Opening Day is here!

I’ve never done predictions or stuff in the past, but as I have a blog now I suppose it’s required of me.  Let’s try this!

AL East

  • Rays
  • Red Sox
  • Orioles (84-87 wins)
  • Yankees
  • Blue Jays

AL Central

  • Tigers
  • Indians
  • Royals
  • Twins
  • White Sox

AL West

  • A’s
  • Rangers
  • Angels
  • Mariners
  • Astros

NL East

  • Nationals
  • Braves
  • Mets
  • Phillies
  • Marlins

NL Central

  • Cardinals
  • Pirates
  • Reds
  • Brewers
  • Cubs

NL West

  • Dodgers
  • Giants
  • Diamondbacks
  • Rockies
  • Padres

Wild Cards

  • Red Sox over Rangers
  • Giants over Braves

ALDS

  • Tigers over Rays
  • Red Sox over A’s

NLDS

  • Dodgers over Nationals
  • Cardinals over Giants

ALCS

  • Tigers over Red Sox

NLCS

  • Dodgers over Cardinals

World Series

  • Dodgers over Tigers

In conclusion, expect the goddamn Mariners to win the World Series.

Whatever it is you’re looking for…

I remember seeing the strangest, most exotic thing in black ink line drawings on posters in Vienna, in 2006.  It was a left-handed pitcher.  Whatever it is you’re looking for, you won’t find it here, indeed.  I don’t know why I thought about that just now, but I’ve since learned that the posters were for a retrospective of work of a single American artist, Raymond Pettibon.  With this context in mind, I suppose the lefty isn’t so unusual as welcome.  To me at least.  It must have been unusual to the Viennese.  Hopefully they were cultured enough to be interested in the oeuvre of the artist, despite the unfamiliar (and possibly not too interesting) glance on the posters.  Now I’m contemplating buying the book for $99 when I should have just gone to the show in 2006, even if for an hour.  Stupid me chasing old things.

Baseball is about to begin in Sydney, Australia.  I’m actually really excited for it.  I’m debating trying to watch the 1 AM game on Saturday.  I mean, it’s not like I’ll have better things to do.  It’ll beat going to Bellevue and spending more money on anti-aging potions or shoes.

Chemistry fun-fact: it’s totally not obvious that all of the electrons assigned to a metal in a complex are taken to be d electrons.  I can’t remember when/how I learned that, but I did my students a disservice by not devoting an appropriate amount of time to that idea.  We’ll try again on Monday.  Another thing we’ll try on Monday is making chromium(II) acetate, complete with quadruple bond!  I’m really excited for this lab.  We’re going to spend more time getting cozy with electrons and getting all in their business.

Spring Break is almost here. Thank goodness.

I had intended to keep this somewhat better updated, and as it stands, it will be better updated soon because I have gained a lot of insight these last two months and wish only to record a little piece of it right now.

One difficulty I ran into last semester and see I am running into this semester is that the homework problems I select are not always well-aligned to what and how I teach lecture material.  And this shouldn’t be too much of a problem, really, since one of the goals of college is to learn to put things and create knowledge for yourself.  So having homework problems that can’t be answered just by looking through notes is actually appropriate.

I’m surprised to continue to have that problem now, but an email I received makes me feel less like it’s my fault for having expectations.  The email was from a gen chem student in my lab section, asking a question about concepts I know they’ve done in lecture.  And it made me realize that some things don’t change and it’s not on me.  I just have to do the best I can to make the lecture material clear.

You know you’re desperate for baseball when you’re going to bed early for want of something to do.

Hi blog, I’m back.  I didn’t forget about you.  I’ve been busy and suddenly not busy.  I think I am about to be busy again.

I’m now in my second semester of teaching, encountering new problems and some surprising old ones.  I’m teaching an advanced class filled with seniors and some juniors, all of whom, I keep forgetting, do not know my subject like I do, and cannot be expected to pick things up as effortlessly as I imagine they should.  And they’re all actually busy, unlike the students in the gen chem class.  They have research and other advanced classes.

