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Day 74: A Whole New Thing

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Day 74/180: Constructing a new low-level and a high-level chemistry course

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I’m not sure how other people create courses to teach. I kinda think of things and throw them together. Someone asked me what I’d do if I had to teach a low-level chemistry course, for kids who couldn’t make it in the regular course… ya know, the not-math-heavy version. And two things flashed through my head:

  1. Why only for those who couldn’t cut it? and…
  2. Who says they’d learn the same things?

When I was in college, I had a fantastic chemistry professor (actually, Dr. Harpp is a geo-chemist and would kill me for not calling her Karen), who taught the chemistry equivalent of “Rocks for Jocks”. I was lucky enough to TA for that course. I still have the lab syllabus for the 10-week course. The first seven weeks were on foods and nutrition, separating fats and Olestra from potato chips, what a nutrition label really means, yeasts, and so on. The rest was on plastics and other stuff in the world that people actually encounter. She proved (with several of us) that chemistry majors flunk this course’s final, as we’re not taught anything useful.

So, when asked what a low-level course should contain, I started brainstorming stuff, and started with stuff in the news and things that regularly appear on websites and annoying emails that are full of bad, wrong, or dangerous advice. And then I switched into how stuff works and I thought about McGill’s Office for Science and Society (it’s not a big coincidence that Karen’s father works there), and all of the things they regularly debunk.

So maybe this course could be “Rocks for Jocks” for chemistry, but I think I’d rather it be “Things You Should Know as a Scientifically-Literate Person”. I need a better/shorter tag than that.

What kinds of things would you want to know?

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