Physical Chemistry

Physical chemistry

Use Both PowerPoint and Visualiser

Use two screens in a lecture and then turn one off and go to the visualiser and spend time on the visualiser drawing things or solving problems or writing something. And at that point the class becomes engaged. So when you’re using PowerPoint, unless you’re really good with it, they’ll disengage. If you start writing and drawing structures and things on the visualiser, they start doing it and then it becomes much more interactive - they’re working from the visualiser then they’re back to the PowerPoint and then back to the visualiser again.

Relate to Students' Experiences

Relate equilibrium to students’ own experience of strong versus weak acids. For example, you can put vinegar on your fish and chips but not HCl. From high school they might have an understanding that vinegar is a weak acid compared to hydrochloric acid, but they never knew why. And you could then show them that with equilibrium, this is why. 

Put Material into Context

You can liken teaching chemistry to hacking your way through a forest. It’s a lot of detail, and you can’t expect students to do the hard work of fighting their way through the forest or the jungle, unless they have a global view of where they’re going. Keep going back to applications in the real world. How is it that geckos can crawl up a wall, and sit on the ceiling without falling off? How is it they’re able to stay there with gluey legs or something? How do they maximise the attractions between the molecules in their feet and the molecules in the ceiling?

Particle-Wave Model

Try to show students that the fundamental form of matter is energy. Then that this can be represented as particles with mass or as waves (wave functions). Then try to show them that we use the model particle/wave that best helps us understand different phenomena. In class I often do this by asking questions about wave mechanics in particle terms. eg. If a 2s orbital has a node how can the electron pass accross it? Then explain to them the limitations and advantages of each approach.

Tailor Your Teaching to the Group

First identify students' perceptions using a pre-test, then you know how to tailor your teaching. Don’t assume that every group is the same.

Particle-Wave Duality

Try to show students that the fundamental form of matter is energy. Then that this can be represented as particles with mass or as waves (wave functions). Link to YouTube Video: Particles and Waves


Do a discussion and use GroupMap to get a consensus.

Link to GroupMap

Student Questions

It’s very difficult to get students to ask questions because they feel they’re being picked on. But if they start putting up their hand and other students see that you’re prepared to be receptive to that then more and more will start putting up their hands. Invariably they’re good questions which still cover the topic. So you should have enough content for your lectures but not so much that you’ve got to force it to finish. The question that they ask, which they’re worried is a dumb question, is actually the question that probably nearly everyone else wants to ask but is afraid to ask.

Small Group Work

Use small group student-centred interaction using structured work sheets that logically develop students' conceptual understanding. It’s a learning cycle approach.


Using clickers, put up say four ideas, and say, who thinks A and who thinks B, C, D. Now in the groups they need to defend their answer, and to talk about it. That way you get the feedback but you don’t have to say Bill, Mary, Jim, Jack, what do you think? You can get them to click their answers.

Link to Peer Instruction Blog


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