Creighton University Webpage

A Pedagogical Philosophy

a.k.a. A Guide to General Chemistry

The following was originally meant as a guide to help students get into the right mindset for studying general chemistry as I (M.A.Freitag) present it, but over the years it has evolved into a general explanation of how I approach the courses I teach. In addition, it contains some suggestions that I hope will help you, the student, get the most out of your time here. For day-to-day information, see the syllabus for your current course.

High School vs. College
The Ultimate Objective
What's the point?
Fine... but all I really want is a good grade.
How should I approach the subject?
Why are the weekly problems so hard sometimes?
How about some practical studying advice?
A little help, here?
A Summary: Two Approaches
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

High School vs. College

    As a former high school teacher, I believe there are fundamental differences between learning in high school and studying in college. If you're just getting started in your undergraduate career, click on the above link and make sure you're familiar with these practical differences.

The Ultimate Objective

    From the above information about high school versus college, you may already realize what the Ultimate Objective is for this course: to master the material to the best of your ability in the time available. What does that mean? It means being able to communicate what you've learned clearly and completely to another intelligent person who may not know anything about chemistry. (Or, as I like to ask, 'Can you explain this to mom?') It means being able to apply what you've learned to situations and problems that you've never seen before. If you want to do well in this course, ultimately you need to demonstrate on problem sets and exams that you can indeed apply and communicate the material correctly and effectively.

    I don't know about you, but when I was 18 and heard that, I thought to myself, 'Lovely. Just how am I supposed to do that?' That's the Ultimate Question. Techniques differ from person to person. I can't tell you what you need to do to master the material. You really need to figure that out on your own. However, the course has been designed to give you the opportunity and assistance you need to figure it out. If the only thing you accomplish in this course is develop an understanding of how you learn—what it takes for you to truly learn something—then I will consider the course a success. (Of course, you'll still need to retake the course to learn some chemistry, but it'll be far more satisfying the second time around.)

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What's the point?

    Okay. So you're here to genuinely learn some general chemistry. Why?  What's the point?  For the majority of students taking a general chemistry course, the answer to this question is obvious: the point is to learn some chemistry. Well-meaning people have told you—by requiring you to take general chemistry—that you will need a basic understanding of matter in order to be successful in your future endeavors. It's basic knowledge... it's interesting—many times fascinating—and the pursuit of wisdom, even in the form of basic knowledge, is always a virtue.

    But every year, I can see the unspoken anguish in some of your eyes: "Auuugh... chemistry. Why do you torment me?!?" There is an undeniable truth hidden in your distress, and it must be admitted: There are more important things in life than chemistry.

    Having said that, let me be clear: I'm not saying that I think chemistry is unimportant or irrelevant. Chemists have made, and will continue to make, discoveries that improve our standard of living and help people; sometimes in obvious ways, other times in more subtle ways. (I will routinely embarrass myself with fits of unbridled chemical enthusiasm.)  I'm simply recognizing the fact that one can enter heaven without knowing any chemistry. So acknowledging this, along with the practical truth that your current vocational path requires a certain degree of chemical knowledge, is there a more fundamental meaning to general chemistry?

    Let's begin with a little background:  Aristotle said there were three "whys" or, as Peter Kreeft ('krehft') puts it, "...three purposes, ends or reasons for anyone ever to study and learn anything, in school or out of it." These three reasons correspond to Aristotle's three "sciences": the productive (e.g. farming, plumbing, engineering, etc.), practical (athletics, health sciences, politics, etc.), and theoretical (theology, philosophy, mathematics, physics, chemistry, etc.). The theoretical sciences seek the truth for the sake of knowing the truth, and any practical applications that result are considered a bonus. Kreeft explains: (1)

Theoretical sciences are more important than practical sciences for the very same reason practical sciences are more important than productive sciences: because their end and goal is more intimate to us. Productive sciences perfect some external thing in the material world that we use; practical sciences perfect our own action, our own lives; and theoretical sciences perfect our very selves, our souls, our minds. They make us bigger persons.

And that is the reason for going to college in the first place: not to make money, or things, or even to live better, but to be better, to be more, to grow your mind as you grow your body.

