PJB Teaching Page
                       
  Courses|Evalutions|Handouts  
                       
                       
  I have a confession. I know I am not supposed to admit it, but I love teaching. Don’t get me wrong—I love research too—but there is something about passing knowledge to successive generations that is so purely constructive that I don’t see how you could do anything but enjoy it.  
                       

 

Aside from the satisfaction of helping students learn, teaching has also given me the chance to continue thinking about the foundational material of chemistry that made me fall in love with the subject in the first place. And one irony in teaching others is that you regularly find that you are the one who learns the most. Teaching is excellent at identifying even the smallest gaps in your knowledge, as students are very proficient at exposing inconsistencies in the material presented to them. Unfortunately—or fortunately, for those of us interested in making fundamental strides in research—there are many such inconsistencies in what we think we know about chemical reactivity.

 

                     
Course Materials  
                       
  Please select a link below to go to the page that indexes material for the course.  
                       
  Organic Chemistry I and II  
                       
                     
Teaching Evaluations  
     
  A recent column in Nature Chemistry brought my attention to Berate My Professor, a blog written by an anonymous professor of chemistry. Inspired by the thoughtful and humorous tidbits that the mystery professor extracts from his teaching evaluations, I decided to go back and have a look through mine.  
     
  When you’re teaching, you get used to being the person responsible for handing out grades, so the close of each semester brings an element of surprise when the tables are turned and you must face the judgment of your students. Many instructors bemoan student evaluations as flawed, but I look forward to them. As readers of my blog will note, I value all forms of feedback. Perhaps there is a skewed element to the process in that teacher evaluations are made public while student grades are not, but I have no problem with that aspect of the system. Teachers, in theory, are more mature and should be able to handle public criticism. Furthermore, students (and their parents) are paying for a service and deserve to collect information to guide their decisions. While disgruntled students may use the anonymous forum to exact revenge on teachers they dislike for personal reasons, I have to believe that these cases constitute the minority. Having participated on both ends of the evaluation process, I think that the majority of students provide thoughtful praise and criticism. That’s not to say that the feedback is always polite, but it is usually honest.  
     
  Below, for your enjoyment, I have posted a scanned copy of every single student evaluation I have received from the courses I’ve taught. These records are complete; I have not omitted any negative evaluations or censored any negative comments. To respect the privacy of my colleagues, in instances where other teachers were evaluated on the same page as me, I have redacted their names using black rectangles.  
     
     
  Spring 2003: Chem 27 – The Organic Chemistry of Life  
     
  My first gig as the leader of a recitation section at Harvard was for Chem 27, the "Organic Chemistry of Life" (PDF of course evaluations).  
     
  I played soccer for six years as a goalkeeper, and looking back on the experience, I cannot remember any of the saves that I made. Not one. But I can remember most of the goals I let in, and my most vivid memory of my athletic career is of our team losing the final of an all-star tournament on penalty kicks. A similar bias in my recollection holds true for my teaching evaluations. Despite the fact that I had a good set of evals and won a teaching award from the College for my work in Chem 27, the only comment I can remember is this one:  
     
    Bracher was quite good. At times, however, he did not adequately understand the subject material.    
     
  Grrrrrr. After viewing this comment for the first time, I tried to figure out if it referred to a specific lesson, but I came up with nothing. In hindsight, it should not have come as a surprise. This was the first course I'd ever taught and my section was filled with a bunch of hard-charging premedical students at the greatest university on the planet. That said, there can be no excuses. I just wish the comment were a little more specific.  
     
  My wish for specificity is one-sided, because I have no problems accepting general comments like “Paul is the man.” This first set of evaluations did a lot to impress upon me that students really appreciate humor, good review handouts, and hard practice problems (with solutions). Seeing comments like the following really made my day:  
     
    Paul was amazing – dedicated, enthusiastic, and extremely helpful. Fabulous handouts, extra office hours – I won the TF lottery!    
     
     
  Fall 2003: Chem 30 – Organic Chemistry  
     
  The next semester, I packed up the lessons I'd learned from Chem 27 and stepped up to the plate in Chem 30, the second semester of organic chemistry for majors at Harvard. It was a great experience, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Come evaluation time, for an instant, I knew what Don Larsen must have felt like in the ’56 Series, the excitement that coursed through Mary Lou Retton after her vault in the 1984 games, and the elation experienced by the ’72 Dolphins. I had a perfect semester: 5/5 responses from every single student on every single evaluation criterion (PDF of evaluations).  
     
  I know people on the Internet only want to see my negative and insulting evaluations, so I’ll just move on. Sorry, there were none. I also won't mention that I had the good fortune to go on to be recognized by the chemistry department’s highest teaching honor: the Dudley Hershbach Teaching Award.  
     
