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Teaching Chemistry

Director: Univ.-Prof. Peter R. Schreiner


Nicole Graulich

Teaching Chemistry

"Only if you can teach it, you understand it" is our motto excercised in our daily teaching and in  many of our publications. Especially in organic chemistry it is difficult to see the famous "forrest for the trees" by trying to keep in mind all the various named reactions, arrow pushing mechanisms, and ever varying stereoelectronic effects. An approach out of this dilemma is the use of simple heuristics, i.e., empirical rules (aromaticity, electron counting, charges, polarization, conjugation etc.) that help organize organic chemistry. We are now in the process of systematically examining how develop general heuristic principles for understanding and teaching organic chemistry. Enjoy the read!


Heuristic Chemistry – A Qualitative Study on Teaching Domain-Specific Strategies for the Six-Electron Case. Nicole Graulich, Rüdiger Tiemann, and Peter R. Schreiner* Chem. Educ. Res. Pract. 2012, 13, 337–347. DOI: 10.1039/C1RP90074A.

Highlight: Listed as one of the 20 most accessed articles [!mostreadarticles].

Heuristic chemistry—a qualitative study on teaching domain-specific strategies for the six-electron case

We investigate the efficiency of domain-specific heuristic strategies in mastering and predicting pericyclic six-electron rearrangements. Based on recent research findings on these types of reactions a new concept has been developed that should help students identify and describe six-electron rearrangements more readily in complex molecules. The goal of this qualitative study with chemistry majors is to understand the way students cope with this new concept depending on their prior knowledge, and to reveal the merits and limitations of this approach. The results suggest that the use of domain-specific heuristic strategies provides the students with process-orientated thinking skills to identify six-electron rearrangements and to determine as well as predict reaction mechanisms and outcomes. The explicit emphasis on recurrent patterns and structure–property relationship fosters the conceptual thinking of the learner.


Heuristic Chemistry – Addition Reactions. Nicole Graulich, Henning Hopf, and Peter R. Schreiner Chem. Eur. J. 2011, 17, 30–40. Highlight: Cover picture and frontispiece of this issue.

Organic chemistry is often considered a difficult subject requiring great effort to achieve an expert status.  Only once this level has been reached, judging, deciding, and recalling chemical information will be fast and guided by heuristic strategies. These principles, used intuitively, improve the efficiency and speed of problem solving and decision making procedures. Establishing these strategies in teaching and learning chemistry should significantly help students acquire well-structured procedural knowledge early in their education. In an attempt to improve conceptual thinking in teaching organic chemistry, in this contribution we develop a heuristic view of addition reactions and propose a new way of perceiving this class of organic reactions.

Heuristic Chemistry 

Heuristic Chemistry. Nicole Graulich, Henning Hopf, and Peter R. Schreiner

Chem. Soc. Rev. 2010, 39, 1503–1512. Listed as one of the most accessed articles 05/2010.

We focus on the virtually neglected use of heuristic principles in understanding and teaching of organic chemistry. As human thinking is not comparable to computer systems employing factual knowledge and algorithms—people rarely make decisions through careful considerations of every possible event and its probability, risks or usefulness—research in science and teaching must include psychological aspects of the human decision making processes. Intuitive analogical and associative reasoning and the ability to categorize unexpected findings typically demonstrated by experienced chemists should be made accessible to young learners through heuristic concepts. The psychology of cognition defines heuristics as strategies that guide human problem-solving and deciding procedures, for example with patterns, analogies, or prototypes. Since research in the field of artificial intelligence and current studies in the psychology of cognition have provided evidence for the usefulness of heuristics in discovery, the status of heuristics has grown into something useful and teachable. In this tutorial review, we present a heuristic analysis of a familiar fundamental process in organic chemistry—the cyclic six-electron case, and we show that this approach leads to a more conceptual insight in understanding, as well as in teaching and learning.