Associate Professor Geetha Surendran, Ph.D., recently published an article in the “Journal of College Science Teaching” on project-based learning (PBL). The article, entitled “Adaptation of Project-Based Learning Concepts to the Organic Chemistry I Laboratory Curriculum in a Small College Environment,” discusses implementing a PBL sequence in a course at Mercy College alongside Ilirian Dhimitruka, Ph.D., a recent visiting assistant professor.
Surendran and Dhimitruka embedded a four-week PBL sequence at the end of the Organic Chemistry I laboratory course after students had gained the requisite knowledge and skills. In the project, students worked to identify ultraviolet (UV) filters from natural sources that could replace the commercial UV filters in sunscreens that are suspected of having adverse effects on human health and marine environments.
Students responded positively to the PBL sequence, with many confirming that it enhanced their mathematical skills, laboratory skills and ability to work collaboratively. A few students enjoyed the process so much that they asked the professors if they could conduct further research.
PBL has been shown to improve students’ higher-order thinking skills, but small colleges may anticipate challenges to implementing PBL as effectively as larger, research-intensive institutions. Based on what was successful at Mercy, Surendran and Dhimitruka outline requirements for a successful PBL sequence in their article, including focusing on a real-life problem that generates multiple hypotheses and requires creative thinking skills.
Today, Surendran teaches a PBL sequence in Organic Chemistry II at Mercy College. Her students are still very engaged in the work; in fact, three of them presented their research findings at the Westchester Undergraduate Research Conference in April. Other professors in the School of Health and Natural Sciences have also begun to incorporate PBL into General Chemistry and various biology courses.