Teaching and Developing Quantitative Literacy in the Geosciences

Wednesday 1:30pm-4:00pm Ogg: Classroom 1227
Afternoon Mini Workshop


Jackie Caplan-Auerbach, Western Washington University
Geology is perceived by many students as a qualitative science, and thus is attractive to students who love science but are afraid of math. As a result, many students of geology are either intimidated by, or underprepared in math when they enter the discipline. This workshop will focus on methods that may be used to clarify quantitative concepts without reducing mathematical rigor. Participants will develop ways of guiding students through advanced quantitative ideas using both visual and written methods.


This workshop focuses on identifying and practicing techniques to help students work with numbers and mathematical concepts. These techniques include estimation, understanding orders of magnitude, interpreting graphs, and understanding the processes represented by equations.

  • To identify road blocks for students in their understanding of quantitative material
  • To practice methods of visualizing quantitative material
  • To use prose descriptions as a tool for understanding equations and graphs


1:30-1:50: Brainstorm challenges in quantitative literacy

1:50-2:00: Overview of techniques in teaching numeracy and quantitative literacy

2:00-2:30: Estimation and Fermi problems

2:30-3:10: Graph and equation whiteboarding

3:10-4:00: Summary and Workshop evaluation


Equation journaling and sketching: Project description (Acrobat (PDF) 220kB Jul18 16)

Journal of Geoscience Education Equation dictionary paper: Equation journaling paper (Acrobat (PDF) 519kB Jul18 16)

Fermi problem websites:

  • http://www.fermiquestions.com/play
  • http://www.physics.umd.edu/perg/fermi/fermi.htm
  • https://riverbendmath.org/modules/Fermi_Questions/Activity_Directions/