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Teaching with Data, Simulations, and Models using MATLAB

Concepts on this page were derived from participant presentations, discussions, and breakout groups at the 2015 Teaching Geoscience with MATLAB workshop

For students and faculty there are many benefits to teaching with data, simulations, and models. Teaching about programs, programming, visual outputs, and models, improve students' quantitative skills and expand their perception of science and becoming scientists. This module includes strategies and resources to help faculty use MATLAB to incorporate data, simulations, and models into the curriculum at the course and program levels. MATLAB is a software package that can be used at all levels for exploring these quantitative features, and it is one of the tools available for this purpose.

Learn more about the benefits of using MATLAB as a teaching and learning tool.

Teaching Activity Collection Course Description Collection More about MATLAB

Teaching Computation in the Sciences Using MATLAB »


MATLAB (or other similar software packages) can be used in numerous ways to meet the specific goals of a course or program. Courses may focus on coding and computational skills, building visualization capabilities, or dealing with large data sets and models. Click the images below to explore example activities and strategies for each of these approaches. You can explore approaches to teaching computation, data analysis, and modeling with MATLAB in a variety of STEM fields in Teaching Computation in the Sciences Using MATLAB.

Computational Skills
Exploring Data and Models

Resources for Teaching with MATLAB

Having students get comfortable with the concepts of using computation methods to answers earth science questions. Recognition of the tool as a method for doing quantitative analysis and being comfortable enough to solve problems.

More MATLAB Resources »

Benefits of MATLAB

At the 2015 workshop participants discussed why they found MATLAB to be a useful avenue to to achieve quantitative literacy and computational thinking goals in the geosciences. Benefits include:

  • The activation energy to using MATLAB with students is relatively low (as compared to other comparable software and programming languages)
  • MATLAB is very good for data visualization and data exploration with an emphasis on understanding geoscience concepts and/or computational skills
  • MATLAB has many ways to work with large (and real) data sets
  • The program is widely available and many academic institutions and is used throughout the geoscience community.
  • There is a community of faculty that use MATLAB and can write add-ons and share them through the MATLAB file exchange
  • Easily combine many different data formats that would typically have to be analyzed separately (statistics, spatial analysis, time series analysis, etc), so it is easy to integrate throughout varied courses. Benefits of everyone using a single platform for data analysis.

Glenn Thompson also offered his perspective on the importance of programming skills and the benefits of MATLAB in his essay 30 years on: Is the current generation of students learning programming too late?. Anantha Aiyyer discussed how his department has incorporated MATLAB into their program in his essay Using MATLAB to improve student understanding of vector calculus. In her essay, Reaching Beyond Skills to Cognitive Development in Teaching Quantitative Thinking with MATLAB, Risa Madoff describes how helping students move beyond syntax to solve geologic problems can engage them in the material and accelerate their learning progress.

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