Chemistry in General Biology: Is it necessary?

when going to use this stuff

This past fall I taught a general biology 1 course (for science majors) as an adjunct for my community college campus partner (my transfer university shares the same campus as the local community college). After the introduction to biology chapter comes the chemistry one. It goes into detail about the atom, isotopes, the periodic table, electron orbitals, and so on. For me, I love reviewing and going over general chemistry but from a student perspective in general biology I don't see the point if I don't need to revisit those ideas over and over for the course. Roughly, for the rest of the semester the only chemistry general biology students need to "know" are that there are three important metal ions (sodium, calcium, and potassium) and that carbon makes four covalent bonds, hydrogen one bond, oxygen two bonds, and nitrogen three.

Some of my community college biology faculty colleagues stress over teaching the chemistry section (sometimes a month worth of lectures) only to never really use that knowledge much, if at all, for the remainder of the course. Others pride themselves on assuring the chemistry faculty that they are heavily emphasizing the chemistry section (but with no chemistry use later on).

Why is this? Most of these students won't need to utilize this connection to chemistry until upper division biochemistry (if the course is even a requirement). Cognitively, it may be argued that early exposure may help in learning general chemistry but isn't that already the case with high school chemistry? I would say that unless general biology 1 students are regularly using it then it doesn't really do them any good.

I have a feeling many of the biology faculty feel chemistry is important but don't quite see exactly how it relates to the general biology course, or probably feel somewhat insecure with their chemistry knowledge and feel that students need to briefly swim in the chemistry pool just for the sake of it.

I very much see a collaboration is needed here (some of you may already be doing this) where you team up with your bio colleagues and help them to either streamline the chemistry section in general biology, or to incorporate chemistry content throughout the course to justify the need for coverage in the earlier chemistry primer. And perhaps vice versa - a collaboration to implement biology material (or other sciences for that matter) into the chemistry curriculum based on the student programs and dynamics of your institution.

If you aren't doing this already, then find a colleague to share ideas and see what may come of it. But don't just send a ton of material and expect them to be eagerly waiting to work on it. They are busy. Cultivate a connection and have meaningful discussions of what you can do together. If your institution awards or values professional development, then this would most certainly count and at that perhaps get students to feel less intimidated with chemistry.

Join the conversation.

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Comments 3

Paulina Chavez | Wed, 01/06/2021 - 10:44

I enjoyed reading this article and seeing a different point of view. Everything was thoroughly explained to the reader. Thank you for your insight!

Haley Emerson | Wed, 01/06/2021 - 13:22

Everything the author was saying is true, I also feel like teaching chemistry in general biology is not really necessary if you will never be using it, and especially since proffesors feel overwhelmed by trying to cram it into their schedule. 

Dalen Ragsdale | Fri, 01/08/2021 - 14:21

This article was great in giving both sides to Chemistry in General Biology. I think the author goes into enough detail about why Chemistry isnt exactly a necessity in general Biology.