Initial Publication Date: July 19, 2011

Why use The Math You Need, When You Need It?

Have you ever felt that you spend too much time in class reviewing the quantitative skills you think your students should have gotten in high school? Do you wish your students could readily tackle quantitative problems in geoscience without so much hand-holding? Would you like to assign more quantitative problems in your introductory courses?

The Math You a web-based short course designed to instruct students in the quantitative skills they need, just before they need them to address geoscience problems in the classroom. Students complete a self-paced set of web pages and quizzes designed to bring them up to speed on a number of mathematical concepts that are introduced in most introductory geoscience courses. The examples and quizzes are designed so that instructors can choose questions that address the context in which they wish to introduce the mathematical concept.

Why is this effort important?

Quantitative topics pervade the geosciences; yet, many introductory textbooks gloss over the quantitative aspects and expect students to quickly grasp some relatively complex mathematical themes even when they are treated qualitatively (e.g., reading cumulative percent graphs, understanding exponential decay, etc). Furthermore, students who are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with mathematics often feel that there is little support. Faculty often feel time-constraints, administrative pressure or student feedback can keep them from including quantitative content in their courses (e.g., participants in 2006 QL workshop). The modules in The Math You Need... are math tutorials for students, completed just before they need to be able to use it in their geoscience course. The modules are designed to delve more deeply into the mathematics needed for introductory geosciences while supporting students who are math phobic or just need some math review.

There is good evidence that both retention and learning are increased when students feel they have support for difficult mathematical concepts (e.g., Baer et al., 2005). If they feel like they are given time to learn (or relearn) the mathematics they are more comfortable applying it later to "high-stakes" problems in their courses. At Highline Community College, a one-credit course called "MathPatch" has dramatically increased retention and student performance. Students felt that they had the support and did not feel lost because they knew that mathematical thinking was expected of them. They were supported and lived up to that expectation.

Why "self-paced" and "web-based"?

The Math You Need... can be used in conjunction with any introductory geoscience course. A pretest determines who needs the tutorials. Each appropriate tutorial can be assigned to those students who need (or want) the review of concepts they "should have learned in high school". These tutorials/reviews of quantitative skills are meant to reduce the time spent in class teaching remedial skills while increasing the quantitative support for those students who need it. Self-paced and web-based means that you don't have to spend time in (or out of) class that could be spent on geoscience topics.

Why did we choose this pedagogy?

small vertical banner

The modules in this project build upon ideas generated by mathematicians and geoscientists at a series of NSF-sponsored workshops. Together, they came up with some good ideas for teaching mathematics in the geosciences:

    • Place quantitative concepts in geologic context.
    • Use multiple representations.
    • Work in groups.
    • Revisit mathematical concepts throughout the course.
    • Use technology appropriately.
We have tried to use these "good ideas" whenever possible. In particular, we utilize ideas 1, 4 and 5 in most pages.