Chemistry pilot students make the grades

By Melody Bailiff

A class once seen as the “dream killer” course may have met its match.

The chemistry department has been working on developing a CHE 105 course — general college chemistry — that includes a recitation portion to help improve the success rate in the course.

CHE 105 affects a numerous amount of majors on campus. With 1,700 students enrolled in the course, only about 150 to 200 are chemistry majors.

This fall the department opened a pilot course to 240 students in CHE 105 that includes eight sections with a recitation.

These students meet with a teaching assistant outside of lecture to do extra homework, take quizzes and discuss class material.

Students also receive 13 percent of their final CHE 105 grade from the recitation portion of the class.

Stephen Testa, the director of general chemistry, has been pushing for this change for years.

“I don’t want Chemistry 105 to be seen as a dream killer course,” Testa said. “We cannot make chemistry any easier. We have high standards. By providing students with the help they need through these recitation courses, we are able to improve grades and not lower our expectations, which is a win for both students and the department.”

CHE 105 has been seen as the main “blockage” course in the chemistry department, he said.

Many students who drop or have to retake the course end up changing their major.

“I approach the problem as, the university accepted these students,” Testa said. “They are able to succeed, so by increasing time on task with these classes, we are able to help the students advance in their major.”

The department first began integrating a recitation section into CHE 105 in fall 2010.

The fall 2010 recitation was a pilot course tested with 60 students, in two recitation sections of 30.

When grades were compared among fall 2009, fall 2010 non-pilot and fall 2010 pilot classes, data showed a clear improvement rate for students who signed up for the recitation class, according to data compiled by Testa.

The DEW rate (number of D’s, E’s and W’s) was cut in half between 2009 and the 2010 pilot course from 41.6 percent to 20.6 percent.

The number of A’s more than doubled between the two classes from 12.9 percent in fall 2009 to 28.3 percent in the pilot 2010 class.

“Most institutions that we are compared to have this recitation course, it’s what we have been lacking,” said chemistry professor Mark Meier. “This program can push the university ahead; UK has been behind in retention and graduation rates, but if we can keep more students and more majors on track, we can be on level with who we have previously been compared to.”

Jonathan Brigham, a sophomore biology major and chemistry minor, took the 2010 recitation course as a freshman.

Unaware he had signed up for the course with extra homework and quizzes, he was not disappointed.

“I heard coming in chemistry was a hard class to take in college, so I wanted to stay in the recitation section so I could get extra help, and it really didn’t take up much more time,” Brigham said.

Brigham said the recitation provided a look at a wider range of problems, many of which provided the same concepts seen on tests.

“I got a 100 on two of my tests and somewhere in the 90s on the other,” he said. “A lot of students in other classes would have done better because they would have already seen problems the test had.”

Brigham also said when moving onto CHE 107 he felt better prepared and did not struggle.

The department is working toward opening the recitation to all students in the near future, Meier said.