Or again, from Kreeft and Tacelli, S.J.: (2)

One of the things that distinguishes man from other animals is that he wants to know things, wants to find out what reality is like, simply for the sake of knowing.

Always keep in mind that truth is not merely the accumulation of data, as useful as that data might be; it's something deeper: (5)

Truth means more than knowledge: knowing the truth leads us to discover the good. Truth speaks to the individual in his or her entirety, inviting us to respond with our whole being.

    How does this apply specifically to chemistry?  I see two major points of departure. First, we can use chemistry as a vehicle to ask fundamental questions about nature and our place in it: What "laws" seem to govern light and matter?  Can we even begin to understand why the good Lord decided to put the physical world together the way he did?  Quid est veritas? St. Augustine wrote: (3)

Question the beauty of the earth, question the beauty of the sea, question the beauty of the air distending and diffusing itself, question the beauty of the sky... question all these realities. All respond: "See, we are beautiful."

Or again, from Pope Benedict XVI: (4)

[God] does not live in splendid solitude, rather He is the never-ending source of life Who incessantly gives and communicates Himself. We may get some idea of this by observing both the macro universe (our earth, the planets, the stars and galaxies) and the micro universe (cells, atoms, elementary particles).

As an educated person, you must learn to seek the truth: to question, to contemplate, to consider things you hadn't considered before. Why are things as they are and not some other way?  Is science the best context in which to ask this question?  The remarkable thing about nature is that it is mathematically consistent. As far as we can tell, it obeys the human invention of mathematics. (That in itself is quite remarkable.)  There is a right answer, and there is a wrong answer. Often times the truth of the matter is clear, because we can perform experiments to test our predictions. You can find the right answer if you know the basic principles of the problem and think logically. What better way to learn to seek the truth than to study the physical sciences?

    Along the way, we also learn humility: many times our predictions are wrong, and we must graciously accept our mistakes and strive to identify and correct the error. Humility "...protects us from the pride which bars the way to truth." (5)

Happy is the man who meditates on wisdom and reasons intelligently, who reflects in his heart on her ways and ponders her secrets. (Sirach 14:20-21)

    The second point of departure is even more basic. Pope St. John Paul II's biographer George Weigel has written, "The brave new world tells us that we ought to settle for a middling happiness in a life free of trouble. Catholicism tells us not only that we are capable of greatness, but that greatness is demanded of us."(8) Indeed, the Pope himself wrote,

The ways of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual. [...] The time has come to re-propose wholeheartedly to everyone this high standard of ordinary Christian living. (6)

For many people, the study of chemistry is a daunting challenge, but at the same time it is a unique opportunity to pursue greatness... a high standard of ordinary living. Obviously learning chemistry is not the kind of greatness the Pope had in mind, but it is a real opportunity to be a "bigger person" nonetheless. There is no doubt that it would be easier to settle for a half-hearted effort, especially in something as trivial as a general chemistry course, but are we not called to something greater?

    I think Shakespeare summarized both of these points well when he wrote:

                                                What is a man,
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more!
Sure he that made us with such large discourse,
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and godlike reason
To fust in us unus'd.
                                                (Hamlet: Act 4, Scene 4)

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Fine... but all I really want is a good grade.

    For many of you, deep down this is the bottom line. You've got bigger fish to fry: dental school, a biology major, professional school. I just want to get a decent grade and move on with what I really want to do. I will not fault you for those thoughts. I've had them myself. (With apologies to the psychology majors out there: Will this dopey child psych course ever be done?)

    I challenge you to set these feelings aside. Try to find the intrinsic worth of this course. (I hope it's there!) How can you get the most out of your time here?  If not in the material, then in the mental exercise. Find the good in it—you have to be here anyway. If you can find something to enjoy in the course rather than just tolerate it, you will better yourself, even if you hate chemistry. Heck, you may even be surprised to find some interesting tidbits here and there.

