Teaching Quantitative Literacy
created by Jennifer Wenner, Geology Department, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
"The world of the twenty-first century is a world awash in numbers."
- - Lynn Arthur Steen (Mathematics and Democracy: The Case For Quantitative Literacy, 2001)
What is Quantitative Literacy?
Do your entry-level students understand the graphs printed on the front page of USA Today? Can they evaluate the meaning of indicators of global warming? Quantitative literacy addresses students' ability to evaluate numerical and graphical data on a daily basis.
Why is Quantitative Literacy important?
Students are bombarded with numbers every day -- in the newspaper, on television, even when deciding which cell phone company has the best deal. Entry-level geoscience classes may be the only instance in which students are asked to develop intuition about numbers...
How can we best prepare quantitatively literate students?
When teaching quantitative skills to entry-level students, here are five good ideas:
- Place concepts in context
- Use multiple representations
- Work in groups
- Use appropriate technology
- Do in-depth problems that last more than one day (compiled by participants of "Teaching Quantitative Skills in the Geosciences", July 2002)
Mathematical concepts often covered in introductory geology courses
Many of the topics covered in introductory geology courses have important underlying mathematical concepts. Below is a list of some of the mathematical concepts that may be contained in an entry-level course. Each concept is linked to a page that gives some mathematical background on these concepts and links to geologic context for those concepts:
- Big numbers / Scientific notation
- Exponential decay
- Trigonometry and angles
- Basic graphing skills
- Linear functions
- Unit conversions
Geological context for mathematical concepts
Entry level geoscience courses provide many excellent examples of geologic context in which to place mathematical concepts. Each of these important questions that may be introduced in an entry-level geoscience course is linked to important mathemathical concepts contained therin. These pages also provide links to relevant teaching examples.
- How does radioactive decay work?
- How do we conceptualize Deep Time?
- How do we measure earthquakes?
- How do we know what the interior of the Earth looks like?
- How does population growth affect the planet?
- What is the likelihood that a river will flood?
- How are floods measured and what will be flooded?
- How does pollution flow underground?
- How does stress affect rocks?