Don Cass

Chemistry I and II

These two terms are meant to provide a good introduction to the principles of chemistry. Students should really take both terms if they want to understand the subject.

The first term focuses mostly on atomic and molecular structures and on how such structures account for the physical properties of materials. You know – how come nothing sticks to Teflon – when somehow the Teflon sticks to the pan?

The second term 2 focuses more on reactions. You know, like, how come marshmallows burn to form carbon dioxide and water, but exhaling into a water bottle never produces marshmallows?

My General Philosophy

  • First, you need to realize that learning is a “do-it-yourself” activity. You must actively work to reconstruct the concepts we will talk about into your own form. You need to practice using the vocabulary we’ll use. You need to practice asking questions about things. You may think that you understand the material if it makes sense in class – but you don’t really understand it until you can explain it to someone else. This often takes a lot of work outside of class – many students find that at least 75% of their learning occurs outside of class times.

    • I recommend taking general notes in class (you can always go back to the slides through the class portal) and then, as soon as possible after class, going over your notes and annotating them with material from the slides. Then sit down with someone (maybe a groups of students in the class) and try to reconstruct what we talked about. Maybe call your mom and try to explain to her what you’ve learned. DO THIS AFTER EVERY CLASS!
  • Second, people (i.e. both you and I) need to be willing to try and adapt to different teaching & learning styles. This is especially important at a small school with limited choice of instructors! If you have never taken a Myers-Briggs sort of personality inventory, you might try the Kiersey version which is available on-line. As an “NT.” I am often impatient with details, and I may have trouble giving simple answers.I realize that this drives some students crazy. If you’re one of them, let me know and I’ll try to adjust…
  • My general goal is to help you understand the behavior of materials on 3 levels: the sensory (macroscopic), the particulate (microscopic) & the symbolic. I hope that you’ll get a feel for water as water, and a bunch of little molecules bouncing around sort of attracted to each other, and as H2Os.

Class Resources

Text: This year, we’ll be using my own notes as the text.Now, it doesn’t have the glossy color illustrations or the 10x too many prblems to work in a whole lifetime of a ‘real’ text – but it’s a lot cheaper and I think concentrates more on fundamental principles, why chemists believe what they believe, and how chemistry can help you make sense of the world. I’m very interested in feedback on the text, so do let me have it!

Class Structure

I’m in a bit of a quandry about this. In the past, I’ve given what I think most folks have found to be pretty informative and entertaining lectures using Powerpoint slides, videos, demos, etc. I have, however, become more and more convinced that students would learn a lot more if they were more active during classes. So I think we’ll begin this term with you doing more work. I’ll try to come in with a worksheet each day that we can go over in class. You’ll work in 2-3 person groups on several exercises per chapter. I hope that classes will typically consist of alternating 10min of lecture with 10 min of group work. You’ll save some problems to work on at home. I’ll try to include questions that ask you to sketch pictures of what’s happening microscopically, and ask you some ‘what would happen if’ questions. First thing next class, you’ll work in groups on any any at-home problems that still don’t make sense, then we’ll tackle any remaining problems as a group, and then move on to a new worksheet. Each class will end with a graded, group quiz with ? cards about that class, and a pretest to see what you ‘know’ about the next day’s topic.


I’ll assess your learning in this class using:

  • a portfolio including:
    • in-class & at-home problems,
    • a problem that you have written and answered,
    • any extra credit items you’d like to create such as songs, poems, limericks, etc
  • a midterm and a final exam:
    • I will try to make sure that  not ALL questions on these challenge everyone
    • I will try to assign only about 10% of each question’s value to a numerical answer; the other 90% will rest on your explanation of what you have done
    • I’ll first give you take-home open-book, open-friend versions of these exams. I encourage you to work on these in groups. Then, I will give a similar (but shorter) open-book & open-note in-class exam to test your individual understandings.
    • After each exam, you may meet with me to discuss reworked problems within 1 week for 50% credit if they are correct (can meet before scheduled meeting for help)
  • a lab notebook: This is where you really try to connect the abstract concepts of the class to the ‘real world.’ It is also where you acquire some real technical competencies. It should include
    • any pre-lab assignments
    • your observations made during lab
    • brief write-ups of whatever you learned from the lab

      • I think that I’ll have your lab write-ups be evaluated by 2 of your co-students and by myself
  • a paper on a molecule of your choice (I will suggest some and will give you a list of the minimum info to be included)
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