    If the only thing you are concerned about is your grade, you will most likely have trouble with this course.  Why?  The reasons are eminently practical: if there's no interest at all in learning anything, then in order to get a good grade, everything has to be memorized. Every problem is unique. Every definition is new. Nothing is connected. Can it be done?  Sure! It's a first-class pain in the butt, though, and it's hard. In my view, it's much easier to learn it than memorize it, although the two are complimentary.

    So let's say you've read through all this, and you're still thinking to yourself, "I just don't care... I don't like chemistry. It doesn't speak to me. I don't see how it relates to my everyday life."

    Okay... here's an analogy that might help: I used to run a lot of track and field, and the first few weeks were always spent running long distances. I was a sprinter and a jumper. I didn't like running long distances. I didn't want to run long distances. I didn't feel a personal connection to it and I didn't always see how it related to sprinting and jumping. It was, however, conditioning. I needed to do it to get into shape. How do you build up muscle?  You tear it down. Run 'til you drop. When the muscle regenerates, it comes back stronger. Do you think your mind is any different?  In my experience, it's not. A little bit of frustration and hard work is good for the mind, just like a ten mile run is good for the body. Don't like it?  Do it anyway... it's called fortitude.

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How should I approach the subject?

    I believe there are two main paths to an abstract, yet practical understanding of chemistry. Both are perfectly acceptable, and can lead to the same destination: a working knowledge of chemical principles. The first is to understand chemical ideas through personal discovery and problem solving. So you want to know what equilibrium is?  Well, here's some guiding principles, now sit down and do these problems. In doing them, you will probably develop a solid notion of what equilibrium means. It's a bit like learning how an engine works by taking it apart piece-by-piece and putting it back together. The second path is to solve the problems by first having a firm grasp on the ideas. In this approach, the idea of equilibrium is presented, and then you can confirm and enhance your understanding of the idea by applying it... by doing problems. It's like learning how an engine works by first studying the purpose for each part. What's a valve spring for?  What is it supposed to do?  By building on previous ideas others have proposed, you'll have a much better idea of what to look for when you do take it apart. Notice that taking it apart (problem solving) is a fundamental part of both approaches.

    Every chemistry instructor will do a bit of both: one instructor might focus their presentation on problems and how to solve them, commenting on underlying chemical principles along the way; another instructor will focus on the logical development of ideas, and then apply those ideas to specific problems. I definitely tend to emphasize the latter. I believe that if you understand the idea, you can more easily apply it to many different kinds of problems. I therefore spend a fair amount of time in lecture trying to make the ideas clear. Of course, most people won't understand the idea just from a theoretical discussion of it. That's where problem solving comes in. I assign problems that I hope will enhance your understanding of the idea. I do not assign problems for their own sake. Do you care where the equilibrium lies for a mixture of dinitrogen tetroxide and nitrogen dioxide at 115 oC?  Neither do I, but if you can solve that problem, you probably have a fairly good notion of what equilibrium means and how it is affected by temperature. After you solve a problem, you should always ask yourself, 'What idea were they trying to get across?  Why did they assign this problem?  What's the point?' I can assure you, the point is not to know the specific answer to that specific problem. No one cares. The point is to help you understand an idea. If you approach each problem as a template for how to do other problems like it, you have the wrong approach. This course ought to be much more than a training seminar for laboratory grunt work.

    Always remember: ultimately this course is what you make of it.

    On a related tangent, I heard a quote once that went something like this: The human mind is incapable of understanding the answer to a question that has not been asked. I think there's a profound truth there in many facets of life, but particularly when learning something as abstract and arcane as chemistry. Take a mathematical example: √2 ≈ 1.41421... you know that this represents the number that, when multiplied by itself, gives exactly two. Taken at face value, this seems to be no more than a useless bit of mathematical trivia; however, if you've asked yourself the question, "If I have a square plot of land 1 mile by 1 mile, how far is it diagonally from corner to corner?" Then, 1.414 miles has a far more concrete, understandable meaning. In lecture, I try to help form the questions so that you're not trying to digest answers without the benefit of a context. (It took hundreds of years to formulate the questions we'll discuss, so I think it's horribly unrealistic to expect you to come up with them on your own or in a group.) But ultimately, you need to make the questions your own, so that the answer has meaning. This observation, I think, is why the "personal discovery" approach I mentioned earlier is so popular today. It focuses your efforts on developing the questions that eventually need to be asked. "Question the beauty of the earth, question the beauty of the sea..."

