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The future of science education: Q&A with the creator of a new chemistry course

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Amber Soland | The Daily Wildcat

Laura Van Dorn, a chemistry professor at the UA, recently created a brand new class: CHEM 130, which is designed to have a year's worth of general chemistry completed in a single semester. The Daily Wildcat sat down with Van Dorn via email to find out more about the process of starting a new course.

Laura Van Dorn is a professor at the University of Arizona. She currently teaches chemistry 101A and 101B. CHEM 101A is a general chemistry course and CHEM 101B is an introductory course to organic chemistry and biochemistry. Due to the pandemic, both classes have been switched to a live-online format.

Van Dorn has developed a new, challenging chemistry course: CHEM 130. It is designed to have a year's worth of general chemistry completed in a single semester. CHEM 130 is for students who need the foundations of chemistry and biochemistry, but given their career focus in different areas, will not necessarily go on to take additional chemistry classes. The Daily Wildcat sat down with Van Dorn via email to find out more about the process of starting a new course.

Daily Wildcat: Can you provide a brief description of CHEM 130?

Laura Van Dorn: CHEM 130 will introduce students in nursing and public health majors to the fundamental principles of general and organic chemistry and elements of biochemistry, with a focus on medical, nutritional, and environmental aspects of the discipline.

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Current topics in health sciences will be used to guide students in developing a solid background in chemistry that may be applied in their future careers. Critical thinking and pattern recognition will be utilized with the goal of developing skills in problem-solving, applying the foundations of chemistry to new concepts. 

Students will be taught to integrate their conceptual and modeling skills with quantitative data to make predictions regarding the behavior of molecules in different environments.

DW: What makes CHEM 130 different from other entry-level chemistry courses?

Van Dorn: CHEM 130 is a one-semester overview of the material, which other chemistry and biochemistry courses typically take several semesters to cover. It is the only course of this kind at UArizona. 

It is designed for students who need a fundamental understanding of chemistry and biochemistry, but do not have room in their degree programs for the traditional 2 semesters of General chemistry, two semesters of Organic Chemistry, and two semesters of Biochemistry (which is what Chemistry or Biochemistry majors would normally take). 

CHEM 130 will emphasize the elements of chemistry and biochemistry important to public health and nursing fields. It will introduce students to recognizing patterns and making predictions. Demonstrations and activities will be a large part of the course. It can be difficult to visualize some of the concepts in chemistry, thus being able to see the effects of chemicals on different types of matter has the tendency to help students.

DW: Do you recommend those only in the pre-health route to take CHEM 130?

Van Dorn: No, this course is for anyone with an interest in how chemistry applies to every aspect of our lives. Our bodies, our environment, all of it is chemistry.

DW: How would you describe the rigor of this course?

Van Dorn: CHEM 130 will be a challenging class, preparing students for careers in health-related fields. Although no extensive background in math or science will be required before taking the class, students should expect to invest considerable effort in mastering the material. Readings will be assigned before class, and students will complete weekly homework as well as unit assessments.

As the course will be offered in-person and through Arizona Online, students will be able to complete much of the course at their own pace. A three-unit science course does require time outside class, and motivation on the part of the students, but they’ll learn some really interesting things.

RELATED: Is there a disadvantage to taking online labs?

DW: Is CHEM 130 going to be offered as an alternative for CHEM 151?

Van Dorn: CHEM 130 will be very different from CHEM 151 or its equivalent CHEM 141. CHEM 141 or 151 covers only the first half of General Chemistry. CHEM 130 will encompass all of General Chemistry (i.e. CHEM 141/151 plus CHEM 142/152), in addition to important elements of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry. 

The depths of coverage will, of course, be different, given the course objectives, its target audience, and time constraints, but it is important to stress that CHEM 130 is a much broader class than either CHEM 141 or CHEM 151. CHEM 141 or 151 are suitable for students that need chemistry as a prerequisite for higher-level chemistry classes and have a foundation in math. 

DW: Is there anyone else you made and/or designed the class with?

Van Dorn: The course content is my own. I will be working with Celeste Atkins at Arizona Online in order to offer the class online as well as in-person for Fall 2021. Colleen Kelly will be developing the separate lab course, CHEM 130L.


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