Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Chemical Calculators and homework problems

Tl;dr: I am looking at questions posted at Reddit's Chemhelp page to see how many can be helped by freely available computational tools. You can see the ongoing experiment here.

Before the general availability of conventional pocket calculators every chemistry student has to be able to compute the values of common mathematical functions such as square roots and logarithmic functions by hand or slide rule. Now we no longer teach this skill which frees up time to focus on chemistry and we can assign harder problems or more problems involving such functions because they can be solved much faster with a calculator.

However, there are now several software packages and phone-apps that can solve chemical problems such as chemical nomenclature or balancing chemical reactions.  However, we are not making use of these tools and spending an inordinate amount of time teaching these concepts. Concepts which are becoming the chemical equivalent of the square root function.  Perhaps we could focus on more interesting chemical problems and leave the memorization and other tedious tasks to the computer. I think chemistry would become a more interesting subject as a result.

To test how far along we are on this path, I am looking at questions posted at Reddit's Chemhelp page to see how many can be helped by freely available computational tools. You can see the ongoing experiment here.

UPDATE 2013.12.25: ... and here on Yahoo Answers.

Please join me!

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