So I have been attending class now for two weeks – this includes lecture on Monday from 8-10 am., more lecture and weekly quiz on Thursday morning from 8-9, and lab on Thursday from 2-5 pm. I am in a 2nd year Organic Chemistry course taught by Dr. Brian Koivisto. My classmates come from a few different majors including Chemistry and Biomedical Science. The course has two first year general chemistry prerequisites which I do not have…more on that in a future post.
When I went to my first class the Thursday morning after Labour day weekend I was strangely nervous. I had spent some time the evenings prior reading the first chapter of the assigned text book and had already become pretty confused with the material a few pages in. I was riding the escalator to the top floor of the building at Yonge and Dundas to the Cineplex theatres which are used in the morning by Ryerson as classrooms. Everything came flooding back…the first day of school, walking into a new class, unsure where to sit and what to expect. I sat down and pulled out my notebook and my pen ready to take notes as I had always done in university courses that I took as a real student between 1985 and 1996. Dr. Koivisto, or Brian as he told the class he prefers to be called, started talking about the course and what will happen over the course of the semester. I was scribbling down in my notebook what he was saying and then looked around a bit and saw I was the only one writing anything down. All the other students had already downloaded his slides onto their laptops and mobile devices and were following along that way.
I spend a lot of time thinking about our students, the experience that they are having and how we can support them. Everything I am responsible for at the university involves interaction with students outside of the classroom and I really appreciate this opportunity to observe and participate in what our students hear and experience inside the classroom. The professor for this course is clearly a committed teacher and is very approachable. Brian said to us on this first day, “you can’t be afraid to fail because ultimately you will be afraid to learn”. He asked each of us to spend at least 10 minutes each day thinking about we learned that day…”sometimes you are treading water so fast you can’t stop long enough to see where you have moved in the lake”. This was really great advice for our students and for all of us. We get so busy we forget to stop and spend some time thinking about what we did, learned, accomplished, etc.
I left that first class realizing that I was really going to have to learn a new “foreign to me” language. I had to start by learning (ie. memorizing) the symbols for 13 functional groups such as Alkenes, Esters, Aldehydes, Carboxylic Acids and Ketones and how to recognize them in a drawing of a larger molecule. I made functional group flashcards for myself and had my sister (when i visited her on the weekend), a friend and a staff member at work test me on them. The night before our first quiz this past Thursday as I was studying the material that I was supposed to know. I found some online quizzes to test myself and at some point it just clicked and I knew and could recognize them all. I will report on my next blog post whether I was actually successful on the quiz or not but I felt ready for the quiz. I found myself reverting back to the rituals that used to define my test and exam preparation for over 13 years of higher education. I study until I think I know the material or I can’t study anymore and then I sleep…I always had to sleep between studying and writing…I was convinced it made the material sink into my brain further. I also don’t review anything before going into the room to write…if I don’t know it I am not going to learn it in the moments before the quiz is distributed.
On Thursday afternoon I went to the first lab session. I will be playing more of an observer role in the lab. I still have to get all the needed equipment – lab coat, safety glasses and gloves – before my next lab and do an online safety orientation. I am looking forward to getting to know my lab partners, Adeeba and Ilham who were kind enough to let me be a third wheel in their partnership.
I have to be frank – I am not particularly interested in chemistry…of course that might change after a semester of studying it. But I am interested in whether I can attend the same classes, read the same material, try the practice problems and study for the quizzes and learn enough to pass the course. I am also interested in getting to know some of our science students, where they come to Ryerson from, why they chose to study science, and what they hope for their futures.
Lots in store for this coming week – more new material to learn, another quiz to prepare for on Thursday, a week of activities being run by the Office for Science Outreach and Engagement for Science Literacy Week, and the beginning of the Supported Learning Groups (SLGs) for Organic Chemistry being offered by our Student Learning Support Services unit. My nephew is in his third year at Carleton studying Chemistry…if only he was closer I could ask him to be my tutor. The SLGs might be my lifeline to get through this course unscathed.