Chemical Education Roundup, 6-24-11

As I was getting in touch with my inner tribesman this week, the world of education continued its slow march towards (in the general direction of?) enlightenment.

Got to continue to give mad props to Science for bringing educational issues to their pages. In the June 24 issue, Stipek reminds us of the importance of creating positive educational experiences for students in high school and college, by avoiding “teaching to the test” and creating collaborative, not competitive, classroom environments. If you’re interested in how educational researchers envision the ideal classroom today, it’s a nice summary of techniques and strategies.

On the educational technology front, JCE has published a short but powerful article on the use of GNU Octave (think open-source Matlab) to simulate experimental data for instrumental analysis labs. Octave generates the data, the instructor specifies calculations that students should perform, and Octave is able to evaluate the results of students’ calculations. One can imagine using this for some interesting “data pooling” applications, without the complicating factor of experimental (operator or otherwise) error.

In another recent JCE article, Abriata laments the woeful state of circular dichroism in undergraduate chemistry education. For the article, he developed a simple spreadsheet algorithm that simulates the CD spectrum of a protein based on its secondary structural content, using the simple assumption that the CD spectrum of a protein is a linear combination of the CD spectra of its most common secondary structural elements (alpha helices, beta sheets, and random coils). The spreadsheet can also fit a curve to an experimental CD spectrum to determine the approximate secondary structural content of a protein whose CD spectrum is known.