platform to drive engagement in the classroom and cut down the barriers around the subject matter for her students

Elaine Bernal

Lecturer, Department of Chemistry, California State University – Long Beach

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Varying backgrounds of non-STEM majors

When it comes to teaching chemistry for non-STEM majors, instructors are often faced with a classroom of students with varying degrees of chemistry backgrounds. Some may have retained a firm grasp on basic information from their high school chemistry courses; some, may have never taken chemistry at all.

 

With students having a variety of math and science backgrounds, it can be helpful for instructors to use a tool that gets all their students on the same page. For her 300-student Introductory Chemistry course at California State University Long Beach, Professor Elaine Bernal desired a platform that would make learning chemistry easier and more enjoyable for her students. For Elaine, it was Chem101.

“There’s this concept that a lot of students bring into the class: ‘It’s a lot of math and just balancing equations and stuff like that.’ Chem101 gets a lot of those narratives out of the way. It’s not just math. It’s not just balancing equations. Chemistry is a very visual and kinesthetic subject. In being able to engage students visually, the platform opens them up to learning more about chemistry.”
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Elaine Bernal
California State University – Long Beach

Breaking down the barriers

Chem101 removes previous barriers that can block students’ comprehension of chemistry with interactive modules that keep students engaged. For example, with the design of Chem101’s dimensional analysis module, Chem101 gives instructors the option of using scaffolded, drag-and-drop style problems so students can get right to work rather than struggle with the logistics. For Elaine, that had always been an obstacle for her students. “Even when I was learning chemistry as an undergrad, it was so procedural. The app takes away that focus on process and you get to just focus on the chemistry.”
With students at all levels, it can be helpful to use a platform that is also more interactive. As a self-proclaimed “gamer” and lover of technology, adopting Chem101 was an easy choice for Elaine. Not only is its interface engaging and its modules game-like, Chem101 is a way to capitalize on how many students, and educators, learn best. “For me, the way I learn is with technology. I’ve grown up with technology. Technology has never not been a part of my learning. As far as a learning tool, how can you get away from that?”
“Even when I was learning chemistry as an undergrad, it was so procedural. The app takes away that focus on process and you get to just focus on the chemistry.”
For Elaine and many of Chem101’s users, the Lewis structure drawing tool is a game changer. The first of its kind, Chem101’s module streamlines the building of Lewis structures so users can focus on chemistry rather than formatting and syntax. “As far as the design itself, it’s very minimalist. I really like it for the Lewis structures. That’s what originally sold me. Anything else that you see as far as online tools for drawing Lewis structures are really awkward and clunky. [With Chem101] the drawings aren’t so awkward anymore. It’s nice and clean. They really get what Lewis structures look like.”
Chem101’s Lewis structures drawing tool makes it easy to build molecules on any digital device but also helps students visualize the VSEPR model

Getting active!

Elaine has discovered that adopting Chem101 also enhanced her own effectiveness in the classroom. “I used to lecture so much. But now I’m able to give a short lecture and do a Chem101 activity – we talk about it a little more and do another activity. It’s made me think about how I deliver content and how I’ve moved from lecturing a lot to facilitating conversation.” Not only are her students more active during class sessions, Elaine is more active as well. As her students work individually or in groups on Chem101 assignments, she can move throughout her classroom moderating discussion, observing work, and gauging their comprehension.
“I used to lecture so much. But now I’m able to give a short lecture and do a Chem101 activity – we talk about it a little more and do another activity. It’s made me think about how I deliver content and how I’ve moved from lecturing a lot to facilitating conversation.”
Chem101’s intuitive, user-friendly features can appeal to students and improve their work, regardless of their chemistry backgrounds. And when those students are all on the same page, as Elaine can attest, the chemistry learned within the classroom can be applied to the outside world. “There’s this concept that a lot of students bring into the class: ‘It’s a lot of math and just balancing equations and stuff like that.’ Chem101 gets a lot of those narratives out of the way. It’s not just math. It’s not just balancing equations. Chemistry is a very visual and kinesthetic subject. In being able to engage students visually, the platform opens them up to learning more about chemistry. Issues like climate change, global warming, the chemistry of water, real environmental issues. They’re more attuned to that when they see how it works.” For students, a tool like Chem101 can be incredibly effective in transporting chemistry out of the textbook and into the real world, sparking interest in the subject matter.

Transform how your students think (and learn) about chemistry.

About The Author

Elaine Bernal is a Lecturer at California State University Long Beach in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. She has served in this position for fourteen years and teaches general chemistry for non-science majors, organic chemistry for pre-health professions students, and technical communications for chemistry majors. Dr. Bernal also serves as the Internship Coordinator for CSULB’s College of Natural Sciences and Math.

Elaine Bernal

Lecturer, Department of Chemistry, California State University – Long Beach

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