Big Ideas at ChemEd X

Shultz's JCE article

In the article “Reactions Catalyzed by an Assault on a Favorite Principle”1, Emeric Schultz (who incidentally taught me General Chemistry, was my undergraduate advisor, and is now a dear friend and colleague) argues the following:

“Although I have read and heard about ‘big ideas’ in chemistry, I have never seen a commensurate effort to work toward a high school chemistry program that starts from…big ideas and works down.”

Within the article, Schultz posits that the concept of electronegativity and the principle of Le Châtelier are two of the “most important” ideas in chemistry2.

Schultz’s article naturally brought these to my mind:

  • What are the important, overarching, and unifying ideas in chemistry?
  • What are vital elements of chemistry must we be certain to communicate to our students in order to foster a scientifically informed society?
  • What balance (if any) between quantitative and conceptual understandings of chemistry should we seek to cultivate in our students?
  • In what circumstances is it permissible to eschew presentation of formal, rigorously correct, yet confusing concepts in favor of informal, approximately correct, uncomplicated ideas (think the quantum mechanical vs. the Bohr atom)?
  • These are deeply relevant questions for chemical educators to ponder! While I have spent much time thinking about the latter three of the above questions, I have not given much thought to “big ideas” in chemistry.

That’s why I am especially interested in the articles and blog posts published here at ChemEd X this past week related to our recent Call for Contributions about Big Ideas, which deal with all-encompassing concepts in chemistry! I look forward to reading these and learning from folks in the ChemEd X community about this very topic. Be sure to check out : his list of big ideas has expanded a bit.

I look forward to reading these articles and discussing them with all of you.

References (accessed 9/4/16)


2. For a drastically different take on the role of the principle of Le Châtelier in chemical education, see