    I've told you a bit about my lecturing philosophy here, but it is important to realize that genuine learning does not happen in lecture. This is a major change from your high school days, where you probably only thought about a subject during class and ended up doing fine. Granted, you could take that approach here as well and you'd probably remember enough to get by, at least until the course is done. (That will leave you extra time to marinate in the lukewarm glow of your own mediocrity: mmm... satisfying.) Lecture can help to raise questions, clarify ideas, present materials in a way you hadn't thought of before, etc., but eventually you have to ponder these things on your own if you truly want to learn the material. (The next few sections will elaborate on this.)

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Why are the problem sets so hard sometimes?

    A fair question. Hopefully in light of the above, the answer to this is clear: The problem sets are meant to be challenging. They are meant to push you, to encourage you (sometimes with the carrot of a few points) to think about the problems and ideas in ways you normally wouldn't—to consider, to contemplate, to question—to seek the truth. Are they frustrating?  Yes, they can be. Do they take a fair amount of your precious time?  Yes, they can. Will you see problems like them on the exam?  No... there typically isn't time on an exam for these kinds of problems. My hope is that the problem sets give you an opportunity to enhance your understanding of the ideas. On the exams, I'm simply trying to find out how deeply you understand the basic ideas. It's part of my job; I must evaluate your level of understanding at this point in time and report it in a standardized way to others. So in terms of understanding, I think the problem sets are a vital piece of the puzzle, but again, you'll only get out of them what you put into them. They are conditioning workouts for your mind... you could walk four miles of the ten mile run, and coach would never know. If you push yourself, no one may ever know, but over time you'll know what you are capable of intellectually.

If I experience pain, relief will come in due course. If I am offered tribulation, it will serve for my purification. Does gold shine in the craftsman's furnace? It will shine later when it forms part of the collar, when it is jewelry. But, for the time being, it puts up with being in the fire because when it sheds its impurities it will acquire its brilliant shine. (9)

The ways of the Lord are not easy, but we were not created for an easy life, but for great things, for goodness. (10)

    A practical note: I post my detailed solutions to the problems on the course webpage on their due date. So, if I don't have them corrected or returned to you as fast as you'd like, you can still study from them using the solutions provided. Finally, I have another page here with much more on how to approach the problem sets constructively.

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How about some practical studying advice?

    There are some general, common-sense type things that are worth mentioning: Don't procrastinate. Don't be lazy. Chemistry does not lend itself to cramming... unless you have a photographic memory, there's just too much material. Take advantage of the resources that are available: myself, tutors (freely available from the Center for Student Success and Retention), discussion groups, posted notes, etc.

    Practical advice and strategies differ from person to person. In the old days, all the great physicists that you may have heard of (Einstein, Bohr, Schrödinger, Heisenberg, etc.) learned (when they were in their teens and early 20's) by individual study coupled with long walks in the countryside with friends, discussing the issues and their thoughts. Many times group work and discussions like these can be just what the doctor ordered. Others (myself included) prefer to work alone.

    You are learning to learn and think rigorously in search of the truth. Part of that means you need to find an approach that works for you. I can offer suggestions, but they should only be part of a more fundamental soul-searching on your part. Push yourself to find out what you are capable of. Don't be satisfied with a superficial understanding or with rote memorization... if you're doing that, you've failed to learn any science. Indeed, St. Thomas Aquinas went further and said: (11)

[I]t is evident that a man whose mind holds a conclusion without knowing how it is proved, has not scientific knowledge, but merely an opinion about it.

    Now, having said all that, it has become increasingly clear in the last several years that many students simply don't know how to study. They genuinely don't know what 'studying' physically entails, or what it truly means to 'know' something. So, assuming you find yourself in that category, let's start with what it is not:  Studying is not trying a few of the suggested problems from the end of the chapter. Studying is not just doing the problem sets. Studying is not casually flipping through your lecture notes. Studying is not reading through whole chapters of the textbook in one sitting.

