Writing in Geology to Reduce Math Anxiety

Wednesday 3:15pm Northrop Hall: 116

Authors

Victor Ricchezza, University of South Florida
Len Vacher, University of South Florida
Students in GLY 4866: Computational Geology at the University of South Florida learn to solve mathematical problems in a geologic context. Quantitative literacy – a fundamental set of skills and habits of mind – is essential to geologists in any of a variety of occupations, and this course helps prepare students for those careers.

Based on suggestions from prior interviews with alumni, we introduced a detailed reading and writing assignment into the course for fall 2016. Students submitted a general written statement about how the felt about math, and then read The Math Instinct: Why you're a Mathematical Genius (along with Lobsters, Fish, Cats, and Dogs) by Keith Devlin over the course of the semester. After each of the 13 chapters, students gave a short written weekly response, and at the conclusion of the semester they submitted a 1-2 page paper outlining their feelings about the book and how their attitude toward math had changed over the semester (if applicable).

Although the assignment was given without the intent of publication, after grade submission for the semester, a post hoc record review was approved by the USF IRB due to the minimal risk to students once the data was de-identified.

Analysis by grounded theory coding indicates significant gains in student attitudes toward their own math confidence, with similar reductions in stated math anxiety. While the relatively small sample size (n=28) and ad hoc nature of the study preclude making generalizations beyond this semester, results are very promising. Similar assignments are planned for future semesters, and future studies include more formal attitude surveys and post-class interviews.