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Courses Is this normal for Chem I and Chem II courses?

  1. Jan 29, 2013 #1
    I just finished Chemistry I last semester and am taking Chemistry II this semester. These are the "101" type prerequisite Chemistry courses required for the AA. Although I earned a 98 in Chem I (with a class average of 75), I still feel like I didn't learn much. To sum it up, here are the problems:

    1) Our teacher discourages you from asking questions, so nobody does. When a question is occasionally asked, he usually berates you, then either wanders off on a tangent or answers the question in such a convoluted way that nobody understands it.

    2) Our labs are basically a "follow the steps" type of deal, where we work with mass spectrometry, colorimetry, and other interesting types of projects, but all we do is go through the steps outlined in a document he provides. If any of us in class were asked to replicate the labs independently without the walkthrough, we would have no clue.

    3) Half the time in lab, we aren't even 100% sure of exactly what the chemicals we are mixing are doing. We just follow the steps, plug numbers into an excel sheet or word document, he tells us what the information we got means, but we are rarely told exactly how what we used (ex. colorimeter) got the answers it did or why the chemicals did what they did.

    4) Our "textbook" is an online textbook, and makes even less sense than our teacher does. He frequently has to make corrections to typos in the textbook, symbols in equations aren't explained, etc. So, even if we wanted to learn on our own, we haven't been provided with a resource to do so.

    Though my major is physics, I am just concerned that this teacher may be causing me to lose out on things that I should be learning now. I am wary that I might hit a brick wall later on down the road when I get to a course that utilizes information that Chem I and II should have taught me.

    So I have to ask, is this normal? Is lab in Chem I and II typically just a matter of going through the motions and only getting a general idea of what is going on? Is it normal to not touch on anything more than basic algebra formulas even in Chem II?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 29, 2013 #2
    About 3.
    It is unlikely you are working with anything particularly dangerous on a regular basis but it is very bad to not know what chemicals you are working with. You should either look up what you're using or not use it. I TA gen chem and a number of the chemicals could hurt someone.

    As for 4, get another textbook. Would you like recommendations?
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2013
  4. Jan 29, 2013 #3


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    No that doesn't sound typical.

    Maybe you just made a bad choice of class / professor.
  5. Jan 29, 2013 #4
    We know the chemicals we are working with. What I explained in 3 is that we don't usually get explanations as to why something changes color, releases heat, etc. We get the general concepts, but he doesn't usually explain what binds to what, what dissociates, etc.

    As far as a textbook, I am all open. If there is a decent resource online, that would be ideal, as I'm pretty much a stero-typical broke college student right now. However, under the circumstances, I am open to anything.
  6. Jan 29, 2013 #5
    Regretfully, I am in a small college currently and he was the only choice. Trust me, if I had any other choice, I would've gone with it. He's a real nice guy, and seems extremely intelligent. He is just a horrible teacher though.
  7. Jan 29, 2013 #6
    Ok, ok.

    Since you are a physics major I would recommend getting Oxtoby's General Chemistry text.

    And you can use this course as an opportunity to learn the very important skill of self study!
  8. Jan 30, 2013 #7
    Thanks for the info. The only question I have is I tried to look for that book to no avail. I found a "Principles of Gneral Chemistry" book by Silberberg, and "Principles of Modern Chemistry" by Oxtoby. If you could clarify which book you were speaking about, I'd appreciate it. Thanks again.
  9. Jan 30, 2013 #8
    There is something to say for poor teaching. Certainly it's a factor that comes into play when determining how much you take away from a course. But I think that, under these circumstances, it's up to the student to make up the deficit. There are a TON of inorganic chemistry resources online or at your library. If you were just "following the steps" during a lab and not understanding what you were doing, I sort of feel like (no offense) you dropped the ball there. Perhaps you should have read into the topic of that lab in more detail or seeked outside help if your professor/text failed to properly explain what was going on.

    There are basically no dangerous chemicals in your typical chem1/2 lab, at the most, you might be exposed to some concentrated Hydrochloric Acid.

    It's not just you, we have all had our share of miserable professors. This is not the last time this is going to happen to you.
  10. Jan 30, 2013 #9
    Thanks for the feedback, and of course no offense taken. I know very well that I should have taken more time outside of class last semester to soak it all up and did so as time allowed. I feel I have a pretty good grasp of what we covered in Chem I. However, my issue is that I'm not sure how much I should be studying and how much of what he never covered I should know. For example, we never once talked about bond angles in class, yet when we took the nationwide assessment in Chem I, it had questions about bond angles. Even though I finished with a 98 in his class, I only got something like a 82-84 on the nationwide test, which to me is a clear indicator that his curriculum is not up to par with the standard.

    I know that it is impossible to learn it all in regards to chemistry, but I want to make sure I know what it is that is expected of me by the time I finish Chem II. I'm just not sure if you are expected to know the calculus used in some of the Chem II that we are skipping over and things like that (he skips a lot of the content in the online textbook).

    I guess it would be good for me to find a certain standard for expectations. Maybe I can find an online Chem I test that will let me know where I stand at this point. It's frustrating because I don't want to waste time learning things I will never use in physics when I can be learning things (like my Calc I studies) that would be more applicable to my future profession. At the same time, I also don't want to miss out on things that I will use, things I should know how to calculate, etc.
  11. Jan 30, 2013 #10
    It's the Principles of Modern Chemistry one.
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