    So what is it?  In the physical sciences, 'studying' generally means picking up a pencil and sitting down with your textbook and lecture notes and working through the material. That means starting with a blank sheet of paper and thinking through the day's lecture topics in detail, working out from scratch any examples and derivations that were done. (Was this step in the derivation logically necessary, or was it a definition or an approximation?)  It means doing practice problems as a self-test of your understanding of those ideas. It means being happy when you get a problem wrong, because you know the process of figuring out why you were wrong is going to be an excellent opportunity to fine-tune your understanding of the ideas. It means working the assigned problems in different ways to get another perspective on things. (e.g. Start with the answer and try to calculate the given information.)  It means looking for connections between what we did in lecture today and what we did two weeks ago. It means constantly asking yourself why? (Why is this definition necessary?  Why do I have to do this?) and finding the answer.  Studying is an active, time consuming activity that requires your full attention and focus.  Or, as Kreeft and Tacelli, S.J. put it, "It takes great mental activity and effort to be docile, that is, teachable." (12)  Be open to truly learning something new, something that challenges your current level of knowledge and understanding. Don't be content with a shallow understanding of the material.

    In my experience, studying is enjoyable in the sense that track practice is enjoyable. (I ran track, but you can insert your favorite sport or skill instead.)  Who really likes running quarter-mile sprints?  Who really likes practicing scales over and over again when learning an instrument?  At the time, those things can be frustrating and exhausting, but over time you see the benefit of doing it. That's what studying should feel like. Now, we all know people that barely got up to a jog in track practice. Generally speaking, those folks didn't get much out of the exercise, and they probably didn't like track practice that much... ever. If you push yourself, you'll be proud of your efforts, and over time I think you will enjoy the exercise, even if it's still frustrating and exhausting at times. (It certainly still is for me when I'm learning something new.)

    I would also caution you against an over-emphasis on web based learning. Now, don't get me wrong: technology can be a wonderful thing and, prudently used, can be an excellent pedagogical tool. But at the end of the day, we're human beings and we need to engage with other people. We also need time to think, and the internet's instant-gratification paradigm doesn't lend itself to that. As Pope Benedict XVI has said so well at different times: (13)

If the desire for virtual connectedness becomes obsessive, it may in fact function to isolate individuals from real social interaction while also disrupting the patterns of rest, silence, and reflection that are necessary for healthy human development.

[W]e cannot stop at reading the news if we wish to understand the world and life; we must be able to pause in silence, in meditation, in calm, prolonged reflection; we must know how to stop and think.

    You have been raised amid a culture of mindless entertainment, distraction, and noise; a culture whose greatest fear seems to be the whisper of a still, small voice. You have an opportunity now in your college years to discover the beauty of silence and serious thought. Don't let it pass by.

    I have another page of more specific study suggestions here, as well as typical characteristics and attitudes of A, B, C, and D level students. Have a look.

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A little help, here?

    I've made it seem like it's all on your shoulders, haven't I?  For the most part, it is. Your success or failure in this course will ultimately be a function of your effort, dedication, and God-given potential. Or, as someone once said as they were summarizing St. Thomas Aquinas' philosophy of teaching: (14)

[Learning] is a process of self-activity, self-direction, and self-realization of man's highest potentialities. Extrinsic agents—teachers, textbooks, and the whole range of the social tradition, are merely the conditions of its development. They are aids; the process is one of self-development.

Just remember, as Weigel noted: As a human being made in the image of your Creator, you are capable of greatness, and you are not in this alone. If you feel yourself falling behind, please come and see me—even if you can't identify a specific problem. If I think you're doing fine, I'll say so. If not, we'll figure out how to get you back up to speed. If you need some other form of assistance, please don't hesitate to ask. If you want to learn, I want to help. Don't wait until it's too late to do anything. (Yes, there will come a time when it's too late to do anything.)

    For much more practical help advice, see this page.

