We have upgraded to Chemical Abstracts Service’s new SciFinder-n which includes PatentPak. After 2 weeks of fairly heavy use I find myself not completely convinced of the marginal value of this upgraded version. Some less than good aspects so far-

  • The upgrade resulted in loss of the ability to download ACS publications directly from CAS. This is a glitch that the good folks at CAS are said to be working on. I have no idea as to the extent of this problem across the user base. Obviously ACS publication documents are downloadable from the publication website. The other possibility comes from the official document service of the ACS, FIZ Autodoc. FIZ can provide ACS documents, but for a sizeable premium above an ACS document download fee straight from CAS.
  • All upgrades, good or not good, require the user to adapt to new features. For some navigation, SciFinder-n seems to require fewer clicks and windows to begin a search. The application opens with a Google-like query box allowing the user to input a CASRN, text string, author names, etc., without clicking to a specific search entry window.
  • I use every visit by our CAS rep to lay out what I perceive as weaknesses of SciFinder. So far, no sign that my input even made it into the rental car as they sped away. One big annoyance has been the absence of Boolean searching.  If it can do Boolean searching, I have not found the right syntax to use it. This would be welcome.  If I’m wrong here, please leave a comment.
  • I’ve noticed that when looking at a list of references related to a substance query the ‘hits’ are no longer given listing numbers. When you find an abstract to look at more closely and then click back to the list of abstracts, you do not return to the part of the page you clicked away from. I can live with that, but since the document abstracts (see below) are not in a numbered list (1, 2, 3, … n)  you must scroll back and find where you left off by recognition of the text. So unnecessary.

That’s enough for today.

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How to follow directions-

  1. Look at the person
  2. Say ‘OK’
  3. Do it

How to do anything-

  1. Start at the beginning
  2. Proceed through the middle
  3. Stop when finished

How to save electrical energy-

  1. When leaving an area, Turn Off the Goddamned Lights!

I’ll confess that I am especially peevish about the last instruction.

What instructions do you have to share, dear reader?

 

Recital.

Whereas contemplation of the lawful removal of the 45th President of the United States is a serious matter; and,

Whereas the President of the United States, Donald Trump, has displayed public behavior that can reasonably be characterized as profane, untruthful, misogynistic, and a demonstrated top-level fomenter of many of the base instincts of man; and,

Whereas the President has consistently displayed conduct, both internationally and within US borders, that is unbecoming of the top-level executive and de facto moral representative of the citizens of the United States of America; and,

Whereas the President has with malice and purpose attempted to incite foreign states with disrespect, schoolyard taunts, slander, and in the case of the DPRK, public threats of total annihilation, nuclear or otherwise; and,

Whereas the President has unilateral control over the release of nuclear war shots while, in this capacity, cultivated a mode of operation that is antithetical to US norms and traditions, and is unburdened by knowledge of the hard earned historical precedents relating to our nuclear weapons complex and decades of successful strategy pertaining to nuclear conflict and their enduring effects;

Therefore, be it resolved that the 45th President of the United States should be lawfully removed the from office by the US Congress under the terms of Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

Note: This is only one of a great many possible declarations calling for the removal of President Trump. Focus your thoughts. Try writing and publishing your own.

 

Twenty-fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution

Section 1. In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.

Section 2. Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.

Section 3. Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.

Section 4. Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.  Source: Wikipedia.

The weighty voices of the GOP evangelical propaganda wing have activated following the awful soaking that Houston received. The wagging fingers of TV evangelists were not far behind to remind us of the looming existential threat.

We’ve witnessed a burlesque of  righteous-sounding preachers leaning in from the video pulpit and warning, solemnly and in no uncertain terms, that hurricane Harvey is only the latest in a series of calamities to befall our nation. Our corrupt society is wallowing in a fetid pit of sin and depravity. The storms were heaven sent they intone, to show Who is actually in charge.

It’s all so very clear to these folks. The root cause of the mass murder at Sandy Hook and hurricanes Katrina, and now Harvey is the grievous sin of omission. For what? For failing to put an end to abortion and gay marriage. They’ve been connecting the dots and these dots lead to perdition. An existential threat is on the move. It’s Old Nick up to no good.

The conservative fear machine has kicked into full ruckus configuration. They deploy their weapons of incitement via their heavy presence on AM radio and cable TV. For elections and in the face of national debate, these evangelical conservatives know that they can dependably frighten just enough people to swerve the Republican hive mind. Who are these pliable voters? I think more than a few of them are people who for one reason or another did not take advantage of the education opportunities decades ago and now find themselves near the terminus of a life of toil.

