Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Demise of Group Work in My Classroom

I am happy to finally put to rest the absolute exercise in futility that is group-based exercises in my Chem 1 classes. I started this semester with high hopes of using case studies in the classroom and allowing my students to work in small groups. I even sweetened the deal by allowing them easily pass each case study through simple attendance and proof of basic preparation.

The only result of this work (and let me tell you it was a lot of work to prepare all of the case studies) is a massive increase in slackers riding the coat tails of the well prepared students. In addition to an increase in the slacker quotient many of the students seem absolutely incapable of retaining any of the information or able to apply even the most basic concepts.

Now, before any of my non-existent readers get up in arms over the much-researched and touted practice of small groups, let me say this. Group work in the classroom only seems to work when students are actively engaged in the process. At the non-honors freshman level students just don't seem to be emotionally or intellectually mature enough to get much out of the activity.

So, dear readers, let us no longer resurrect this exercise for the teeming, uninterested masses. Rather, let us all return to the old fashioned quiz and exam, the crucibles of mental purification where the shortcomings of students are laid bare to be purified in the fire of trial and perseverance.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I have been pondering the ultimate destination of my career of late. Will I remain in the community college world or will I throw my hat into the tenure-track ring of the 4-year college? Will I start working with web publishing or keep to a more conventional course?

I know that I am not alone in asking these questions, as this topic was the subject of a recent article in C & EN News (an ACS publication). I recall the article as covering the transition of Ph. D. chemists from higher-ed or industry to high school instruction. The chemists that are featured in the article are all extremely satisfied in their career choices and speak of the extremely rewarding task of expanding their students' understanding of chemistry as well as scientific work in general.

What I find so remarkable about this article is its stark contrast to the attitude held by the academic culture that produces so many of the PhD chemists. I recall how taking an industry position or finding a tenure-track spot at a university always seemed to receive much more respect than choosing the more humble route of high school or community college education. This sentiment, one that I ashamedly admit to have held during my graduate years, usually lead to talk of colleagues who took the less prestigious route with the sort of language reminiscent of conversations about friends with terminal diseases...

"Did you hear that Bob decided to teach at Belching State Community College?"

"Oh (pause with thinly veiled distaste)...that's nice...what a noble choice to go teach the unwashed masses. Too bad he'll never have a real job..."

I realize that I'm being melodramatic, but the scenario is not far from the sad truth. After all, I am guilty of having said similar statements in the past.

So why does academia hold such an unfavorable view of the noble pursuit of pure education? Is it because of the beaureaucratic structure or the fact that too many teachers in this country seem to have, at best, a superficial understanding of the disciplines they teach? I do not pretend to understand this apparent animosity, and I must say, as one who has chosen teaching as a career, that attitude makes even less sense.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Return of the Doc....

Even more time has elapsed since my second entry, but I have a better excuse than last time. I have been frightfully busy with work. I am currently scrambling to finish a lab manual for a publication deadline in April. The writing process has been hampered by procrastination, mountains of paperwork, and the usual business of being a husband and father. Still, I have found the whole business of writing to be extremely rewarding.

On another note, I have become fascinated with using web 2.0 tools in creating new educational environments as well as collaborative workspaces for future writing projects. I am currently learning the basics of HTML and Java. I realize that I am a late-comer to this whole process, being now at the ancient age of 34, but I am certain that mastering the basic skills of browser communication will open new doors for my career path.