Introductory Chemistry

Journal assignment

I have used this journal assignment in introductory chemistry classes at a community college. The purpose is to promote awareness of chemistry in the news. "Chemistry" here is taken broadly. I encourage the students to submit items from a variety of science, though with some emphasis on chemistry per se.

The pacing of the long assignment is designed to be supportive of students who are not used to paying attention to science news.

This page may be of interest more to teachers, who can adapt the journal idea to their own situation.

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The Intro Chem Journal is a major semester-long assignment, that counts as a substantial part of your course grade. (See current syllabus for details.) The general purpose is to relate course material, or chemistry in general, to the outside world.

Below are three journal handouts that announce the three specific journal assignments. There is also a list showing some topics discussed and sources used by one recent class.


Journal due dates are firm; late journals will be marked down significantly. This is necessary because the overall journal assignment consists of a series of sequential pieces that are related. You cannot turn in a "second journal" until you have turned in a "first journal" and gotten feedback on it.

Starting with the second journal, be sure to turn in all earlier journals along with the new one. (Please put them together in order, oldest on top.) I cannot read a second journal without seeing your first journal, including my comments on it. An important aspect of the later journals is your response to the earlier comments.

A table of contents for the sections that follow...:

Chemistry and you -- A journal for Intro Chem. First journal handout. The basic assignment.
A sampling of some topics and some sources from a previous semester.
Feedback on Journal #1; assignment for Journal #2. Second journal handout. Includes "Check-list" (next item).
Check-list for evaluating journals, to help you check whether your journals are proper. (This is handed out as the back side of the second journal handout, above.)
3rd journal handout. Assignment for the final journal.
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Chemistry and you -- A journal for Intro Chem

This is the first journal handout. It describes the journal assignment in general, and makes a specific assignment for Journal #1.

The first due date for your journal is <see next paragraph for specific dates>. Try to have at least three items to talk about in this first journal, from different sources -- preferably different kinds of sources. The feedback on this first journal will help you continue the journal throughout the semester.

Due dates for first journal:
Summer class, 6 week course: end of week 2.
Fall class, 17 week course: end of week 6.

Chemistry is all around you. In the course syllabus, we suggested that you try to relate what you learn in the class to your "real world"; see the "Show and tell?" section of the syllabus. We now formalize that to a semester-long project... You are to write a journal, in which you relate chemistry to your real world.

The details are very much open. Different people will do quite different things, and each of you will do a variety of things as the semester proceeds. The spirit is to make the connection between the classroom and the real world.

Whenever you have something to talk about, make an entry in your journal. Each entry should briefly state what the idea is and how you learned about it. The degree of detail will vary depending on how closely related your idea is to course material. Most entries will start with some item you read or heard. Then you thought about it and how it relates to chemistry. Talk about these things. If possible, relate your topic to specific course material (particularly later in the course). If you do some research to learn more about your topic, talk about that a little. If you are not sure about certain parts, tell what you think you know, and then also tell what information you are missing.

Sources of ideas may include things you read in a newspaper, a magazine (perhaps one that focuses on science, such as Science News or Scientific American), a book, the Internet, products you use (read labels on things at home, or in stores) -- maybe things posted on our bulletin boards or personal experience. Identify your source in detail (that is, don't just say you got it from "a newspaper", bur rather give the newspaper, date, and page number). If possible, include a copy of source materials.

You should use a variety of sources. Some reading materials are available in the office, library or on bulletin boards. If you get an idea from someone else, be sure to give them credit for the help.

Please date all entries in your journal.

Try to make a couple of entries each week. Keep your eyes and ears open. Think about things that you have learned in class and lab. Maybe you see a connection to something in the real world that you want to follow up.

From time to time, you may want to change something you discussed earlier, to clarify it, expand it, or maybe even correct it. You may be responding to a question I raised, or just reflecting that you have learned more about the topic. In the spirit of a journal, please do so by making a new entry, with a new date. That lets us see your ideas develop.

Sometimes your journal work may lead you to propose a lab experiment. If you want to try it, check with me first; we will try to accommodate requests if practical. In any case, it is good to propose experimental work in your journal, even if it doesn't get done.

Although the journal is very flexible, there are a few things that are not particularly suitable: The general point is that the journal should reflect your outside work, especially reading current sources.

I will collect your journals a few times during the semester. The journal is a substantial part of your grade record; see syllabus. (Late journals will not receive full credit. Missing journals will result in an automatic lowering of course grade.)

