Integrating Course Material and Application: A Progressive Writing Assignment Applied to an Astrochemistry Tutorial

Olivia H Wilkins, Camillus F Buzard


A major challenge in teaching is helping students integrate course concepts to understand the big picture of a field and apply those concepts in new situations. To address this challenge in a tutorial course about astrochemistry (taught by graduate students to chemistry undergraduates), we implemented a progressive writing assignment that culminated in a final presentation. In the progressive writing assignment, students chose an astrochemistry topic they found interesting to be the subject of three sequential papers, which became the basis for their presentations. The purpose of this assignment was to gradually introduce chemistry students to research areas in astronomy, which is by nature outside the general chemistry curriculum, while also providing students with regular feedback. Over the course of the assignment, students applied key themes in the course—significance of astrochemistry research, research methods, and chemistry in astronomical environments—separately to their chosen topics before explaining in the final presentation how these different aspects of astrochemistry work together. By incorporating stories and anaologies, rather than just facts, students gave presentations that were accessible to a novice audience. As a result, students explained broader impacts of astrochemistry research, rather than just focusing on results, and they entertained questions with answers that went beyond clarification of the material discussed.

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