Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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About this Course

Course Goals

Energy resources, materials science, healthcare, and the need to understand new developments in chemistry and biotechnology are challenging today's learners to become more literate in how chemistry affects our lives every day. Chemistry: Challenges and Solutions is designed to cover basic chemistry concepts appropriate for an introductory, qualitative approach to the subject, and to do so in a way that emphasizes the key importance of chemistry to our daily lives.

With human welfare front and center, one of the primary goals of the course is to help learners fully participate in the public discourse about current challenges facing society. This is a discourse that will require a basic grasp of the underlying principles governing the interactions of matter and energy, all of which are at the heart of the study of chemistry. Learners who successfully complete the course should have sufficient understanding of the atomic model of matter and be able to apply this model to a variety of technical and scientific contexts. In addition, the course is designed to assist learners who are on a pathway to careers in STEM (science, technology, mathematics, and engineering) where further learning in the health sciences, environmental science, biotechnology, and other fields requires an understanding of basic chemistry. For these learners, the practical application of chemistry to their chosen fields is evident through the many virtual site visits to laboratories, research centers, manufacturing sites, and other facilities featured in the video programs. Finally, for those learners who are motivated by curiosity or who desire to round out their knowledge of a terrain which may be unfamiliar or perhaps even perceived as unfriendly, we embrace you: One of the course's primary goals is to instill a love of the subject in its elegance and simplicity.

To achieve these learning goals, the course is built around the following objectives:

  1. To teach basic chemistry principles using only basic mathematics through text, illustrations, animations, and video. The multimedia format of the course allows learners many modalities and entry points to topics.
  2. To motivate students to learn chemistry by demonstrating its relevance to real-world problems, showing chemists as role models in improving human lives. Video profiles of science research teams, as well as numerous sidebars and historical examples in the text, further the objective of humanizing science.
  3. To teach about the nature of science by linking key modern concepts to the historical development of chemical ideas. Past discoveries are placed in context of continually evolving models, which though incomplete or incorrect by today's standards, serve to advance the field in spite of their limitations.

Chemistry is a large field with many branches and subspecialties. To remain manageable in scope, Chemistry: Challenges and Solutions focuses on essential topics that are generally taught in introductory chemistry, providing a strong foundation for learners to pursue future study in science or a liberal arts education. The focus in the course is to keep returning to key, fundamental ideas, such as the particulate nature of matter, the conservation of matter and energy, and basic quantum mechanical principles, which learners will apply again and again in different situations. For those who wish to explore more broadly, suggestions for further reading are included at the end of each unit. The Course Guide is an additional resource for classroom activities and learning resources.

Chemistry: Challenges and Solutions is designed to be adaptable to a variety of settings: classrooms, STEM programs, higher education distance learning, individual or instructor-moderated online learning, and professional development. Whatever the purpose, navigation is provided so that the materials can be used sequentially or in any order. Navigation and search tools provide easy access to content either by individual learners or by facilitators using the materials as a stand-alone course or as a way to extend and augment their existing course offerings.

Course Audience

The target audience for the course is primarily introductory learners. These include junior and senior level high school students to first and second year college students. It will be appropriate for majors and non-science majors, and can serve a variety of audiences, including:

  • Supplementary learning for chemistry classes. Videos (especially the demos), interactive labs, and course readings are a rich resource to reinforce key concepts.
  • Out-of-school STEM programs. These include after-school and Saturday enrichment academies for learners with particular interest in chemistry or STEM in general.
  • Higher education distance learning.
  • Specialized technical programs such as nursing, where chemistry is a required course.
  • Interested adult learners who want to learn more about the subject on their own.
  • High school faculty seeking professional development.

For teachers, the Course Guide has supplemental readings and discussion/reflection topics designed to help educators thoughtfully address student misconceptions and different learning styles in their classrooms. The course can also enhance teaching and learning by showing current, real-world examples of chemistry applications as motivators for learning.

Course Components

At the center of the course is a website that provides access to all its components. On the site, there are thirteen separate units, whose sequence roughly follows the historical progression of the field from prehistoric cave paintings to modern materials. The website provides links to key multimedia materials, which include:

  • Thirteen half-hour videos: Broadcast-quality videos are hosted by chemists of different backgrounds. Each video focuses on a few key topics and illustrates them using the host, demonstrations, and visits to research laboratories or other sites where chemistry is put into practice.
  • Three interactive components: the Chemistry Timeline, which provides a visual display of key chemists and their discoveries, as well as two virtual labs: Control a Haber-Bosch Ammonia Plant and The Chemistry of Running. The interactive labs provide a challenge (maximize profit from ammonia synthesis or successfully complete a marathon) that reinforces the practical applications of chemistry concepts covered in the units.
  • Visuals: A compilation of images and animations linked to each unit with captions. These allow easy access to visual materials in any order.
  • Course Guide: Designed for instructors and course facilitators, the course guide provides resources that take facilitators step-by-step through each unit. The Course Guide is available as a downloadable PDF.
  • Glossary: New vocabulary terms in the text are highlighted in bold, and defined in the Glossary.
  • The Periodic Table of the Elements is an additional interactive that has information and background on all of the known elements, linked to relevant sections in the text.