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A Summary: Two Approaches

    Given the above, I have implied that there are two basic approaches to this course. The following practical questions may help you to see where your philosophies lie:

  • Do you find yourself spending about three hours (or more) studying outside of lecture for every hour in lecture?
  • Do you question the material, and challenge yourself to develop a deeper understanding?
  • Do you test your understanding by doing the suggested problems?
  • After studying, do you feel like you could teach someone else the material and answer their questions?
  • Do you spend some time just thinking about the ideas or discussing problems with others so that you begin to understand things in your own way?
  • Do you consider your time here a unique opportunity to better yourself?

  • Do you only think about chemistry in lecture?
  • Do you use the textbook only as a reference and source of suggested problems?
  • Do you approach the suggested problems as templates for how to do other problems like them?
  • Do you forget the relevant ideas shortly after the exam (i.e., is studying for the final like starting over from scratch)?
  • Do you constantly ask yourself, "Will I need to know this for the exam?"
  • Are you satisfied with a superficial understanding of the material?

    No one can force you to take either approach. I propose that you will benefit more from the former, but at the end of the day it really is up to you. I'm simply throwing all of this out there as something for you to consider.

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Frequently Asked Questions

1. What do I need to know for the exam?

  Everything, and in great detail.  You do yourself a great disservice if you approach this course as a list of things to temporarily memorize. Instead, your goal should be to learn some chemistry. You're (literally) paying too much to settle for anything less, not to mention the fact that it's beneath your dignity to do any less.

Now, I don't mean to fault you for asking the question. I remember asking my professor what I needed to know for the exam once. His answer (given above) taught me a lot. Obviously, it's impossible for us lowly creatures to know everything in great detail, but the idea is to get as close to that lofty aspiration as possible. As is often the case, St. Augustine said it better: (15)

You should always be unhappy with what you are, if you want to attain what you are not yet. For when you were content with yourself, you stayed where you were. If you say 'enough,' you are finished that very minute. Always grow, always work on, always advance.

Or again, from St. Bernard: (16)

No one deserves to be called good who does not strive to be better; and when you begin not to want to be better, you cease to be good.

2. How do I know which topics are more important than others?

  That's a good question. Prioritization is an important skill you need to develop, but it comes with time and experience. To help with that, I will provide sheets that give a fairly detailed list of the big ideas and competencies you need to take away from the material covered for each exam. If it's on that list, then you definitely need to be thinking about it. I write the exams largely from that list and the lecture notes; I simply look at the list and write questions based on the ideas found there.

Again, these lists outline what you need to know in fairly broad terms. There isn't space to methodically write out every little thing you need to know. (That's called your textbook.)

3. I know all this stuff already, but I'm still doing poorly on exams. What should I do?

  I've heard this question with increasing frequency over the last few years. I think people are sincere when they ask it, but when you see it in black and white like this, it sounds a little, well... silly.

It seems to me that there are two possibilities here:  You really don't know it all already, or you do.

The first possibility can be hard to admit, but humility demands it. You may have had an excellent high school chemistry course; you may have had two years of AP chemistry; you may have done extremely well in any or all of these classes; you may have studied for hours on end before the exam, but I'll be honest with you: you haven't scratched the surface of what there is to know. I've got a Ph.D. in molecular quantum mechanics, and I've been 'doing' chemistry for about eight hours a day, five days a week since 1996, but any one of the faculty members in the department could easily stump me with a well-chosen general chemistry question. I always learn new things or see things from a slightly different angle every time I teach general chemistry. I have no doubt the same will be true if, God willing, I'm still doing this 30 years from now. Again, see the quotes from St. Augustine and St. Bernard under question 1 above.

The other possibility is that you do know all the material that we're covering already. In that case, there's nothing I can do to help you!

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.  (Mark 2:17b)

4. Will I lose points for not writing down the units in my calculations?

  Yes. I usually set aside two points for proper units and significant figures in calculations. Numbers by themselves (unless they happen to be unitless, like a mole fraction) don't mean anything without the proper unit. Also, it's very difficult to get a problem totally wrong if you pay attention to and use the units throughout the calculation. Many of the mistakes I see result from being lazy or sloppy with units.

