Calculating Slope Failure: Math Anxiety and Geoscience Undergraduates

Monday 11:30am-1:30pm UMC Aspen Rooms
Poster Presentation Part of Geoscience Education Research


Rachel Headley, College of Idaho
Math anxiety, commonly referred to as math phobia, is a phenomena where people experience moderate to extreme fear associated with anticipating or performing mathematical tasks, in some cases tied to actual pain and anxiety. Lack of math phobia and general high self-efficacy belief have been tied to success in STEM fields. In particular, geoscience courses involve building and using a diverse skill set, including chemistry, physics, and math. Specifically, quantitative skills include calculating seismic velocities in a geophysics course, balancing chemical equations in a geochemistry course, or quantifying the slope of a river in a geomorphology course. Despite these necessary quantitative skills, regardless of actual mathematical background, math phobia is commonly expressed by many geoscience students.

As supported by the University of Wisconsin System Teaching Fellow program, this project is proposed to find if students who hold poor attitudes about their math skills and preparation tend to perform differently than students with positive self-efficacy beliefs in a select number of geoscience courses ranging from introductory to advanced courses. Attitude will be assessed according to existing standards, such as the MARS (Mathematics Anxiety Rating Scale) test, and through qualitative interviews given at multiple times throughout different courses. The aptitude analysis will come from both self-reporting of students' previous math classes, short assessments based on concept inventories of mathematical skills, self-assessments of student progress in the course, and overall course grades and selective discussions with the professors. The outcome of this study will determine if interventions dealing with math attitude and possibly math aptitude should become part of some or most geoscience courses.