This class was not only brutal it was also insanely useless. It's co-taught by Gonzalez and Bursten, who I've heard was only a visiting professor? Not sure since I can't seem to find him anywhere else. Professors: I learned next to nothing, mostly because Gonzalez is neither a good teacher nor is he particularly interested in motivating students to do well. His lectures consist of reading off of PP slides filled with material taken verbatim from the Zumdahl book, which means if you find Zumdahl confusing Gonzalez ain't gonna make it any better. He doesn't work out any problems on the board; he literally just reiterates the steps in the textbook. He peppers his lecture with supposedly engaging clicker questions but really they're a waste of time since most people don't know what the hell is going on since he doesn't actually teach the material. The clicker questions are supposed to help bump you up but that's only if you're one of the top 3 at the cut-off, which means the rest of the people are SOL. To make matters worse he tried to feed us this inane lie about the chem department enacting a policy that prevents professors from posting exam answers online. Consequently, the only way to get answers for practice exams (which ultimately do NOT help you study for the exams since those p.exams were written by a different professor) Gonzalez hosted these ridiculously timed review sessions (read: day before exam) where TA's (Gonzalez was always MIA for his own review sessions go figure) did nothing but put the exams up on projectors and then waited for us to scribble everything down. Everyone pretty much whipped out their iphones, androids and iPads and started taking pictures after we realized the TAs were only going to let us have five minutes per page. This "department policy", my friends, is pure and utter BS. Beer's class not only got their exam answers, they got them days before the exam. Moreover the O-chem I and II professors released the answers to their exams days before as well! Bursten is by far the better lecturer. He's passionate, engaging and he did a TON of practice problems on the board which meant most people did better on his exam even if it was insanely difficult. I'd prefer to have him teach the entire course than to split it between the two of them. Bursten also used clicker questions (those were a doozy but then again it is thermo). Exam: Hard. Tricky. Confusing. That's pretty much all there is to it. Gonzalez was obsessed--OBSESSED--with trick questions. He admitted so himself. He seemed inordinately pleased when the average dropped to around the 50s; he told us this is where the average is supposed to be. Say what now? His exams were so difficult, the TAs who mock took them, struggled. My TA at one point just told us to try our best and to stop stressing because most of the questions are designed for people who had studied the same material before in-depth (i.e. AP chem peeps). I honestly wish I'd taken Beer's class. I saw his exams. They were straightforward and made sense. Their averages were in the 70s which is appropriate for a G.Chem II class. My friends in his class had less stress; they couldn't figure out why I was running around the chem building like a headless chicken until I showed them one of Gonzalez's exams. That set them straight.
I was in the joint General Chemistry II section with Gonzalez and Bursten. I can't find Bursten on CULPA, so I'll just review him here, too. Gonzalez is a pretty good lecturer; much better than the lecturer I had for General Chemistry I, who will go unnamed. He's very knowledgable and his teaching style just jived with me -- he presents material in a very clear way. He can be a bit dry at times, but there are worse things an introductory chemistry professor could be. He uses iClickers, which I love because it really tests your learning. He also only puts up iClicker questions and answers in class, so actually show up to lecture! Bursten is just the cutest guy ever. He simply loves chemistry, and is always excited to do labs and demos. The format of his lectures is very similar to Gonzalez (i.e. iClickers, PowerPoint, etc.), but he can be a bit more confusing. I liked Gonzalez's teaching style better, but I thought Bursten's lectures were more exciting. So it's a double edge sword. I would definitely recommend this class for General Chemistry, though. I think as far as General Chemistry teachers go at Columbia, they're pretty good!
This class is very unstructured. I took it as my non-departmental engineering class. It didn't feel engineering at all. It was full of rounded numbers and even included a day when we learned PV=nRT! This is because the class is half SIPA students who are learning about this for policy making reasons. While they tout it as trying to encourage cooperation between scientists and policy makers, it does not seem like they should be in the same class. The backgrounds are so different it is hard for a SEAS kid to not be bored in the science part, and lost in the policy part. The professors are well intentioned and approachable, but they don't do a very good job of teaching the material nonetheless. It seems disorganized and the homework assignments, tests, and projects are atrociously not guided.