Conveniently for those right of center, the Democratic Party is comatose and strapped into an iron lung, wheezing away the years in an undisclosed location.

9/10/17, Addendum.  In case I was not clear, it’s my observation that conservative protestant evangelical organizations have become a menace to American civilization. It seems to me that the election of Trump and the support bestowed upon him by conservative Christian groups, many of whom can be found out in the open on his evangelical advisory board, has opened the door to opaque theocratic influence on the large scale conduct of American government.

It’s axiomatic that people have an inherent right to worship as they please. So imagine the nightmare of trying to control what people believe when religion is folded into the curriculum of the public schools. What a tragic misunderstanding of human nature it would be to attempt to impose religious doctrine upon students. Parents would have none of it. But, a private school may have much more flexibility to teach a particular sect of religious belief. Is it  a coincidence that privatizing schools is favored by many religious organizations?

Finally, there is the matter of magisteria. Steven J. Gould wrote about religion and science as being non-overlapping magisteria. A magisterium is defined as a “a domain where one form of teaching holds the appropriate tools for meaningful discourse and resolution”. A magisterium may or may not recognize an external system of laws, facts, or values. Gould maintained that science and religion were non-overlapping magisteria in the sense that the tools of science were of no use in solving religious questions.

The secular world can be thought of that which describes what is human made and of human concern. It can also be thought of as that which is independent of religion. It is not atheistic or better or worse in any way. In chemistry we might say that the secular is orthogonal or perpendicular the religious. A bolt, an integrated circuit, or a tractor would be in the domain of the secular. So would the National Electrical Code, city ordinances, and state and federal law. All of these items are contrivances made by people for purposes living a better or safer life. Added to these items would be mathematics, the sciences and engineering. That which is measureable like the Volt or the kilogram have no defining attribute which traces back to religious definition.

It has been said that the purpose of government is to protect ourselves from each other. I would extend that to include the general domain of the secular. Having secular government means that subjective interpretations of religious matters must be secondary. This is owing to the reality that there are many religious beliefs in the world and the question of whose religion will prevail in an action involving the public will rapidly become intractable due to disparate beliefs. The secular world has elements of logic, measurement and guidelines for evidence or objective observation. All of these examples could be contained within a secular magisterium.

Public schools have long been the institutions where secular matters were introduced and learned. Government at all levels has been steadfastly kept within the secular domain. There was and remains to be a need for government to manage the secular details of a thriving civilization. The religious magisterium has a heavy reliance on beliefs which is a subjective matter subject to interpretation. A democracy requires a goodly amount of objectivity and evidence.

The notion of non-overlapping magisteria raises an interesting question. What if elements in one magisterium want control of elements in another magisterium? To have elements of a subjective domain in control of elements in the objective domain is to introduce chaos in both. Since neither side has the tools to operate in the other we have to conclude that this circumstance makes no sense for either domains.

 

I found myself up north in Casper, Wyoming, with friends for the 8/21/17 solar eclipse. We were modestly equipped for the spectacle. A member of our small group brought a Celestron 8″ Cassegrain telescope with solar filter and clock drive. We set up in an uncrowded neighborhood and began the wait.

Knowing that Casper would be crowded I had arrived 2 days early to explore some of the local geology. Jeez- I guess that makes me a geotourist. This activity gives a person a mission to complete. Pick some locations to visit and go do it within your time constraints. There is a beginning, a middle, and an end. Success consists of finding the location of interest, getting samples and photographs of unique rocks, stata and general landforms.

I’ve had good luck with the Roadside Geology series of books by Mountain Press Publishing. In the case of the eclipse trip, I secured a copy of the Roadside Geology of Wyoming ahead of time at a local Barnes and Noble. These books are quite well written and illustrated, especially important if you’re not packing a degree in geology.

The unique value of the Roadside Geology books is that the content is divided into state regions then subdivided into stretches of highway that you can drive along. Commonly along the highway can be seen many large scale features described in the book. Even better, photographs and diagrams of road cuts are frequently highlighted. In hilly or mountainous regions there are many road cuts that allow you to view underground features.

Lately I’ve taken to wearing a yellow reflective vest along the roadside while taking a close look at the exposed formation. People don’t expect to see some yay-hoo walking along the road with a  hammer and a notebook as they careen around the curves on a mountain road. Best not to surprise drivers.

