Organic Chemistry Music Videos Building Momentum
Jun15

Organic Chemistry Music Videos Building Momentum

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...

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Organic Chemistry Class Featured on “Undercover Boss”
May05

Organic Chemistry Class Featured on “Undercover Boss”

It’s not every day that you see acid-base equilibria and ester hydrolysis being discussed on primetime television. But on Sunday night, during the finale of “Undercover Boss” on CBS, viewers were treated to a small dose of college o-chem. Timothy P. White, the chancellor of the University of California, Riverside, went undercover—trimming his hair and donning glasses, dental inserts, a fake mustache, and even an earring—to assess the situation at his school. He visited with and observed a number of university workers on the job, including a track-and-field coach and an organic chemistry professor, to see how recent decisions to cut salaries and budgets (a consequence of California’s troubled finances) have affected the student experience. The premise of “Undercover Boss,” according to the show’s intro, is that the economy is in bad shape, and “in these tough times, some bosses are taking radical steps to discover how to improve their companies.” I’d never watched the show before, but after a colleague sent me a note about this particular episode, I made sure to check it out. Catharine Larsen, the lucky organic chemistry professor who had her class scrutinized by the chancellor, tells me that she got involved with the show when the chancellor’s office called. She was asked whether a film crew shooting a television pilot about jobs on college campuses could take some footage of her lecture. “The benefits, should UC Riverside become a regular site for filming, outweighed my apprehension of perhaps not being taken seriously as a chemist for participating in reality TV,” says Larsen, an assistant professor who joined the university faculty in 2008. White posed as “Pete Weston,” a bumbling assistant in Larsen’s 250-student lecture. He helped (if you could call it that) Larsen by reading some sample quiz questions and drawing some reaction mechanisms on the overhead projection system. After the lecture, Larsen says she mentioned to her students that “ ‘Pete’ bore a striking resemblance” to the chancellor” but didn’t question the television pilot premise at the time. When it was revealed at the end of the show that Weston was really the chancellor, Larsen says she realized that what threw her off was the set of fake teeth. In the end, White was impressed with Larsen’s lecture and said he found it gratifying to see the classroom technology, which was a big investment for the school, in action. Specifically, he thought that the clickers the students use to answer multiple-choice questions really help to focus the students. For instance, Larsen says, when a majority of the students select the wrong answer, “I don’t tell them the answer.” But their error “directs...

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