One of my favorite things about the advanced class may be the labs.  Of the six labs my mentor did, I am keeping two.  I have found four more labs I like and am designing another one.  They are, from what I can tell, a lot more synthesis-based, and one of them will have phosphines!  I need to remember to apologize in advance.

How much does a dollar weigh?

I just had a wonderful idea for teaching the concept of the mole, relating directly to the question given above.  Everyone knows that 100 pennies, 20 nickels, 10 dimes, 4 quarters, and a dollar bill all have the same buying power (though very little) but weigh different amounts.  One can exchange a dollar bill for 100 pennies and have the same amount of cash, though they have different masses.  It’s the same with moles.  You can have a mole of water and mole of copper and they won’t have the same masses, but will have the same number of particles.

I’m slowly preparing the answer key for the 11 page review packet I gave out.  Oops.  I’m going to finish the first two pages and make cookies.

Combustion is an oxidation-reduction reaction. And speaking of combustion…

One of the last topics we looked at this semester was oxidation-reduction reactions, and from what I can piece together from student concerns I did a fairly bad job explaining this.  I think there are several things I need to remember for when I teach this again, so I’m going to record them here, because why not?  In no particular order:

I realized that a lot of students struggled to interpret structures.  So in sulfuric acid, H2SO4, students might see “H2″ and not realize that these two hydrogens are not bonded to each other (oxidation state of zero) but to something else (oxidation state of +1).  I should have directed students a little more at the beginning as to how to read formulas.  And by beginning, I mean much sooner than looking at oxidation states.

One thing that is really on me is not always showing or writing down an oxidation state for each atom in a molecule.  Since the oxidation states have to sum to the charge on the molecule, seeing the oxidation state of each atom would probably helped some students.  For one student today I showed him how we can sum up the oxidation states to equal the charge of the molecule, but backwards.  So if what we know is the total charge and one of the oxidation states, we can solve for x.  I wish I had spent more time codifying this equation at the beginning.  If we are applying our shortcuts to, let’s say CO2, we see there are two oxygens.  Each has an oxidation state of -2, so altogether they are -4.  Since CO2 is a neutral molecule, the oxidation state on the carbon must be such that all the oxidation states sum to zero.  Well, x + -4 = 0, x = +4.

I also should have made the students do a lot more problems.  On the review day, I reminded them that we already looked at oxidation states in the context of electron sharing in bonds.  We drew a structure and assigned electrons to atoms based on electronegativity.  The short way to get them is to say oxygen is -2, hydrogen is +1, and halides are -1 (usually) and solve other atoms from there.

The students are taking an exam tomorrow , so I guess we’ll see how it goes.  For now I need to plan the final exam.

For my own sake and for all posterity

Teaching has been ambling along.  I have had classes and topics which I really liked and which went very well and classes and topics about which I was unexcited and so were the students and went horribly.  I did have a sort of mini breakthrough today when I realized two things.  First, I probably have adhered too rigidly to my proposed schedule and not allowed myself time in class to develop some ideas.  Second, I have given lectures without fully considering what it was that I wanted students to know or be able to do with an idea, and thus not building in time to work with that idea.

In the first case, I am particularly thinking about the idea of equilibrium, which I wish I had spent ten minutes or so introducing much earlier in the semester.  This would have allowed me to refer back to this extraordinarily important and useful concept in later topics.  In the second case, I am thinking of my brief talk on acid-base chemistry, where I lectured as to the nature of acids and bases, but the students did no calculations in class.  I gave them a homework question that asked them to do a ‘titration’ and it seemed like a lot of them could do it, although come to think of it, many showed no work and probably just copied answers from the back.  I am thinking about how acid-base chemistry was taught at Virginia, where far too much time is spent on it.  The students learn it differently and in a more rational context than what I taught.  Probably I should go over this with my own students.

Meanwhile, in baseball, Dayton Moore received an extension from the Royals.  I was sitting in a bar in Bellevue when I saw the ticker message at the bottom of a college football game.  I guess it’s comforting to know that one can be fantastically incompetent at one’s job and still be highly employable if one has certain knowledge.