Students learn better by doing—that seems to be the ideology among educators, particularly science educators. In organic chemistry, for instance, actually carrying out an epoxidation rather than just watching a professor lecture about pushing electrons can drive home the concept.
In addition to having students carry out labs, however, some organic chemistry professors seem to be helping their undergraduates learn common reactions by having them make videos. Nope, these aren’t instructional videos—they’re music videos.
In this age of YouTube, everyone’s a star. And organic chemistry students are no exception.
Take the undergraduates in Neil Garg’s class, for example. I’ve written about Garg, a professor at UCLA, previously. Last spring, he encouraged his students to make extra-credit music videos about organic chemistry for his introductory course. At the time, he expected five videos to be turned in. Instead, he received 61. Among them was the YouTube sensation “Chemistry Jock.” The rest, as they say, is history.
The video above, “O-Chem Toolbox,” is just one of the videos submitted by Garg’s students this year. As you can see, it’s a parody of Saturday Night Live’s D*** in a Box. To see the rest of the student’s submissions for 2011, click here. Garg says that he encouraged his students this year to become “chemistry jedis” by learning the concepts and doing well on the exams, so you might notice some references to Star Wars in the clips.
UCLA has covered this fresh batch of videos. In part of the press release, Garg explains why his extra-credit project has worked so well:
"The majority of the Chem 14D students are hooked on technology, such as the Internet and YouTube," Garg said. "Rather than fighting this, I designed the assignment to take advantage of the students' strengths and interests. I didn't realize at the outset that so many students would create spectacular videos. When you consider the clever lyrics about organic chemistry and the high quality of the video editing and the audio, the TA's and I were extremely impressed by how amazingly creative UCLA's south campus students are."Don't believe anyone who says creativity is mostly in the humanities and arts; the evidence otherwise is right in these videos.”
And Garg has inspired others to bring creativity and music to their classrooms. Jon D. Rainier of the University of Utah gave a similar extra-credit assignment to the undergraduates in his introductory organic chemistry class last fall. “I must admit that I was somewhat reluctant at first,” Rainier says of the project. “I wasn't sure that Utah students could live up to the standards that the UCLA students had established and I wasn't confident that students would embrace this.” But embrace it they did.
This parody of Cake’s “Short Skirt/Long Jacket,” is one of the favorites among the videos submitted by Rainier’s students. I particularly enjoy the adjusted chorus “bad leaving groups make for long labs and slow reactions.”
“The students clearly demonstrated their creativity and knowledge and left me with the challenge of finding ways to engage with their creativity on a more regular basis,” Rainier says, adding that he plans to offer the assignment again this fall.
Seems like a Utah-California feud could be brewing. Not that I would instigate that type of thing.