Author Archives: Jessie Key

About Jessie Key

Jessie joined the VIU Faculty in the fall of 2012. He has previously taught Organic Chemistry as a sessional lecturer at UBC-Okanagan and was an instructor for Academic Upgrading and Chemical Technology at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT). Jessie’s main area of interest is Chemical Biology; with a focus on fluorophore synthesis, labelling and bioassay development. Jessie is currently teaching first year (Chem 140 and 142), Engineering Chemistry (Chem 150) and Organic Chemistry (Chem 231 and 232). Jessie can be reached at

Odyssey Polar Bonds and Molecules – Chemistry ipad App Review

The kind folks at Wavefunction Inc. have supplied me with their full Odyssey general chemistry app suite and I will be reviewing each of these apps throughout the remainder of summer 2014.


This is the second of these reviews, and I will be discussing the Polar Bonds and Molecules App which is available for purchase in the app store for $3.99 CAD (


First Impressions:

At first, I was a little baffled why this is its own separate app, as there is a polarity function built into the VSEPR app, which was previously reviewed on this blog ( However, there are a few additional features built into this app which are not found in the VSEPR app.



Most first year general chemistry courses spend some time discussing chemical bonding, covering topics such as: ionic and covalent bonds, bond polarity, electronegativity, and Lewis structures. At VIU, our CHEM 140 course is no exception and covers electronegativity, determining if bonds are covalent or polar covalent, drawing polarity arrows (dipole moments), and determining net molecular dipoles. The textbook we use has a fair amount of examples and end-of-chapter questions, but these are certainly skills that many students may want to seek additional practice and resources to master.


The App:

The interface is very similar to the VSEPR app (previously reviewed). There is a portion where the molecules are featured for manipulation and a portion which lists examples and has tabs for reference data, a glossary, some additional comments, and questions.

photo 1

Molecules can be rotated with a finger swipe, and expanded/shrunk with the pinch of the thumb and index finger. They can be displayed as Ball and Wire, Tube, Ball and Spoke or Space Filling models.

photo 4

One feature that I really like is the ability to show the molecules as electrostatic potential diagrams, which can be enabled/disabled by clicking the “electron density” selection box on the right side just above the list of example molecules.


The ruler button allows for the calculation or the bond length, angle, and the dipole moment.

photo 5photo 5

And the dipole moment can be shown using the arrow notation or as a partial charge by clicking the remaining two buttons on the left side window of the app.

photo 2photo 3

In the window on the right side of the app, some examples of the common bond types are available (non-polar covalent, polar covalent and ionic). 25 additional molecules, which are not classified into the three bonding types mentioned, are also available as examples. Some guidelines towards how students should approach using the app are given in the OBSERVE! tab. A table of reference electronegativities is provided under the reference data tab, and a glossary is provided as well under its own separate 2

photo 3The comments tab provides some additional technical notes, such as noting how to change the polarity arrow from the common use form (positive end to negative end) to the not-so-commonly used IUPAC (negative end to positive end).


The questions which are pre-loaded into the app are multiple choice and are similar to those which appear in the end-of-chapter section of most textbooks and focus on the difference between the bonding types and molecular polarity. These questions would likely get students to open up the example molecules to find the correct answers, and the questions can be scored automatically by the app.

photo 4

Final Impressions:

This app does provide some additional features beyond the VSEPR app, including dipole moment calculation, and questions specific to polarity and types of bonds. Some may wonder why this was made into a seperate app, and not just included with the VSEPR app to make one really great app. I really like the use electrostatic potential diagrams, as I try to show these types of diagrams as much as possible in class.


I think a really important learning tool that could be added by the developers would be some way to have students predict the net molecular dipole moment (the direction of the polarity arrow for a molecule with more than one polar covalent bond). Many students struggle with the idea of vector summation and predicting net molecular dipole moment.


I will certainly provide a link to this app when we discuss this topic in the fall semester, and hopefully I can get some student feedback.




The author received an evaluation copy of the software from Wavefunction Inc., but received no other compensation.

Odyssey VSEPR App – Chemistry ipad App Review

The kind folks at Wavefunction Inc. have supplied me with their full Odyssey general chemistry app suite and I will be reviewing each of these apps throughout the remainder of summer 2014.


The first app I have chosen to review is the Odyssey VSEPR Theory app (, which sells in the app store for $3.99 CAD.


