Chemistry: The Other Foreign Language
How is it that a student can come to my office hours, explain the complicated concepts that a problem set question is based on, even go as far as to intuit the right approach for solving the problem, and yet, is not able to derive the right answer? I am sure many GSIs of general chemistry, or of any introductory physical science class for that matter, have asked themselves this question numerous times throughout a semester. One of the biggest problems facing students in general chemistry classes is their inability to communicate what they actually know about the concepts on an exam or a problem set. The inability to communicate what they know and receiving a low test score on material they actually understood will undoubtedly frustrate students to the point of giving up. The reason for the students' lack of chemical communication skills is simple: they spend very little time learning, practicing...
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... and shouldn't continue. An overwhelming number of students responded that the problem solving sessions and drills were very helpful, and wanted more time devoted to those exercises. Furthermore, my section as a whole improved continually on exams throughout the semester. The section went from being one of the lower scoring sections (i.e., below the class mean) on the first exam, to being the highest scoring section on the final exam by an entire standard deviation.
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