Taken together, the course has over six hours of video and 300 pages of web text, which can be integrated into a progressive learning experience or indexed and organized for easy access to any section.

How to Use This Course

The course primarily follows a traditional, step-by-step approach. It is loosely based on the historical development of chemistry ideas in a sequence that would be applicable to a one-semester introductory chemistry course, with materials designed for maximum flexibility for different users. For instructors interested in using the materials as the basis for a traditional one semester course, each of the thirteen units could be covered in approximately one week. That includes class time for demonstrations, readings, viewing the videos, and introducing problem sets provided by the instructor. For individual learners or small groups, the videos should be watched first, and if used in a group setting, preferably during meeting time to provide a shared experience for the suggested discussion and reflection questions. For instructors interested in using the course as part of a "flipped classroom" model, the videos are sufficiently clear and self-contained that they could be viewed by the students at home, leaving class time available for individual instruction, project-based learning, or laboratory activities.

Of course, some learners may want to explore a single section of the materials for self-directed learning about a particular topic. For these learners, the search tools and the navigation of the website can help them quickly locate sections of interest. Since every component of the course is also designed to stand alone, learners do not need to use all of the materials or access them in any particular order. If interested in a particular topic, users can jump in at a point of interest using the search or the many navigation guides. Users are encouraged to "chat" with other participants by utilizing the Teacher Talk section of the site. For the fullest experience with all the components, go to the Course Guide to see the learning goals and to explore the demonstrations, discussion questions, and additional resources available for many of the key course concepts. Information on how to use course materials to facilitate a professional development workshop is also contained in the Course Guide. Graduate credit is available to those who choose it.

Although the videos are 30 minutes long, these, too, are accessible to be watched in sections or in other nontraditional ways. Each video is broken into 5–8 discrete segments, identified by on-screen titles. Users can find sections by scrolling forward or back until they see the title; and those who have access to the course DVDs can locate the parts they want using the DVD menu.

Visit the Teacher Talk section of the website to hear how others are using their course, or to post your own new and innovative approaches to the materials.

Content Development Team

Bios for Content Development Team

Lead Content Developer: Dr. Christopher Morse, Lecturer in Chemistry, Olin College.

Dr. Morse earned his doctoral degree in inorganic chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Before coming to Olin College, he was a faculty member in the Chemistry Department at Tufts University. At Olin, Dr. Morse teaches courses in general and organic chemistry and has co-authored a textbook for a course about art, art history, and art preservation from a chemical perspective. Additionally, Dr. Morse is the science editor at Sporcle.com, a quiz site where he coordinates and creates study guides and chemistry quizzes for students.


Writers were chosen to represent the field's different backgrounds and areas of expertise, as well as for the breadth of their knowledge and their experience communicating the topic to students and non-scientists.

  • Asst. Prof. Karen Atkinson, Bunker Hill Community College
  • Asst. Prof. Adam Brunet, American International College
  • Louisa Morrison, Instructor, Wellesley High School, Wellesley, MA
  • Thomas van Geel, Instructor, Wellesley High School, Wellesley, MA
  • Jennifer Weeks, Science Journalist


Advisors were selected to represent the broadest variety of perspectives in chemistry research, education, outreach, and communication. Advisors met first to outline the parameters for the course, and again when the materials were available, to review and provide mid-course corrections. See the Credits for the complete list of advisors.

On-Camera Hosts:

On-camera hosts were carefully selected to represent a variety of approaches within the field, as well as to challenge stereotypes about chemists. One thing they all have in common is the ability to explain clearly and concisely in an engaging way. See Credits for the complete list of on-camera hosts.

Production Team:

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Course materials were developed at the Science Media Group, the media production unit of the Science Education Department at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, a member of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The Science Media Group is the same team that has produced other STEM-based courses for Learner.org, including The Habitable Planet: A Systems Approach to Environmental Science, Physics for the 21st Century, and Neuroscience & the Classroom: Making Connections. Executive Director: Dr. Matthew H. Schneps.


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