Some Context:

Like many first year general chemistry courses, at VIU our CHEM 140/150 courses cover the concept of VSEPR theory, and how to determine Lewis structure, molecular shape and polarity. These are fundamental concepts which many students struggle with, perhaps due to the 3D nature of molecular shapes or perhaps due to the vector summation required to determine a net dipole moment. To give students experience with these skills, we have included a “dry lab activity” on Bonding and Structure over the past several years. One aspect of this activity is that students are asked to fill out a table (with the formatting shown below) for eight molecules.


Figure 1. CHEM 140 Drylab Table example.

Figure 1. CHEM 140 Drylab Table example.

Traditionally we bring model kits for the students to play around with, and have copies of the textbook available and opened to the relevant chapter. However, when I saw this app I was immediately excited that we could use it to improve this particular dry lab.


The App:

The interface is broken into two portions, an area where molecules are featured for manipulation, and an area that features both a table of generic geometries possible (broken down by the number of lone pairs and electron domains) and a bunch of example molecules.


Figure 2. VSEPR app 1.

Figure 2. VSEPR app 1.


In the molecule manipulation window, you can rotate the molecules in 3D with a swipe of your finger, or expand/shrink them with a pinch of the thumb and index finger. The molecule can be displayed as wire, ball and wire, tube, ball and spoke and space filling models.

Figure 3. Molecule representation options.

Figure 3. Molecule representation options.


As well, the lone pairs of the central atom and net molecular dipole moment arrow can be added or removed with a single click to each of the right most buttons. The distance between two atoms can be determined by clicking on the ruler, and selecting the distance option, then selecting the atoms of interest.

Figure 4. Distance and angle from ruler button.

Figure 4. Distance and angle from ruler button.

Figure 5. Distance calculated.

Figure 5. Distance calculated.


Similarly, the bond angle between three atoms can also be calculated by clicking on the ruler, and selecting the angle option, then selecting the atoms of interest.


Figure 6. Bond angle calculated.

Figure 6. Bond angle calculated.


There are questions pre-loaded into the app with multiple choice answers that force the user to work through several of the example molecules.

Figure 7. In app questions.

Figure 7. In app questions.

The responses can be automatically scored in the app, and after trying most of the questions there is the option to view the correct answers.

Figure 8. Question Scoring.

Figure 8. Question Scoring.


A glossary is also included, which defines several terms including: axial, dipole, dipole moment, equatorial, ligand, lone pair and VSEPR.


Figure 9. Glossary.

Figure 9. Glossary.


Although the app is limited to the “canned examples” included, there are a decent amount and they certainly cover the fundamentals explored in a typical discussion of VSEPR at the first year general chemistry level. I plan to use this app in the fall semester to highlight the 3D nature of molecular shape in my CHEM 140 lecture by hooking up my ipad mini to the project. If we are able to scrounge up a class set of ipads, I could see this replacing or enhancing the current pen-to-paper method used in the dry lab.



The author received an evaluation copy of the software from Wavefunction Inc, but received no other compensation.

Chemistry Video Blog #1 – The Chemical World

I am producing a monthly chemistry video blog aimed at increasing chemical literacy and scientific literacy (promoting Science!). This endeavor is supported by the Chemical Institute of Canada Chemical Education Fund.


Short video blog posts will appear once a month showing a cool aspect of chemistry. The first video (below) is a brief introduction to chemistry, highlighting that chemistry is all around us. I hope you will enjoy the video and that it will whet your appetite for what is to come. If you have any ideas or suggestions for videos let me know!



The Post-Assessment Reflection (PAR)

As an instructor, it is really frustrating and disappointing when students receive back a marked assessment (Quiz, Test, Report etc.), look at the grade and then shove it directly into the back of their backpack; never to see the light of day again. The hours of careful marking, writing helpful comments or explanations can seem almost a waste.  More importantly, students are ignoring valuable feedback, which may allow them to improve their understanding and their grades on future assessments.


To address this problem I have included Post-Assessment Reflections (PAR) in my CHEM 231 and 232 organic chemistry courses for each quiz and test. The PAR is essentially a quiz I have placed in D2L that they can complete on their own time. It asks them specific questions about their performance on the quiz, and what they plan to focus on to improve in future assessments. Questions can be general in nature and reused in subsequent PAR’s, or very targeted and specific to a particular assessment.


A typical set of questions for a PAR in CHEM 232 S2014:

Were the types of questions on the quiz what you expected?

With what type(s) of questions did you do well?

With what type(s) of questions can you improve?

What do you plan to do to improve for the next quiz or exam?

Do you have any other comments or questions regarding the material covered in this assessment?


