First-year students who already plan to major in chemistry don’t require any special bells or whistles to motivate them to study the subject. But introductory chemistry is a required subject for all students at MIT, regardless of their intended major, and materials scientist Jeffrey Grossman has found that for many students in his course 3.091 Introduction to Solid State Chemistry, the subject becomes much more accessible if he takes conscious steps to make it real for them. He does this both inside and outside the classroom. First, he makes sure that part of each lecture he delivers explores the connection between the topic of the lecture and his students’ actual experience. Second, he gives students the chance to play around with real-world materials so they can learn the principles of chemistry firsthand. As Professor Grossman explains in this episode, it was by playing around with materials that the very first chemists began to learn about matter and its properties, and this kind of basic experimentation has an inherently multisensory quality that deepens and enriches students’ understanding of the concepts they learn.
“Plenty of Room at the Bottom” (PDF) (Richard Feynman’s lecture on atomic-scale engineering)
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