This journal handout as well as drafts of the later journal handouts are at the web site. Also included there are lists showing some journal sources and topics from one recent classes, and a check-list of how journals are marked. You might want to look over some of the materials at the web site now, especially if you are not sure how to proceed. This is where you are now.

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A sampling of some topics and some sources from a previous semester

The two lists here are based on the actual (first) journals from a recent class. One list shows some of the topics discussed, and the other shows some of the source materials used. This is not handed out.


making new elements
plastic bags
why is O2 dimeric and gaseous
origin of life
oil well seeps
potassium (nutrient)
discovery of new planets
asparagus and smelly urine
making a hamburger
lithium (drug)
using vegetables for vaccines
reactions due to lightning
waste water treatment
hazardous release from Lawrence Berkeley Lab


Magazines: Scientific American, National Geographic, Discover
Internet: CNN, Discovery Channel
Newspapers: Contra Costa Times, West Country Times, Oakland Tribune
Books (generally not encouraged, unless very recent)
Personal experience (it is one good source; but the major goal of the journal is to get you to explore outside sources)

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Feedback on Journal #1; assignment for Journal #2.

This is the handout for Journal #2, including feedback for Journal #1. The second part, which is the back side of the handout, is a check list that you can use to help evaluate your own journals.

Your journals were generally very good, and they were fun to read.

My "general plan" this time was to give everyone 10, but also give you feedback. I know that some people were not sure what was expected this time. Some of the journals did not provide the requested information. Such journals will be marked down next time. (This applies to new entries; don't worry about fixing up the old ones, except for actual scientific content. That is, you do need to respond to specific scientific questions that I marked.)

The next due date is <see next paragraph for specific dates>.

Due dates for second journal:
Summer class, 6 week course: end of week 4.
Fall class, 17 week course: end of week 10.

Turn in the original journal, with my markings, along with the new one. Attach the journals together, with #1 on top. I need to see the progress. Do not change anything in the original journal. If you want to fix something, or you have more information, make a new journal entry.

Continue to make new entries, and be sure they contain the proper information. Minimum: three new entries for Journal #2 -- in addition to any entries updating or fixing old entries.

Fix and update old entries as appropriate. Be sure to respond to feedback shown on journal #1.

Use a variety of sources. When possible, please include a copy of the source material. At least, include full reference information.

Try to relate your entries to course material.

If you have additional comments about earlier entries, add them as new entries. In some cases, you should respond to questions that I raised on your first journal. In particular, note any comments that I made and highlighted with an arrow.

See back of this page for some more guidance. (Web site... That is a check list that you can use to help evaluate your own journals.)

If you did not turn in a journal last week, get it in as soon as possible, so you can get this first round of feedback, and be able to do a good second journal. Late journals will be marked down. Missing journals are a serious mark on your record; they will continue to accrue late points, resulting in a negative score, and will weigh heavily in my final evaluation.

It would be interesting to have some class presentations based on journal entries. These could range from very brief mention of topics to longer, organized presentations. Group work is certainly possible. Oral presentations (beyond the "brief mention" type) will receive bonus points. Interested???

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Check-list for evaluating journals.

The following form will help you evaluate your own journal. It lists some of the criteria by which I will judge them.

Number of entries (general goal is 1-2 per week)

Good discussion of items

Noted relevance to course material (at least some items)

Diverse sources. These might include:

magazines that you normally read
magazines available on campus (e.g., library)
magazines, other
newspapers that you normally read
newspapers, other
Internet, ideas from our list
Internet, your own browsing
personal experiences
our bulletin boards
other students
other sources

Attached earlier journals

Follow-up on comments to earlier journal (most items)

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3rd journal handout

The 3rd and final journal is due <see next paragraph for specific dates>.

Due dates for third journal:
Summer class, 6 week course: start of week 6.
Fall class, 17 week course: end of week 16.

The most important thing to do with the final journal is to respond to comments that I have made on your earlier journals.

Include at least two new items -- in addition to any entries updating or fixing old entries. (If you were short of entries on Journal #2, you should make up for that on #3.)

See back of the feedback handout for Journal #1 for guidelines.

Turn in previous journals along with the new journal. Assemble them in order, #1 on top.

All journal handouts, plus other journal information, is at the web site.


If I wrote "3rd journal waived" on your journal, you do not need to do another journal. I waived the 3rd journal when you have already turned in two that were excellent. You will receive 10 points for the 3rd journal.

Missing journals

Missing journals are a serious mark on your record, and will result in almost automatic lowering of course grade. The journals count as 10% of the course grade. Late journals are marked down 2 pts per day. Those who are seriously behind on the journal need to make an immediate start, to recover as much as possible.

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Last update: February 4, 2019