     
  Fall 2004: Chem 30 – Organic Chemistry  
     
  I had the opportunity to teach Chem 30 again the next year with a new (world famous) professor. Again, it was a great experience. For the first time, instead of having to start my handouts from scratch, I had the opportunity to focus my effort on making quality revisions and taking the handouts to the next level. I think the students appreciated the effort too, especially since some of them felt frustrated at the challenging problems presented by the professor that year.
I am all for hard problems, but you quickly learn that if you’re going to assign hard problems, you’re going to have to spend a lot of time in office hours or review sessions if you want to avoid a student revolt. My student evaluations did not rise to the level of perfection attained in Fall ’03, but I’ll stand by them any day (PDF of evaluations).
 
     
  I think the pinnacle of praise is when students who are not in your class start showing up in your class for fun. Of course, this can be especially rewarding when it’s time for evaluations:  
     
    I really didn’t have Paul as my section leader, but I attended his section because of time conflicts and because he’s so amazingly good. I really appreciated the time and effort he put into preparing for his section and that he tried to make it fun (he’s funny! =D)… Improve [section] by cloning Paul and making him the only section leader.    
     
     
  Saint Louis University  
     
  Now that I'm an assistant professor at Saint Louis University, I figure I'll just post my "official" student evaluations here. These files are the reports collected by the department based on a Web survey sent out to all of the students registered for a course. I am posting these files unedited and without comment. The only general comment I care to make is that I think students should have access to some type of evaluation data to help inform their decision when it comes to selecting courses and instructors. If it were up to me, I'd just make the departmental evaluations available on the SLU network.  
                       
    Fall 2013 Chem 346 – Organic Chemistry I (PDF)    
    Fall 2013 Chem 391 – Introduction to Chemical Literature (PDF)    
    Spring 2014 Chem 347 – Organic Chemistry II (PDF)    
                       
                       
                     
Teaching Handouts – Harvard Chem 30: Organic Chemistry II
                       
  And here they are...the complete set of handouts I wrote for teaching my section of the second semester of orgo for majors at Harvard. The "extra" problem sets are simply extra practice problems I gave my section on top of the "real" problem sets given to the entire course. I am particularly proud of the undergrad synthesis guide, which is a guidebook to approaching the universally feared synthesis problems encounted only on sophomore exams (and rarely in real life). I used these handouts to supplement an extra two-hour review session in Pfizer Lecture Hall that probably generated the highest attendance of any talk I've ever given. Orgo students love exam reviews!  
                       
  Section 01 – Section Information (PDF)  
  Section 01 – Molecular Orbitals, Stereoelectronic Effects, and Aromatic Substitution (PDF)  
  Section 01 – Extra Problem Set (PDF)  
  Section 01 – Extra Solution Set (PDF)  
                       
  Section 02 – How to Win Chem 30 (PDF)  
  Section 02 – Bonding, Cycloadditions, and Carbocation Mechanisms (PDF)  
  Section 02 – Extra Problem Set (PDF)  
  Section 02 – Extra Solution Set (PDF)  
                       
  Section 03 – Terpene Biosynthesis (PDF)  
                       
  Section 04 – Carbonyl Chemistry I (PDF)  
  Section 04 – Extra Problem Set (PDF)  
  Section 04 – Extra Solution Set (PDF)  
                       
  Exam I Review – Extra Problem Set (PDF)  
  Exam I Review – Extra Solution Set (PDF)  
                       
  Section 05 – Carbonyl Chemistry II, Stereoselective Additions (PDF)  
  Section 05 – Extra Problem Set (PDF)  
  Section 05 – Extra Solution Set (PDF)  
                       
  Section 06 – Carboxylic Acids (PDF)  
  Section 06 – Extra Problem Set (PDF)  
  Section 06 – Extra Solution Set (PDF)  
                       
  Section 07 – Exam II Study Guide (PDF)  
  Section 07 – Extra Problem Set (PDF)  
  Section 07 – Extra Solution Set (PDF)  
                       
  Section 08 – Carbonyl Chemistry III, Reactivity at the Alpha Position (PDF)  
  Section 08 – Extra Problem Set (PDF)  
  Section 08 – Extra Solution Set (PDF)  
                       
  Section 09 – Carbonyl Chemistry IV, Enolate Alkylations and Aldols (PDF)  
                       
  Section 11 – Carbonyl Chemistry V, Guide to Solving Alpha Carbonyl Chemistry Problems (PDF)  
                       
  Section 12 – Orbital Symmetry and Pericyclic Reactions (PDF)  
                       
  Synthesis Review – Undergraduate Organic Synthesis Guide (PDF)  
  Synthesis Review – Problem Set (PDF)  
  Synthesis Review – Solution Set (PDF)  
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
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