Garon C. Smith has tips for adapting large lecture majors courses to fit the SENCER ideals. Watch his webinar to learn how he used his 'Trojan Horse' model to transform introductory chemistry.

Webinar of the Week: Adapting Large Lecture Formats to SENCERized Teaching

During the 15th annual SENCER Summer Institute, SENCER Co-PI and SCI-MidAtlantic co-director Monica Devanas and her assistant Yuxi Chen captured film footage of various talks and presentations. This series highlights the collection, packaged as webinars, to spark ideas and inspiration, share knowledge and strategies, and celebrate the wide-ranging and deep-reaching work performed by our SENCER community.

In this webinar, Garon C. Smith, professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Montana, shares his strategies for SENCERizing large lecture courses.

Garon’s introductory chemistry course is the largest course on the University of Montana campus. It typically enrolls 700 students in the fall and 300 in the spring. To SENCERize such a large course, Garon adopted what he calls the “Trojan Horse” model. Rather than changing the name of his course to “Smoky Skies and Polluted Waters in the West,” which more accurately describes the civic issues Garon discusses with his students, he kept the traditional name of “Chemistry 121N: Introduction to College Chemistry.” This allowed him to avoid the cumbersome process of seeking approval for a new course, and prevents skepticism from future teachers who require their students to take introductory chemistry. There are other benefits of the “Trojan Horse” model–any standard textbook can be used, it’s a feasible model in a content-driven course sequence for majors, and it does not require drastic course redesign.

Because many of Garon’s students need his course as a prerequisite, he covers all of the content students would learn in traditional introductory chemistry, as well as content specific to the civic issues he incorporates. His course is structured around a number of topics of civic importance, such as pollution, wildfires in the western United States, and the chemistry behind traditional Native American practices. He revisits these topics frequently throughout the course as he advances through content. His course structure also allows him to cover additional topics that students in a traditional introductory chemistry course would not be exposed to, such as industrial design best practices and water quality standards.

The goals Garon sets for his course include:

  1. Having students finish the semester feeling good about chemistry
  2. Teaching students all of the required chemistry content
  3. Engaging students in local community issues, and
  4. Empowering students to take action on national and global issues.

Watch Garon’s webinar to learn more about adapting large lecture courses to SENCERized teaching.

To read more about Garon’s “Trojan Horse” model, and how he entices students to get involved in civic engagement activities for extra credit, you can access the slides from his presentation that he delivered on this topic during the 2015 SENCER Summer Institute. You can also email him at for digital copies of his chapter in Science Education and Civic Engagement: The Next Level, a 2013 American Chemical Society Symposium Series book, and for “Building Civic Engagement Capacity: An Introductory Chemistry Example”, his article in the Summer 2004 issue of Liberal Education.

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