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Faster Greener Chemistry? - Context/problem-based learning


This context-based case study is laboratory-based and focuses on the synthesis, characterisation and evaluation of up to nine manganese(III) salen complexes that are employed as catalysts in the oxidation of alkenes. The approach used in this case study ensures learners work collaboratively and allows for the development of transferrable employability skills. 

Type of Activity

group work, working independently



Age Group



Development of scientific ideasData & its limitationsInvestigative workAsking questionsPreliminary workPlanningCollecting, recording & presenting evidenceAnalysing, concluding & explainingEvaluatingLimitationsErrors & anomaliesEquipment, apparatus & instrumentsStandard laboratory proceduresAnalysis: quantitativeRelative masses, masses & molesFormulaeChemistry in societyScientific & technological developmentsUsing scientific information to make decisionsInfluences on decision makingApplications of chemistryIndustrial applicationsConsequences of using resourcesDecisions about resource useSustainabilityGreen chemistryDealing with wasteExpositionExperiment & investigationSafety & risk assessmentPractical investigationsLaboratory skills developmentUsing standard techniquesFollowing standard proceduresFieldworkResearch using secondary sourcesCase studiesGames, quizzes & problem solvingUsing ICTSupported self studyLiteracyMathsThinking & learningManaging learningDeveloping conceptsTeaching sequences/lesson plansSeparation of mixturesSeparation of mixtures: chromatographyPatterns in chemistryCharacterising & classifying materialsCommon groupings of materialsd-block/Transition metal complexesConditions/drivers for changeConservation of massRepresenting chemical reactionsCommon chemical reactionsRedoxDisplacement reactionsHeterogeneous catalysis & catalystsHomogeneous catalysis & catalystsEnzyme-catalysed reactionsThe variation of concentration over timeMechanisms of catalysisOrganic chemistryRepresenting organic compoundsHydrocarbon skeletonsFunctional groupsTrivial namesAcronymsIUPAC systemDrawing organic structuresCharacteristics of organic compoundsEffects of the hydrocarbon skeletonOther groupings of organic compoundsOrgano-(other group) compoundsOrganic reaction mechanismsTerminology of organic reaction mechanismsMore complex reactions & mechanismsDetermining reaction mechanismsStudy of catalysts & catalysisStereochemistry & mechanismEvaluation of the process of obtaining a materialSuitability of product for useFinancial considerationsEnvironmental impactSpeciality/fine chemicalsOrganic synthesis routes



The teaching methodology used is context/problem based learning, which aims to increase student engagement by using real world contexts. Learners work collaboratively and are presented with problem scenarios that are ill-defined and have a number of satisfactory solutions. This approach allows for the development of valuable transferable skills such as communication, team working and problem solving. 

Students adopt the role of chemists employed in a campus company that has been contracted to carry out some work for a large pharmaceutical company. Their brief is outlined in a letter from the company in which it is requested that green chemistry principles be implemented to their full potential in the reactions being investigated. The students are required to work as part of a team to: (1) Prepare and characterise a Mn-salen complex using a two step synthesis; (2) Evaluate the performance of the catalyst in a reference reaction (epoxidation of stilbene); (3) Assess the relative costs and the environmental impact of this process and of alternative procedures with reference to suitable metrics; (4) Plan experimental procedures; (5) Compile a professional report; (6) Present their findings and recommendations to peers and tutors; (7) Manage the project using a wiki. 

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Resource image credit: iStockphoto