Donald DeCoste

 Donald DeCoste

Contact Information

Department of Chemistry
University of Illinois
3014 Chemistry Annex
601 S. Mathews Avenue
Urbana, IL 61801
Teaching Associate Professor of Chemistry


Dr. DeCoste received his undergraduate degree in 1988 and his Ph.D. in 1996 from the University of Illinois. He joined the General Chemistry teaching faculty in 1996. Prior to this, Don taught high school chemistry and mathematics for four years in Bakersfield, California. In addition to teaching with General Chemistry, Don developed and teaches Chemistry 495, a course designed for undergraduate and graduate students interested in teaching high school chemistry. Don also serves as an academic advisor for students interested in teaching (including those in the MSTC Program), and is the co-author of three chemistry textbooks.

Teaching Philosophy

Conceptual understanding of fundamental chemical principles is the primary goal of teaching chemistry. Learning does not occur in a vacuum and our students do not come to us as blank slates. Meaning is constructed in the mind of the learner which means that learning is the ultimate responsibility of the learner. This does not, however, remove all responsibility from the teacher. Good teaching boils down to creating an atmosphere with a greater likelihood of sharing a language so that when teachers and students talk their vocabulary has shared meaning.

All learning is active learning. While having the students engaged by means of discussion is a sound pedagogical technique, listening to (not just hearing) a lecture and reading a textbook are active processes as well. Helping students understand that they are in control of their learning is the primary goal of teaching in general.

Favorite quotes about teaching and learning: "It is possible for the mind to develop an interest in a routine or mechanical procedure if conditions are continually supplied which demand that mode of operation and preclude any other sort. I frequently hear dulling devices and empty exercises defended and extolled because 'the children take such an interest in them.'" John Dewey "What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning." Werner Heisenberg "First figure out why you want the students to learn the subject and what you want them to know, and the method will result more or less by common sense." Richard Feynman "If our goal is higher test scores, give the students the test questions in advance." Neil Postman