Alessandro Zanazzi's Personal Experience of Teaching Quantitative Skills

Alessandro Zanazzi, Earth Science, Utah Valley University

I have been teaching quantitative skills in all of my classes since I started my tenure track job at Utah Valley University (Fall 2011). I have taught several lower division (Intro to Physical Geology, Intro to Oceanography, Intro to Meteorology) and upper division (Isotope Geochemistry, Environmental Geochemistry, Climate and the Earth System) courses. When I started teaching quantitative skills and reasoning in all of these courses, I was worried because I was expecting to encounter substantial challenges and student resistance. I have to say, however, that the process has overall been fairly smooth and rewarding. With respect to lower division classes, I mostly include basic algebra and arithmetic. Upper division courses typically cover more advanced math topics (e.g., logs, line fitting, etc.) and always include substantial spreadsheet work.

The best strategy is in my opinion to communicate expectations early in the course and to include math in as many class periods as possible. During the first class meeting, I typically tell students that my courses are challenging and that they include a lot of math. I then briefly summarize the content of Carol Dweck's book ("Mindset: the New Psychology of Success") and strongly recommend them to develop a growth mindset with respect to math. I tell them not to say stuff like "I'm bad at math". I try hard to communicate that being good at math is not a fixed quality, it is not something that you are born with. I tell them that everybody can become good and succeed in the course and at math providing that they put a good amount of effort and spend some quality time at home on the course material. I then always try to support them to the best of my abilities. I invite them to come to my office hours and to email me their questions. I spend a good amount of time in tutoring individual students in my office. Finally, I recommend them to visit the math-tutoring lab that we have on campus and try to put them in contact with students that have successfully completed that particular course in the past.

With respect to specific resources that I use for developing in-class activities, the SERC website has been incredibly helpful. For instance, I developed for my Intro to Geology and Intro to Meteorology classes a set of homework assignments based on the fantastic modules of "The Math You Need When You Need It". For these classes, I have also found good problems in the books "Essential Maths for Geoscientists" by Paul Palmer and "Mathematics, a Simple Tool for Geologists" by David Waltham. For my Climate and the Earth System Class, I have adopted many of the Integrate Modules. More specifically, I have used (but readapted) the System Thinking, the Earth's Thermostat, and the Climate of Change modules. Finally, for my geochemistry courses, I found good material on the books "Principles of Environmental Geochemistry" by Nelson Eby (which has many solved problems), "Isotope Geochemistry" by William White and "Isotopes, Principles and Applications" by Faure and Mensing. I am very excited to learn about new resources and new strategies in this workshop!

Downloadable version of this essay

Alessandro Zanazzi's Personal Experience of Teaching Quantitative Skills (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 13kB May2 19)