This being close to the beginning of the new academic year in the US, Eli thought a comment or two on things academic might be in order. Over at ATTP, Guthrie had, what to Eli, was an interesting comment, though not, to Eli, interesting in the context of what was being discussed over there, but interesting in the context of the new term coming up
This also reminds me of the complaint about history of chemistry I heard recently, which is that it’s been taken over by historians. Which is something I agree with, it has rather been historianised, which can lead to imbalances in what is studied and how it is studied and a loss of focus on the science.Interesting because the traditional approach of teaching chemistry, sequentially running through any number of simple models for chemical bonding and reaction follows the historical development of the science. As each model is stacked on the next to extend them and handle myriad exceptions to each, students struggle. Why each of these simplifications works and their limits of applicability is not obvious, or at least not so until the course reaches the last few weeks when instructors rush through the quantum basis of atomic and molecular structure. At that point, perhaps in the last lectures of the term, when it is explained how each of the historical models is an expression of quantum mechanics everyone, hopefully nods their heads and says "Oh yeah".
At least intellectually the Atoms First method, which starts by teaching baby quantum chemistry, Aufbau principle and all that, is cleaner. It has been around roughly fifteen to twenty years although early examples no doubt existed and increasingly gchem textbooks come in two flavors, traditional and Atoms First.
Atoms First is harder to grok for students at first because, well quantum is weird (as in not harder than you think but for some harder than they can think). However, students today do not swim in the same water as Eli did, when Sienko and Plane was the first gchem text to even talk about aufbau (and no, Eli is not going to haul down his copy of Pauling to check that, besides the only thing that Pauling ever pushed in his book was electronegativity on the Pauling scale, and the Bunny prefers the Mullikan scale because it can be explained).
To be honest there are two things that make Atoms First a bit of a pain to deal with. First, as mentioned, is quantum weirdness. Why is hard to get across. Second is that it is hard to think up labs for the first few weeks that support the text and for lab to have any value it must support what is being taught concurrently.
The later may not be such a biggie, because this ain't 1960. Everybunny is hunting Pokemon. Students accept, nay they flourish in virtual reality, so to them applets are hands on, and there are some really good atomic and molecular structure applets out there to transport down to the atomic scale.
Here is one from pHeT