American Chemical Society
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Cultivating a Meaningful Application of IMFs through Backward Laboratory Course Design

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journal contribution
posted on 2024-05-08, 13:59 authored by Brenda B. Harmon, Deepika Das, Annette W. Neuman, Simbarashe Nkomo, Nichole L. Powell, Austin Scharf
This paper describes the development of a first- and second-year inquiry-based laboratory course focused on the development of a meaningful application of intermolecular forces (IMFs). Instead of broad expository coverage of topics, we used backward design: the techniques and concepts for the course were structured around what students are expected to be able to do at the endindividually isolate caffeine from a consumer product as a culminating lab practical, using IMFs to justify solvent choices and determining procedural details. We have found that instructors can select a challenging multilevel experiment that incorporates the application of IMFs in multiple ways and backward design the course so that students are able to complete this experiment individually and autonomously at the end of the semester. By incorporating evidence-based pedagogies to foster meaningful learning and repetition of techniques and IMF concepts in different contexts, we promoted opportunities to learn from mistakes and prioritized student decision making. This approach involved faculty collaboration and spanned several semesters of iteration. In our experience, a cumulative lab practical motivates students to learn the techniques and take responsibility for learning. We propose that the backward design process with a central theme, such as the application of IMFs in our case, is especially well suited to planning a chemistry laboratory course. However, even with an entire laboratory course centered around applications of this critical concept, we discovered there were still gaps in students’ abilities to apply IMFs.