Quantitative Applications in the Earth Sciences
at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
Instructor: Jascha Polet
Challenges to using math in introductory geoscience
In this class, as is the case in most of my classes, students have a wide range of quantitative abilities as well as enthusiasm/interest in quantitative applications. Some students in the class will have passed several calculus classes and may come from an Engineering background, others are still struggling with basic math concepts such as rearranging equations and scientific notation. I would like to use TMYN to free up time in this class to focus more on specific Earth Science related applications of math over explanations of the basic math itself.
More about your geoscience course
This is a new class, this Spring quarter will be only the second time this class will be taught. It consists of 4 units of lecture time per week, but there will also be a significant component of problem solving in the classroom. The class is designed to serve mainly lower division Geology majors, although it is also open to other majors. This class is not a required part of the Geology curriculum, but may be taken by Geology majors to substitute for the third class in the first year calculus series. There are no TA's or other helpers with the course. The objectives of this class are to improve students' problem solving skills and understanding of the basic mathematical procedures they have learned in math classes, by applying these methods to problems they are likely to encounter in a career in the Earth sciences.
Inclusion of quantitative content pre-TMYN
My goal in using TMYN is to increase the amount of time I can spend in the classroom on Earth Science applications of math and to give students the opportunity to work through examples of the more basic math we will use at their own pace. Currently I need to spend a significant amount of class time on basic math skills to bring all students to the level needed for the applications. I would also like to reduce the number of office hours required to help students with their basic math skills. Some topics included in the class material are: scientific notation, unit conversions, Gutenberg-Richter relationship for aftershocks, Omori's law, checking answers using approximation, dimensional analysis and common sense, determining angles and distances from maps and cross sections, using plate velocities and directions to determine relative plate motions and spreading rates, plotting geological and geophysical data, uncertainty and standard deviation and rates of geological processes.
Which Math You Need Modules will/do you use in your course?
- Best Fit Line
- Rearranging Equations
- Unit Conversions
Strategies for successfully implementing The Math You Need
I plan to assign several different modules throughout the quarter as pre-lecture exercises. At the end of class, I will discuss an example problem that is included in the module that is assigned as a pre-lecture exercise for the next class meeting. These modules would not be required, but if taken, would/could be included in the calculation of the final grade for the class (10-20%). Due to time constraints, I do not plan to repeat the modules. I also plan to use both a pre- and post-test, which would be required and graded based on participation only. Depending on the enrollment in the class I would give the pre-test in the first or second week of class, when the class has filled. The post-test would be given around week 7 or 8 of the quarter, to avoid adding to the end of quarter workload, and at which point in time all assigned modules should have been completed.
Reflections and Results
This quarter (Spring 2011) I assigned the "Calculating Density", "Rearranging Equations", "Trigonometry" and "Unit Conversions" modules with post-tests for extra-credit. I did not implement a pre-test this quarter, partly because I underestimated the learning curve for the WAMAP interface. Because these modules are mostly used in the first few weeks of class it is also difficult to schedule pre-tests, but in my next implementation I plan to use them. About 50% of students chose to take the post-tests and they generally did well on them. Student feedback on the modules has been overwhelmingly positive. The only minor issues (which were quickly fixed) were with the WAMAP quizzes, in terms of problems with equation formatting and some correct answers being graded as incorrect due to precision issues. I plan to continue to use these modules in future classes.