Teapot Rock north of Casper, Wyoming.

There is a bit of interesting US history attached to the geology of the Casper area. The Teapot Dome scandal erupted during President Warren G. Harding’s administration in 1922. Harding’s Secretary of the Interior, Albert Bacon Fall, was caught taking bribes in exchange for awarding oil rights to a subsidiary of the Sinclair Oil Company.  The oil field was within the Navy Petroleum Reserve north of Casper.

“Teapot” Dome takes its name from Teapot Rock– a formation that, at the time, had a feature that resembled a spout. This feature is no longer there. “Dome” comes from an anticline fold in the oil bearing stata below. It is part of the larger Salt Creek Oil Field.

The seeing in Casper was good right up to the back third of the eclipse. The Celestron was rigged to throw an image onto a white screen. A chain of sunspots were visible early in the eclipse. As I was equipped with only my Samsung 6 for photography, I did not manage to get great pictures, nor was it really my intent. Sometimes you have to put the camera down and look. Just before totality we saw Baily’s Beads and the diamond ring. The autofocus of the Samsung was unable to produce a sharp image of the beads on the projection owing to the low light level.

Close-up of sunspots early in the eclipse.

When totality arrives you can look at it directly with the naked eye. It’s best to view it without the distraction of equipment. During totality it became noticeably cooler. The eclipsed sun had a wispy corona around it, reaching into space. Around the horizon back on the ground was a beautiful 360 degree sunset. People in the neighborhood were cheering. What a thing to see.

 

Pinhole projection using aluminum foil and a cereal box.

 

Here you can see some knucklehead trying to get a view through a pinhole projector cleverly disguised as a box of corn flakes. He commented that the image was only slightly better than nothing. In fact the image projecting through a colander onto the pavement was superior (below).

 

 

 

 

 

Multiple images of eclipse as projected through a colander.

 

Dear Samsung,

I have owned a Samsung S6 smartphone for several years. Permit me to offer an appraisal of this device.

Satisfactory Attributes

  1. Satisfactory reliability
  2. Appearance, size, and weight.
  3. Fits in most shirt pockets for maximum personal utility.
  4. Several useful functions and features.
  5. A QWERTY keyboard for faster texting.
  6. Takes video and stills.
  7. Sends video and jpeg files.

Unsatisfactory Attributes

  1. Bad, bad ergonomics overall.
  2. Silicone protective cases prevent easy insertion into shirt pockets.
  3. No inactive margin on screen side by which to hold the phone without activating some feature.
  4. In general the worst ergonomics possible for a camera. It would be difficult to worsen the design.
  5. Subject to mandatory creeping featurism. This is a type of cancer.
  6. Screen difficult or impossible to see in outdoor daylight.
  7. Too many features. In this regard it resembles a universal kitchen tool. Eventually you realize that all you really wanted was to dice the potatoes.
  8. I frequently lose photographic opportunities because the f*cking camera was inadvertently toggled into some other mode, preventing activation of the “shutter”. See #3, this section. !%#@*&@#*&!

What do I really want?

  1. A flip phone that has a QWERTY keyboard, or
  2. A good purpose-built camera that offers basic telephony.

Why do I continue to use it?

  1. Expectation of accessibility by family, friends, and employer.
  2. Connection with friends and distant family via facebook.

Summation

Samsung, I pity you because you are stuck on the endless treadmill of ever increasing novelty. Because of this users are forced to adapt to updates of the Système du jour. I only wish that S6 purchase transactions would change in like manner. Listening to Samsung bitch about having to alter their enterprise system annually to accommodate the hidden needs of unknown organizations would bring a bit of cheer in a sadistic kind of way.

 

Enroute to other things I ran across an old Gulf R&D patent, US 3294685, titled “Organic compositions containing a metallo cyclopentadienyl”. Sifting through the description my eye caught the interesting content below:

