Teaching guided inquiry organic chemistry labs
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Teaching Guided-Inquiry Organic Chemistry Labs. Jerry Mohrig Carleton College Northfield, MN Workshop Objectives Summer 2005. Provide the participants hands-on experience with question-driven, guided-inquiry organic chemistry projects and experiments.

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Teaching Guided-Inquiry Organic Chemistry Labs

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Teaching Guided-Inquiry Organic Chemistry Labs

Jerry Mohrig

Carleton College

Northfield, MN

Workshop Objectives

Summer 2005

  • Provide the participants hands-on experience with question-driven, guided-inquiry organic chemistry projects and experiments.

  • Allow the participants to evaluate what works well for guided-inquiry experiments and what are the practical constraints.

  • Help the participants learn how to invigorate their laboratory courses by using question-driven experiments.

  • Explore whether graduate-student teaching assistants can provide competent supervision in the use of guided-inquiry organic chemistry labs and what training will be necessary to do this successfully.

  • Encourage sharing of positive and negative experiences by participants regarding their teaching of organic chemistry labs.

Two Important Questions

Why Do We Teach Labs?

What Are Our Goals In Teaching Organic Chemistry Labs?

The Traditional Teaching Goals

  • Help students to experience the material taught in our lectures and deepen their understanding of it

  • Allow students to verify what the lab manual says

  • Teach students how to follow experimental directions

  • Teach modern laboratory techniques to students

  • Teach students to synthesize organic compounds

Higher-Order Traditional Goals

The Important “Non-Traditional Goals” of Laboratory Teaching

  • Teach students how to interpret experimental results and draw reasonable conclusions

  • Teach students how to design and carry out experimental procedures

  • Encourage students to ask questions and find answers

  • Allow students to explore the process of science

Styles of Lab Teaching

Traditional or Verification Experiments


Confirmation of knowledge students already have

Cosmic futility – make a white powder, prove it’s what you expect, and donate it to chemical waste, again, and again, and again

Guided-Inquiry or Discovery Experiments/Projects

Question or purpose driven

Outcome not known but the chemistry builds on what the students know

A procedure is given

The experimental results must be evaluated and conclusions drawn

Open-ended Inquiry Experiments/Projects

Undetermined outcome

Students generate their own procedure

Research-like Projects

The Advantages of Multi-Week Projects

  • Promote student engagement

  • Allow flexible use of lab time

  • Promote guided-inquiry instruction

  • Use organic synthesis in the context of asking questions

  • Provide good teamwork opportunities

  • Effective at every level

  • Allow lower lab costs

Traditional Grignard Synthesis Project

Guided-Inquiry Grignard ProjectPurpose: To design and carry out the Grignard synthesis of a secondary or tertiary alcohol from a simpler primary alcohol

Traditional Acetylation of Ferrocene

Guided-Inquiry Diacetylation of FerroceneQuestion: Which diacetylferrocene isomers form?

Keys to Success in Using Guided-Inquiry LabsTeaching the Art of Data Interpretation

  • Communication of the lab goals by the teacher

  • A clear well-defined question or purpose, stated up front

  • The right background material so that students can successfully interpret their experimental data

  • The availability of some modern instrumentation

  • A well-written techniques book, which contains modern spectroscopy as well as traditional lab techniques

  • Clear, student-friendly experimental directions or models for developing them

  • A range of question- and purpose-driven experiments and projects, from the straightforward to the more sophisticated

  • Teamwork opportunities


Guided-inquiry experiments and projects are effective

  • For teaching students how to evaluate their experimental data and draw conclusions from them

  • For helping students to learn how to design and carry out experimental procedures

  • For allowing students to experience first-hand the science of organic chemistry

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