5 Creative Ways to Teach Students Functional Groups and Basic Chemical Tests

Anjaney Kothari

Functional groups form the core of all organic compounds, giving them unique physicochemical properties and reactivities. As such, many fields heavily rely on the knowledge of functional groups and chemical tests that can help identify them.

But functional group analysis can be a complicated topic of study. This is because of the immense diversity of functional groups and the complexity of the reactions to test for them. Here, we list five creative ways to teach students about functional groups and some basic chemical tests to identify them.

1. Engage Students with Interactive Models

The use of interactive models can serve as an incredible teaching aid for chemistry educators. Indeed, interactive models make chemical structures and reactions more approachable for students through the power of visualization and tangibility.

For example, you can use various ball-and-stick models of organic compounds to highlight the diversity of functional groups. Or you can ask your students to create their own organic compounds with these ball-and-stick models. They can do so by arranging different functional groups on a carbon backbone or a phenol ring.

2. Make the Topic Fun with Games and Activities

Games and activities provide a safe and creative environment for learning. Plus, when teaching experimental techniques, like chemical reactions for functional group analysis, games and activities can eliminate the risks of direct hands-on training.

Take Labster’s functional groups simulation, for example. In our simulation, the students undertake an important assignment to help out a virtual friend, Simon. They must determine the true composition of salicylic acid-based painkillers that Simon has procured from an untrustworthy source. To do so, they must perform a number of chemical tests that target specific functional groups present in salicylic acid. And if they make a mistake, there is always the option to repeat the simulation to complete the mission.

Add bromine water to two tubes in virtual lab setting.

3. Infuse Technology into Lessons

Classroom lectures on chemical reactions and mechanisms become easier to follow when there is a visual component to them. Modern technologies like simulation, animation, and virtual reality make it possible to add immersive visual components to complex study content.

For example, Labster’s functional groups simulation uses animation and simulation to teach the following functional group tests:

·   Bromine test for unsaturated hydrocarbons

·   Ceric ammonium nitrate test for alcohol and phenol groups

·   Sodium bicarbonate test for carboxyl groups

Holotable of a virtual lab with functional groups.
Discover Labster's functional groups virtual lab today!

Our simulation’s holotable feature allows the students to interact with the 3D structures of various organic compounds, including salicylic acid. Additionally, the simulation provides a step-by-step guide to all the chemical reactions so the students can perform them virtually.

4. Inspire Students Through Career Exploration

Exploring the career opportunities that a subject may offer in the future can be a great motivating factor for students. To make your students excited to learn about functional groups and the chemical tests to identify them, discuss the many professional opportunities this knowledge could afford them.

For example, tell your students how pharmaceutical engineers require extensive knowledge of functional groups to design effective drugs. Discuss how toxicologists must assess different functional groups to determine why a certain compound is toxic to humans. You can also conduct seminars with some of these professionals so the students can interact with them directly.

5. Connect Topic to Real-World Applications

Many students find it difficult to relate to organic chemistry and the reactions involved. The primary reason for this is that they are unaware of the significance of these topics in the real world. Talk to your students about the real-world applications of learning about functional groups and their chemical analysis.

For example, talk to your students about how functional groups contribute to the taste and fragrance of an organic compound. Tell them how drug development benefits from the knowledge of functional groups. Highlight the role of functional groups in the development of nanoparticles that can target diseased cells in the body.

Final thoughts

Functional groups are defining components of the innumerable organic compounds that we use on a daily basis. It is important that students appreciate the relevance of this topic and learn how to apply it. The five creative teaching methods we have listed here can help educate your students about functional groups and some basic chemical tests that help identify them.

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