July 1941. A test spray was prepared by dissolving 2.5 grams (3.2 percent) of iron dicyclopentadienyl in ml. of a typical household insecticide base oil. The tests made with this solution employed a dosage of IO-second discharge. An equilibrium :period of 15 seconds followed by an exposure period of 70 seconds, during which the mist was permitted to settle on adult house flies confined in a screen-covered dish, was employed in the tests. The results of the tests showed that of the flies which had been contacted with the base oil containing 3.2 percent by weight of iron dicyclopentadienyl, 53.6 percent were dead after 24 hours. Of theflies which were contacted with the base oil alone, only 13.0 percent were dead after 24 hours. Check flies which were confined for 24 hours without having been contacted with either the base oil or the base oil containing iron dicyclopentadienyl had a death rate of only 0.4 percent. The better than fifty percent mortality of the flies treated with the base oil containing iron dicyclopentadienyl is indicative of the insecticidal properties of naphthas containing a small amount of iron dicyclopentadienyl. Naturally, the amount of metallo cyclopentadienyl used in insecticidal compositions-will vary with the particular compound employed and also depends upon the particular insects for which the spray is intended. The amount of iron dicyclopentadienyl employed in insecticidal compositions intended for use on flies is between about 1.0 and 10.0 percent by weight.

Ya know, a greater than 50 % kill rate seems to be getting a bit sporty for the flies. The ol’ boys at Gulf were studying the suitability of a variety of ferrocene analogs for fuel additive application. What lead them to go from octane enhancement and smoke control to killing flies is not revealed in the patent.

Notice the nomenclature in the patent language. The word ferrocene is not mentioned. Looking at the timeline we see that the Gulf ‘685 patent was filed April 21, 1952, not long after the publication of this curious iron cyclopentadienyl compound by two groups, Kealy & Pauson on 12/15/51, and Miller, Tebboth, and Tremaine on 1/1/52. Though Pauson and Keely published first, an examination of the papers show that Miller, Tebboth, and Tremaine were first to submit- July 11, 1951 vs August 4, 1951 for Pauson and Kealy.

The day before Gulf filed the patent application, April 20, 1952, a groundbreaking paper by Wilkinson, Rosenblum, Whiting, and Woodward was published on the proposed structure of iron bis-cyclopentadienyl. It is reported that the name ferrocene was invented by Mark Whiting, a student of R.B. Woodward and coauthor of the 1952 paper in JACS. The name derives from the ferrous ion and the aromatic (“benzene”) nature of the cyclopentadienyl ligands.

The curious structure was proposed largely on the strength of a single C-H IR band at 3.25 μ. Since all of the C-H bonds appeared to be equivalent, the only structure compatible with the formula, charges and symmetry was the famous η5 (eta five) sandwich structure. Later the word metallocene finds use for this class of substances.

There is disagreement as to some of the details outlined above. An excellent article by Pierre Lazlo and Roald Hoffmann navigates some of the narrower channels in the history of ferrocene. It is well worth the read. Lazlo & Hoffmann suggest that Woodward is thought to have conceived the sandwich structure.

Ferrocene and derivatives would soon prove useful in many areas. A more obscure application is found in the field of rocket propellant additives and function as burn rate stabilizers. In fact, certain ferrocene derivatives appear on the US Munitions List, 22 CFR 121.1, Category V, (f)(4) Ferrocene Derivatives. A good overview of ferrocene and other metallocenes can be found in Wikipedia.

Circling back to the beginning of this piece, the patent application for Gulf ‘685 was filed 4/21/52, only 4 months after the publication on 12/15/51 of the Pauson & Kealy paper and two weeks later the Miller, et al., paper on 1/1/52. In the 4 months between Pauson & Kealy and the Gulf patent filing, two independent groups had published papers reporting the preparation of iron dicyclopentadienyl by different methods, a Harvard group had postulated a structure for the compound using IR data and a novel bonding type, and the Gulf R&D group had produced various analogues for testing as fuel additives. In this short time interval, the first organo-iron compound was taken from a literature source through industrial R&D and a patent application. As a premium, Gulf even determined that it had insecticidal properties. Much happened in a short time.

 


Wilkinson, Rosenblum, Whiting, and Woodward J. Am. Chem. Soc., 1952, 74 (8), pp 2125–2126. DOI: 10.1021/ja01128a527

Kealy and Pauson, Nature, 168, 1039 (1951). Received Aug. 7, 1951.  DOI: 10.1038/1681039b0

Miller, Tebboth, and Tremaine J. Chem. Soc., 1952,0, 632-635. Received July 11, 1951. DOI: 10.1039/JR9520000632

Laszlo P., Hoffmann R. ACIEE, 2000 Jan; 39(1):123-124.  DOI: 10.1002/(SICI)1521-3773(20000103)39:1<123::AID-ANIE123>3.0.CO;2-Z

One of my job responsibilities is to educate new hires on reactive hazards and the basics of electrostatic discharge safety in the chemical manufacturing environment. The attendees are usually new plant operators with the occasional analytical chemist also in attendance. The educational background for the operators is nearly always a high school diploma with work experience of widely varying duration in non-chemical industries. Since we are far from the regional chemical manufacturing centers in the USA, we rarely encounter applicants from our industrial sector. Commonly the analysts arrive with a BA/BS in chemistry, biochemistry, or even biology sometime in the past.

