Biology Examples Give MIT Students a New Perspective on Chemistry

Published in: Howard Hughes Medical Institute: Science Education News

When Allison Hamilos came to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last year, she dreaded having to take the mandatory general chemistry course for freshmen. Eyeing a future in medicine, she couldn’t see much point in learning chemistry.

“I didn’t like chemistry at all in high school,” says Hamilos, now a sophomore. “I was really surprised to find out how much I liked it in college and how relevant it is to biology. (It) has been my favorite class at MIT so far.”

That’s exactly what Hamilos’s teacher, HHMI Professor Catherine Drennan, had in mind when she infused her introductory chemistry lectures with examples from biology and medicine. “I have been totally amazed by the huge impact this small change has made in terms of the students’ attitude about the connections between biology and chemistry,” Drennan says. “They really see that chemistry is the heart of biology and that is a big change.”

[Editor's note: Second half of the article talks about how an assessment of the learning outcomes by TLL helped Professor Drennan determine whether students learned anything different from the biology examples.]

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