Great class to take if you are interested in the Earth and ecology, want some special insights and are prepared to spend the time to do the work. The classroom is really nice, like a cave when the lights are down. Most of the chairs are really comfortable, and the decor is educational, with lots of Earth maps. The first section is an excellent and unique introduction to the life of the planet at first, including the solar system, and creation of the planet, following by a month of ecology and communities of life on Earth, and then a month of life systems, including photosynthesis and elements cycling. The professors are all experts and obviously like to teach and are good at it. They can make complicated concepts fairly simple and understandable. They also all have a richness of understanding to convey of their disciplines and for more detail, you can look at individual reviews I wrote for each of them. There is a lot to learn if you have no previous substantial experience of the subject, so look at the syllabus on the website first, although it does not reflect the proper class content which you get by attending, etc. All the professors have presentations, and these are made available on either the course website or Courseworks for download, except the videos and other odds and ends that belong to the professor's particular presentation. They are all available for questions, within reason. This year our TAs were excellent, and they really made the course work well, and they were available nearly all the time by e-mail, and you could see them by appointment also. Highly recommended.
Professors: Sacha Spector, Rosemarie Gnam, Ana Luz Porzecanski The whole world should have to take this class, not because the professors were especially godlike in prowess or physique, but because the loss of biological diversity is one of greatest environmental catastrophes happening today, yet its one that (with the proper motivation) we could seriously and realistically confront in all sectors. That said, you get a taste of the issues in conservation biology; endangered species, the economics of environmental issues, in situ and ex situ conservation, classification of species, and governance of wildlife. For E3B majors, the class shouldn't be too hard. For nonscience majors taking the class to fill a science requirement, this class will definitely give you basic literacy of the most important environmental issue facing us today - the loss of biological diversity.
First Semester: Leonard Fine: His lectures are not focused towards material on exam. He lectures on the history of chemistry and what are the latest developments in the field (which sometimes can be interesting, but more often are not). For exam, know the demonstrations he performs in class. Everything else can be learned out of the textbook. Richard Friesner: straight out of the textbook. No worries. David Adams: Don't know what to tell you. Exam stuff is definitely not in the textbook. His lectures are very difficult to understand. Advice: Read textbook carefully before class, go to class and listen really carefully, try to take really good notes. study your butt off for the exam. If you get 15 out of 25, you will get an A (the mean this year was a 12). This is a crapshoot. Try not to take his part of the course so seriously. ESSENTIAL KEY: the questions on the final from his part of the course are taken directly from his exam. REMEMBER THIS! Study his exam for the final! Second Semester: Leonard Fine: See above Jim Valentini: The best of the bunch. He makes chemistry look easy. Very friendly, open to all questions. He puts all of his lectues online. for the exam, study his slides and memorize everything in gold (it is part of Jim Valentini's "toolbox" for chemistry). If you read the textbook, and understand the slides, you are golden. (Class is optional) I didn't think either semester was too difficult, with the exception of the dreaded Adams portion. Look for old exams online. Should be exams from 98 through 2002 on the old chemistry coursepages. These can be extremely helpful as some questions are repeated from year to year.
If you are not VERY interested in chemistry or in any major that absolutely requires this sequence, then do yourself a favor and don't take it. Each semester is taught by 3 different teachers, so there is no continuity. The teachers went from bad to worse. These are people who should lock themselves up in their labs and never come out so subject undergrads to their extremely boring lectures. Most people stopped coming to class and just studied straight from the book. That's another thing - the book used is an experimental text written by one of the teachers, and it is full of mistakes. Most of the teachers have an annoying tendency to relate everything they teach back to the environment, mostly to global warming and different types of polution. The tests are multiple choice, and quite difficult. The one easy test was so easy, and the mean was so high, that it was impossible to get an A even if you got all the questions right.
I really don't seewhat's so bad with this course. If you attend lecture at least half of the time and do the reading the exams are not difficult at all. True, Prof. Adams is awful, but Fine and Brus are both decent lecturers who convey their chemistry well. The recitations are helpful and the grading is done in such a way that it can only help you. This course isn't particularly inspiring but it could be a hell of a lot worse.
By the second day of class, no one was showing up. Maybe that's because gchem is so incredibly boring and over everyone's head. The profs do nothing to make the material remotely interesting. It is mindless work. Studying simply doesn't pay off...the grading is completely ridiculous. Don't get me started on those ferocious multiple choice tests given at night, of all times. Recitation sections help, but not nearly enough. Brus is the best out of the three professors that switch off. Unfortunately, he comes last when there is no time to save your grade or your motivation.