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May 30, 2002

SECRETS REVEALED: Even Alex Trebek might be stumped by this "Jeopardy"

Welcome to Organic Chemistry Jeopardy, the classroom game that tests Pitt undergraduates' knowledge of alkanes, alkenes, alkynes and alkyl halides.

"I'll take 'Potpourri' for $50," a student says — and, just like on TV's "Jeopardy" gameshow, a window slides open on a big board (in this case, a computer-projected one), revealing an answer.

"Maitland Jones Jr.," the answer reads.

That's an easy one. An in-joke, really, injected into the game for comic relief although it also tests students' powers of observation.

Framing her reply in the form of a question, "Jeopardy"-style, the student says: "Who is the author of our textbook?"


Organic Chemistry Jeopardy is one of 17 classroom-based games that Pitt chemistry faculty have designed to help students review lecture material prior to exams.

Chemistry professor Joseph J. Grabowski demonstrated several of these games during a session, "Using Games for Learning in Large Classes," during the May 17 Summer Instructional Development Institute on "Teaching Larger Classes."

"I'm a firm believer now in games," declared Grabowski, who said he has found them to be quicker, more effective and more fun than traditional pre-exam question-and-answer sessions during recitations for his courses.

Chemistry isn't alone in adapting familiar TV gameshows and board games for educational purposes. Quick round of "Peripheral Ear Anatomy Bingo," anyone? How about "Neuroanatomy Scrabble"? Those were among the games described by Catherine V. Palmer, of the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.

"The use of games provides an opportunity for students to increase as well as use their knowledge in a fun, non-threatening atmosphere. It releases the instructor from simply re-lecturing," Palmer wrote in an essay she distributed to session participants.

"We incorporate new material into familiar games. Different games tap different skills/abilities (description, terminology, definition, systems, etc.). Games are appropriate for courses heavily influenced by memorization and understanding of systems.

"The games should complement the current or previous lecture material," Palmer noted. "They can be used to introduce a new topic or to practice a current or previous topic."

Palmer and Grabowski said the games they have developed can be adapted for use in a wide range of disciplines, in the humanities as well as the sciences.

To show how easy this can be, Grabowski quickly constructed a "Jeopardy" board based on his fellow panelists' comments during the "Teaching Larger Classes" institute. One answer read: "Pete's Lament."

When that answer popped up, a professor in the audience immediately replied, correctly: "What is, 'I have to use a microphone'"? — a reference to communications professor Peter Simonson's lament, earlier in the day, that he couldn't pace around the room but was tied to the lectern microphone.

Details on science games, and how to adapt them to other courses, are available at the chemistry department's website: Game templates can be downloaded from this site.

Rules and instructions for other classroom games — including games based on Scategories, Balderdash and Wheel of Fortune, among others — are available from Palmer at:

— Bruce Steele

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