In their 1 to 2 weeks of introductory training I’m given 1 hour for each of the 2 topics- barely enough time to wedge in important vocabulary let alone develop a command of, well, anything. My approach is to first talk about the difference between hazard and danger with some folksy examples. Then I introduce the general concept of stability using examples boxes on a rising incline. From there, we talk about stability as related to variously truncated inverted conical objects. The notion of instability, meta-stability, and stability are teased out of examples of the tipsiness of inverted cones leading to a change of state under the influence of external forces. This is very concrete and primes the mind to begin to grapple with the abstract notion of substances undergoing change depending on the precariousness of their initial state or the intensity of external influence.

Synthetic chemistry is very much about the careful manipulation of instability in order to produce the sort of change that is desired. Highly stable materials, i.e. sand, are not desirable in a chemical synthesis minimally because they are resistant to alteration. Many reaction steps may be performed and much cost incurred in order to produce features (functional groups) that are sufficiently unstable to undergo the series of desired connections.

After all of the above, the remainder of the hour is spent talking about chemical hazards and how some of them may be passivated by paying attention to the fire triangle. Also the matter of chemical compatibility is introduced as well as the existence of various categories of substances with examples. Of course, this means nothing to them. It’s just a bunch of new words arranged in unfamiliar ways. I’m quite well aware of this, but the purpose is to prime the pump so that when they hear these solvent names and words like acidic, caustic, basic, pH, quench, etc., then can begin the long process of connecting the dots to produce a better picture of their workspace.

The topic of ESD – electrostatic discharge – has its own peculiar challenges. First of all, static charge is invisible, pervasive, and unless you have direct measurements, provides hazards of an unknown risk. To understand ESD hazards, the learner should be exposed to the units describing static charge. These include the Coulomb (C), the volt (Joules/C), the Joule (J), area charge density (µC/m^2), power (Watts = J/sec), the Ohm (Ω = V/A) and the Siemens (S = 1/Ω), and the Ampere (A = C/sec).

Herein lies the real point of this essay. In teaching ESD safety for 4-5 years, I have met perhaps 2 attendees (engineers) out of many dozens who recall having taken coursework relating to basic electricity. I always begin the seminar by taking a poll on who has heard of Ohm’s Law. In reality, I don’t expect electrical proficiency from folks who have not worked in an electrical field. What surprises me is that so few can recall having heard of Ohm’s Law. How is it that we are letting so many people graduate from high school without some course work introducing the very basics of electricity?? This related to one of the most pervasive and influential technologies in our time. I think this is a stunning oversight.

“A’hem, cough cough,” you sputter, “but surely …” –short pause for effect- “… students who have taken high school physics have had instruction in electricity,” you reply with obvious incredulity.

If you had said this you’d be correct. But the educational profile of many factory workers doesn’t seem to include many people who have, in our experience, taken physics in high school. Those from the electrical trades tend not to show up from the temp agency for screening.

So let me end this by asking the mandarins of our school districts why we let students not college bound  graduate without some background in the basics of electricity or electronics? To repeat, this is a stunning oversight, given the extensive use of electrical functions and objects in our lives.

 

 

 

Some questions regarding the internet and the problem of hacking.

I wonder to what extent hacking problems via the internet could be suppressed if we had a bit less connectivity or a bit less compatibility? Who decreed that critical systems like the power grid or banking or corporate enterprise systems be connected and compatible in a way that can be entered from outside? Why not trade in some convenience for greater security? Another approach would be to have intranet systems that are incompatible with internet protocols. Who is calling the shots here? Cisco? Microsoft? Fresh MBA’s wanting to implement the latest thinking from B-School?

A separate, air-gapped and incompatible system for intranet use in key infrastructure might be quite effective in blocking access to control systems from the outside. An electronically isolated conventional internet system would allow the public or vendor access to a store front site.

I’m sure there is ways a clever intruder who can cause some kind of trouble in this scenario, such as the intrusion of Stuxnet into the Iranian nuclear processing facility. So you epoxy the USB ports shut or remove the CD/DVD drives on as many computers as possible. Supervised data transfer could occur via numbered CD disc drives issued to employees temporarily for security. Again, cash in some flexibility for security.

