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Students Improve Test Performance

Y Science

Students Improve Test Performance

Barbara Hinshaw is a faculty member of Brigham Young University's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. She received her BS from Westminster College and her MS from the University of Utah. She instructs the undergraduated organic chemistry lab and pays particular attention to chemical and laboratory safety. She has been known to encourage secondary schools in innovative science education. Barbara has been published many times, including in the Journal of Organic Chemistry, the Journal of American Chemical Society, and the Journal of Chemical Society. 

Barbara uses the ChemLab as a way of teaching the "whys" of chemistry, and in her class, the students are graded on their ChemLab work. She has 17 experiments and four unknowns in the real lab, and then uses ChemLab for six more assignments -- three unknowns and three experiments that mirror the physical lab. 

Barbara has a few recommendations for teachers concerning ChemLab. She advises, "Remember that ChemLab establishes a set of reagents and not necessarily the reaction; be sure to warn the students. They can become very frustrated trying to make the desired compound when it is not possible using the reaction. This means that students need to understand why a reaction works and makes it more difficult to 'cookbook.' When the students are working on unknowns, it is helpful that the functional group tests work, so take advantage of this. For example, with polyfunctional molecules in the laboratory many times the functional group tests do not work making it difficult to detect some of the functional groups present in the molecule. But in ChemLab the reactions will yield appropriate results. Also, if you are doing unknowns, be careful. Pick and choose what you want, be selective as some of the available unknowns are very difficult. And remember that the students will almost all wait until the last second [to complete the assignment], so stagger the due dates so that you have the time and energy to assist individual students in sorting through their information and coming to a valid identification of their unknown." 

For Barbara, one of the best things about ChemLab is the improvement in student scores. She notes, "After I started using ChemLab, I saw more 90's on the final exam than ever before. This is significant because although the final has evolved over time, it is essentially the same type of test year after year. Additionally, quiz score averages are better." 

Barbara also liked the thin layer chromatography (TLC) on ChemLab. "I've had a question about TLCs on my final for years, and only after I introduced ChemLab did I see an increased percentage of students get that question right." 

Higher scores are nice, but the longest-lasting advantage of ChemLab is the increased understanding achieved by the students. Many of her students are preparing for graduate and professional schools, and most of these schools require a broad and solid understanding of organic chemistry. Barbara realized that ChemLab was helping when students made comments like, "So that's why we do this." Barbara emphasizes, "You can take any student and lead them by the hand and show them what to do, but you cannot teach them why things are happening or why they do what they do. They must see it. And that's what you get with ChemLab.



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