If you are not making mistakes, you are not learning

Making mistakes, as much as we don’t like to make them, are an integral part of the learning process. How much room for making mistakes must we allow for in Sophomore Organic Chemistry Lab? As an SOC lab instructor, I certainly don’t want to put students in a situation where innocent mistakes might put them in danger. However, I also need to allow for student mistakes. They will make some mistakes no matter how prepared they are. On one hand, there are certain techniques that should become routine in SOC experiments that do not need a detailed explanation each time such as: TLC, melting point determination, recrystallization, reflux, and liquid-liquid extraction. On the other hand, I find that not giving explicit directions for these techniques will practically ensure that a few students will “mess up” and get it wrong to the extent that they may lose their product. So it’s a dilemma: I want them to learn laboratory techniques to the extent that they are not just following directions, however, I do not want to cause undue stress (and create potentially hazardous situations) on students to perform techniques that they are not entirely comfortable doing. I currently err on the side of providing too much information on techniques that students should already be familiar with. This, of course, does save having to answer a ton of queries for the lab assistant and I during lab. However, it shows that I don’t have much confidence in student’s abilities to learn and execute routine SOC laboratory techniques.

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One Comment

  1. Posted September 22, 2009 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    How about having a mini session with students that need help before lab? (Like, 20 minutes on a day before lab for students that need help learning how to use different instruments.)

    This may help minimize accidents in lab and maybe students can yield better results with the practice they had ahead of time.


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