learning chem or DOING chem? #scichat

My current teaching unit is about chemical bonds and intermolecular forces, organized around the theme of why does soap work?  I realized that my present textbook leads students along  a garden path with no sense of where they're heading and only at the very end do they say: oh btw!  all this stuff you've been studying?  that's how soap works.  It's like a method of mind control, and it almost feels like leading the students by the nose and saying, you don't know why I'm teaching this now, but trust me, it will make sense later.  

In fact, I've felt like all of chemistry is like that.  We're three quarters of the way through the year and only now do I feel like the students actually get to "DO" chemistry.  In all the chapters before this, there's always something else to know before you can get to the good stuff, the fun stuff, the stuff that explains why everything around us has the properties it does.  Oh, well, they can't because they don't know bonding yet.  Oh, well, they can't because they don't know chemical equations yet.  Oh, well, they can't because they don't understand nomenclature yet.  But the more I teach this way, the more I feel like we're setting up hoops for these students to jump through.  

I can see why honors students who are building a foundation for a possible college major in science may need to build their knowledge this traditional way, but I'm teaching general chemistry students.  They need chemistry to cook, to make informed choices as a consumer, to know why not to mix bleach with other cleaning products.  

So this summer I want to reorganize my units to have a major project for each one.  A project that says "this is how you already use chemistry in your life, now you'll learn what's going on at the molecular level."  Instead of leading students by the nose toward a destination they don't know or understand, they'll know right up front where we're going and, hopefully, give suggestions on how to get there.  

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