I make each PAR available foonly one week (using restriction settings in D2L) after handing back a marked assessment, which encourages students to look over their assessment immediately. This way they can institute changes to their study habits sooner than later. After reading student PAR’s, I try to follow up with those who indicated they want additional materials, or further explanation. I think I surprised a few students, when I emailed them to schedule an office hour appointment or to provide additional study materials the day after they wrote their comments.


To motivate students to complete the PAR’s I gave them a total combined weighting equivalent to one of the quizzes in the course (2% of their final grade). ‘Grading’ can be performed manually for short or long answer questions, or you can set D2L to automatically mark multiple choice questions and export the quiz into the grade book. I mark the PAR as ‘Complete’ or ‘Incomplete’ and have found that most students do complete it. However, you can certainly tell that some students put less than a desired amount of effort into their reflections. Some students also try to perform a PAR without actually having shown up to class (or to my office) to receive back their marked assessment. To circumvent this, I inform students that no credit will be given without having their assessment in hand – it is really difficult to reflect on your own performance when the assessment is sitting on the instructor’s desk.


Surprisingly some students also see the PAR it as a convenient forum to complain. Perhaps, this is due to the perceived anonymity of writing comments online. The complaints that I have received this year are similar to typical student comments in course evaluations. The complaints range over many topics such as the lecture material, the pacing of the lecture, or the difficulty of the assessments. The most common complaints are often contradictory between students – for instance some expressing that the lecture course is going too fast or too slow, or that a particular assessment was too easy or too hard.


Despite the drawbacks listed in the previous two paragraphs, I do feel it is a useful exercise. It encourages students to reflect and take ownership on their studies, and provides valuable regular feedback to me as an instructor.


Further information on setting up quizzes or the grade book can be found on the VIUlearn Wiki:

Writing Examinations

As a newer teaching faculty member, I find one of the most difficult and time consuming parts of my job is writing and marking exams. By comparison, preparing lecture material seems much easier to me. As a subject matter expert, it is natural for me to present my thoughts and viewpoint on the course material in a clear and understandable format. There are also a lot of resources available in the textbook and instructor resources for preparing lectures. This is not the case for writing good quizzes and exams, if you are lucky the previous instructor(s) may have provided their old exams. However, they may have emphasized different viewpoints on the course material. As well, old versions of exams have a habit of ending up in current students hands.

Writing the quiz or test:

When writing a quiz or test there are certain factors I try to consider (in alphabetical order):

–          Clarity of the question: The language used should be clear and understandable, enabling the students to focus their attention on the solution to the problem instead of wondering what the question is asking. Sometimes including what units the answer should be expressed in, or how many points they should include in their explanation can make a question much clearer to the student.

–          Difficulty level:  I find selecting the right mix of questions at the right difficulty levels is one of the most challenging aspects of writing an exam. It is easy to write an exam that everyone aces or that everyone struggles with. Hitting that sweet spot where everyone is challenged and students’ knowledge levels are demonstrated with that perfect Gaussian distribution is difficult. At VIU we use a fairly standard grade scale (see image below), where around a C+ is the average grade.

VIU Grade Scale (

VIU Grade Scale (


–          Ease of marking: Sometimes spending 30 minutes incorporating ‘ease of marking’ design elements into the exam can save you hours of marking. Mentioned before in ‘Clarity of the question’ including additional instructions can focus student responses and give less extreme answers. I am a big fan of using boxes where students place their final answers. This provides structure and saves time searching about the page for their answer (see image below).

Question Box Example

Question Box Example

–          Level of understanding demonstrated (types of questions): An exam should provide a forum where students can demonstrate more than just their ability to regurgitate information. Unfortunately many students enter my class with study strategies that focus primarily on memorization and regurgitation. I try to incorporate a mixture of multiple choice, short answer and long answer questions. Each of these question types can demonstrate understanding at different levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (’s_taxonomy) (See image below).

Modified Bloom's Taxonomy

Modified Bloom’s Taxonomy

–          Time available to the student: A common complaint I receive from some students is that there wasn’t enough time to write the exam. Yet, for the same exam I will have other students hand in the paper twenty to thirty minutes early.  There is no easy answer as to how much material to include and how much time to give students. Some will suggest that multiplying the time it takes you to complete the exam by three or four is a good starting point. Adjusting the number of questions or time allotted is a balancing act, and honestly I probably lean more towards challenging the students for time. The student’s abilities to assess their own knowledge of the material and what the questions require should allow them to prioritize and manage their time. These are important skills to develop, that will pay off outside of the classroom. In the real world, missing deadlines or not completing important tasks can equate to a more serious penalty than a few marks lost.