While most kids dread the horrors of getting their memorizing formulas and chemistry lab grades back, seniors Bhavish Dinakar and Spencer Thompson are the ones handing them out, now that they’ve started their own organic chemistry class.
“It’s not a class that people don’t like because they have to study for a test and do a bunch of homework and stuff,” Dinakar said. “We’re just like, ‘You can learn some stuff if you want to, otherwise you can just eat fruit snacks and come over and we’ll blow stuff up.’”
The inspiration for the class started when Dinakar and Thompson were in IB Chemistry 2 last year. They loved the subject, but they loved pranking their teacher, Jerrod Bardwell, even more. One of their more notable pranks, which involved writing 100-page design labs, resulted in the IB program issuing a required maximum of 12 pages for design labs around the world because of the boys.
“It got to the point where it was more of a cult than a class,” Bardwell said.
During January, the class covered organic chemistry, which is known as the most difficult unit. To annoy Bardwell, the boys tried to convince the rest of the class that organic chemistry was fun and easy—and ended up liking it themselves.
They liked it so much, in fact, that they requested that the district to create an organic chemistry class. According to Bardwell, there used to be an organic chemistry class years ago, but the district would never open it again because of low enrollment. With only two students interested, this year would be no different.
“So I decided to take matters — and matter, ‘cause it’s chemistry, get it? — into my own hands and start the class myself,” Dinakar said.
Dinakar and Thompson started their own organic chemistry class this year, which meets every Tuesday after school in Bardwell’s room on the fourth floor. Anyone is welcome to come, but the usual attendance varies from four to seven.
“What we do in my class is I’ll teach them the mechanism of a reaction — which is the organic chemistry part — and then we’ll actually do the reaction, which is the cool part. And the snacks,” Dinakar said.
According to Dinakar, there are three types of people that come to the class: first are the current Chem 2 students who want to learn organic chemistry so there won’t be any surprises when the unit comes along later in school. The second are Chem 1 students who just come for the cool explosion and opportunity to hang out with friends. The third are kids who took Chem 2 last year and want to brush up for fun or for college (one even brings a notebook to take notes in).
Since Dinakar and Thompson have almost all of their classes together, they plan for the next class during school. Using the copy of Organic Chemistry for Dummies Thompson gifted to Dinakar last May, the boys figure out a different theme for each class, such as oxidation of alcohols or stereo chemistry.
After planning, the boys split up: Dinakar creates a lesson plan and does research. Thompson gathers the materials and writes out the steps for the experiment of the week.
“So before the experiment, I send [Bardwell] the procedure with what we would like to do and how we plan on doing it so he can look over it and make sure we’re not going to kill ourselves,” Thompson said. “If that’s okay, he’ll get the chemicals and he’ll just be there if I have any quick questions about doing something.”
All the teaching during the class is done by Dinakar, with Thompson — and Bardwell — as his lab aids. Of course, it’s a running joke to tease Bardwell about this. Their relationship with him started in IB chemistry last year, when the boys would hang out in the chemistry room for hours before and after school almost every day.
“Bhavish and I have a lot of what I like to refer to as political capital with Bardwell,” Thompson said. “Which means that we have enough credibility with Bardwell and he trusts us enough that we can do experiments and we can convince him to let us do them.”
The first meeting was a course on nomenclature for any Chem 2 students needing a refresher. The third week, the class reacted ethanol with 2,4-DNPH, which is the first time this has been done successfully at East, because they put in time and effort to complete it. This is a difficult procedure because it requires materials that are hard to obtain and must be done in the fume hood. That, and the fact that too much of the chemicals used can cause cancer or be explosive.
The boys hope their class grows throughout the year, because they believe it’s a good way to get their fellow students interested in chemistry. They are currently working on having Bardwell award extra credit to Chemistry 1 and 2 students who come to their class and write about what they learned.
“Bardwell wants to have his students learn things, and we want to get more people [to come to our class],” Thompson said. “We both want to get those things done, but the difference is we want to do things specifically related to organic chemistry, and he wants us to focus on things related to the curriculum for [Chemistry 1 and 2], which is more limited.”
In order to do this, Dinakar and Thompson plan to move along with the IB Chemistry 2 curriculum, but go more in-depth and focus on organic chemistry, using their own Chem 2 notes from last year as a guide. The boys know that actually performing experiments is the best way to learn about them. Dinakar spent so much time reacting chemicals on his own outside of class last year that he aced many questions on his chemistry tests that his classmates missed.
“It can be a little challenging to get a concept of how [organic chemistry] works,” Thompson said, “but just being able to maybe have [our organic chemistry students] spend 10 minutes just looking at it, seeing how it works, will help them for the future.”
According to Thompson, the boys plan to continue their class until next spring when Dinakar has tennis. Depending on motivation of other students, Dinakar and Thompson hope some Chemistry 2 students will step up to teach next semester and even next year.
“We started [the class] for the love of chemistry and I want to spread that at East,” Dinakar said. “Not even just at East, with everyone in the world. And there’s some element of trolling Bardwell.”