But the basic question remains: Why should there be internet access to system wide locations. Who says it should be this way? Some IT/MBA enthusiast drunk on the idea of IoT?  C’mon. Why?

The local school board has recently voted to spend $482,000 to purchase iPads for a high school. “If we don’t do this now, and are already behind, we will get swamped. Instead of buying for a grade level or a school, it’s going to have to be for every kid in the district,” stated the board president. Chiming in was the superintendent who said “It’s not the wave of the future, it’s here now,” Mr. XYZ said. “It’s about the digital world we’re in more than it is about the device. We just have a device now that allows us to do that. The struggle now is getting everyone up to speed.”

There is utterly nothing novel or surprising about these sentiments among educators. The eternally open door to the brave new world beckons educators to outfit their classrooms with the latest and greatest. This is a healthy and vital impulse that I hope we all value.

From where I sit as a 59 year old industrial chemist, the image of new iPads holding a key to mending our educational woes seems like only the latest false prophet to pass our way.  Am I just grumpy or quietly jealous of the lucky young pups getting their iPads? Well, I am prone to grumpiness. Jealous of the students? No. I have declined the issuance of an iPad at work.

I think part of what we see is FOMO: Fear-Of-Missing-Out. To be sure, iPads or other brands are popular for a reason. They’re a wonderful tool for finding information about nearly anything and they are just plain fun to monkey with. So, as a resource to students, the iPad will obviously provide an ever widening portal to the world’s treasure of information. For this it has merit.

Two things can happen to those who frequent cyberspace. First, we find information through the use of search terms that lead us to a great many sources to choose from. But which are the most credible sources? Are they out dated?  Eventually, if civilization holds up long enough, we’ll relearn the importance of rigor in publishing. Secondly, and critically, when we find some information will we understand it? Searching and finding is not equivalent to substantive understanding.

A psych prof once related to me that true learning requires struggle. In my experience I have found this to be a fairly accurate truism. In my college teaching years I always conveyed to students that part of the secret to success in chemistry was to read the text several times and strive to understand the reasoning in the example problems.  Just as importantly, always do the assigned problems. Freshman chemistry is heavily weighted in quantitative concepts and math problems. In fact, freshman chemistry can often morph into a math class for many students.

Being an organikker I taught sophomore organic chemistry. Chemistry is highly vertical meaning that successive course work depends on content from previous classes. Organic chemistry is a bit different in that much of it is qualitative and heavily weighted with new vocabulary and the symbolic language of reaction mechanisms. I used to say that sophomore organic was the year of 10,000 structures. An important part of learning organic is the rote mechanical-tactile brain activity of drawing structures by hand. We chemists are just crazy about structures. Drawing pictures helps to seal the connection between vocabulary and structure. Being asked to draw structures correctly and adding functional groups forces one to associate symbols with composition and vocabulary, but also to acknowledge the 3-D aspects of molecules. Like freshman chemistry, organic requires a good bit of struggle.

In the past I was involved in public outreach with the science of astronomy. Having racked up many seasons of observing and studying the topic I was conversant enough to give star talks and usher visitors for a chance to peer through the 18 inch Cassegrain in the dome. I did this for some years but finally tired of it. What wore me out was that the public rarely had more than superficial interest in the topic. They were just happy to see the moon. It was infotainment and I had been an infotainer. What I finally realized was that to truly appreciate the wonder of astronomy and the mechanisms that grind the universe forward, a visitor would have to sit down and grapple with a lot of physics and new phenomena. A person has to be willing to commit to some struggle to gain the wonderful insights. My hard won knowledge offered to visitors just washed over them for the most part. It was a show and I was a performer.

So let me close the loop by connecting struggle with educational technology. It is my fervent hope that curriculum does not confuse learning to operate a device as evidence of subject knowledge. Most devices are designed to be easy to learn. What is crucial in K-12 education is that a groundwork of basic facts and knowledge of systems and processes are absorbed by students. A basic knowledge of geography facts, government facts, history facts, math facts, grammar and vocabulary facts, sciency facts, etc. are still necessary to have to build upon in the future. Any notion that facts can be left by the wayside in favor knowing where to look for them is a tragic mistake. Eventually people have to draw upon facts to properly search Google. After all, facts have names and to dig deeper into a topic, the user must supply the right search terms. The wrong synonym in a given search may not take the searcher to what they are looking for. Facts in your brain are still very necessary.

 

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