If I went back in time to high school I would run into all kinds of enthusiasts. Some might call them prodigies. Others might call them nerds. ChemTalk (aka: chemistrytalk.org) is a site managed by chemistry enthusiasts. ChemTalk tries, in its own words, to make chemistry fun and easy using a variety of media. It would be fair to call ChemTalk a proactive chemistry community–and only one of its co-founders has a college degree. The community includes teachers and students who are always learning.
There are well over 100 elements to learn and you also need to like math. Learning chemical equations can be as difficult as learning a foreign language with an unfamiliar alphabet and phonics.
Yet it chemistry is probably the first important science class that tells a high school student whether they could aspire to become an engineer or scientist in college. College-level chemistry is the first important course to determine whether someone can work in engineering, the health professions or the sciences. But the introductory courses are often large at a large public university where many freshman enter with high aspirations. A site like ChemTalk can help to maintain them.
A rising senior at the University of California-Irvine, Lawton majors in Chemical Engineering, with a special interest in Biochemical Engineering. The university has two Nobel Laureates in Chemistry, two of the three on campus. The third teaches Physics. While these faculty, among others, are well recognized for their research accomplishments, they are scholars first, teachers second. Teaching undergrads falls behind working with the grad students. It’s no surprise that it’s difficult to learn chemistry at a large university unless you find a study group quickly and solve the problems together.
ChemTalk is a very good example for college-prep as well as grad school prep. It’s is certainly affordable and accessible to anyone who must learn chemistry. But more important, their team made the user experience as pleasant as possible. The folks at the College Board, among others can learn from the design and content of this site to help high school and college students to prepare for exams and master a difficult subject. Textbook developers who make Web-based tools to accompany the hard copy books could learn from this example, too.
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