5. Will I lose points for having the wrong number of significant figures?

  Yes; see the above question. Numbers without the right number of significant figures are misleading at best, and disgusting lies at worst. When using the significant figures approximation, numbers tell a story about how accurate a physical measurement is, and so they can't be ignored.

6. What if I just write down the answer to a question with no work shown?

  You probably won't get many points. As discussed above, I don't give a hoot about the specific answer to that specific question. It's not the point. Problems are an opportunity for you to demonstrate your ability to apply and communicate ideas. Just writing down the answer (or writing down the answer with the bare minimum of work shown) doesn't do that. Now obviously, if it's a question that asks for some information that you should know (e.g., what is the molecular formula for the ammonium ion?) then yes, of course, you'll get full credit for just writing down the answer.

7. How do I get extra help?

  An excellent question... this stuff isn't easy! I've put together a separate webpage that outlines a number of options if you're starting to get concerned about your progress. See this page for much more about extra help in this (and other) courses.

8. What happens if I have a bad exam?

  Believe it or not, but I got a big, fat D on one of my general chemistry exams... it's no fun, but it seems like it happens to most people sooner or later. It's not the end of the world, but it should serve as a very clear and very serious wake-up call if you do have a bad exam. If it happens, see question 7 above, as well as this page for much more specific suggestions about how to better prepare for the next one. Two bad exams are hard to recover from grade-wise.

9. Do you have any pet peeves I should be aware of?

  For the most part, I think I'm fairly easy-going. I don't care for the intricate origami-like folding of paper corners some people do in lieu of a staple. (It makes it hard to stack papers.) If you don't have a stapler, just put your name on each sheet... I'll staple it for you.

Related to that, make sure your problem sets are neat. If you tear pages out of your notebook to hand something in, it's considerate to remove the ragged edge that results. (Again, much easier to make a nice stack. Almost all notebooks have a perforated edge specifically for this purpose.)

Finally, I wouldn't call it a pet peeve, but if you really want to try my patience, stop by my office or send an email (about some basic, fundamental idea we've been discussing for the past two weeks) 24 hours or less before an exam. I'm certainly not going to send you away or give you a lecture, but I'll know you're probably procrastinating or not taking the course seriously, and that tends to be a test of my forbearance.

10. Any other pearls of wisdom I can't live without?

  Since you ask, sure:  Don't email your professors the same way you text-message your friends. One-line messages with no salutation, signature, or punctuation will give any reasonable person a bad impression of you that may be entirely unwarranted. Take it from someone who was sending emails before most people knew what email was: the extra courtesy and 'netiquette' is worth the effort.

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1Kreeft, P. "Why Study Philosophy and Theology?" Catholic Education Resource Center.
2Kreeft, and Tacelli, S.J. Handbook of Catholic Apologetics: Reasoned Answers to Questions of Faith, Ignatius Press, 2009, p. 412.
3Sermo, 241, 2, as quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 32.
4Vatican Information Service, June 7, 2009. Pope Benedict XVI, "The Name of the Holy Trinity Is Engraved in the Universe"
5Pope Benedict XVI, Meeting with Young University Professors, Madrid, Spain, 19 Aug 2011.
6Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, 31, 6 Jan 2001. Emphasis in original.
7Pope Benedict XVI, Meeting with Catholic Educators, Washington, D.C., 17 April 2008.
8Weigel, G. The Truth of Catholicism, Cliff Street Books, 2001, p. 18.
9St. Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos, 61, 11 (or 62, 7).
10Pope Benedict XVI, Address to German Pilgrims, Rome, 25 Apr 2005.
11St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Secudna Secundae Partis, q. 5 a. 3. See, for example, the New Advent website.
12Reference 2, p. 220.
13(First quote) Pope Benedict XVI, Message for the 43rd World Communications Day, 24 May 2009. (Second quote) Homily, Te Deum and First Vespers of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, 31 December 2012.
14Fitzpatrick, E.A. in Mayer, M.H. The Philosophy of Teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, p. 8.
15Sermo, 169, 18, as quoted in the Navarre Bible: New Testament in the Revised Standard Version, commentary on Phil. 3:12-16.
16Letters: Epistolae: Patrologia Latina 182, 62-722.
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