Chapter 7: Scaffolding Synthesis Skills in Organic Chemistry
Published:17 May 2021
A. B. Flynn, in Problems and Problem Solving in Chemistry Education: Analysing Data, Looking for Patterns and Making Deductions, ed. G. Tsaparlis, The Royal Society of Chemistry, 2021, ch. 7, pp. 145-165.
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Synthesis questions in organic chemistry ask students to bring together knowledge from many aspects of the course and frequently have multiple possible solutions. They can therefore prove quite challenging. In an educational system that frequently only rewards correct solutions, organic synthesis problem solving provides an opportunity to emphasize and reward all phases of problem solving – especially the early phases that involve generating idea – and foster metacognitive skill development. In this chapter, I outline activities that can be used to scaffold students’ learning of synthesis problem solving. These activities are aligned with the following problem-solving phases: (1) Orientation: assess the situation; (2) Exploration: considering possible options; (3) Investigation: choosing probable best steps; (4) Proof: verification and analysis for issues. I emphasize the idea that true problem solving is messy, requiring multiple iterations and trial-and-error. I draw on research from my group and others in areas where we have evidence of student success connected with given strategies and indicate activities that lack empirical evidence of effectiveness. The activities suggested can be used in digital and in-person environments, including on assessments, amenable to implementation during the current high level of remote teaching due to the pandemic.