Initial Publication Date: July 21, 2010

Physical Geology and Quantitative Geology
at Highline Community College

Instuctor: Eric Baer, Carla Whittington, Matthew von der Ahe, and Mike Valentine
Enrollment: 3-20

A file

Challenges to using math in introductory geoscience

As the most diverse community college in Washington State and an open-door institution, HCC students come in with an incredible array of math skills. Furthermore, the math curriculum at HCC often does not address many of the skills that students need in Physical Geology such as unit conversions or graph reading. Despite this, Highline has a student learning outcome that states that

"...upon successfully completing their courses of study, [students] will demonstrate .... the ability to comprehend, analyze, estimate, use, and evaluate quantitative information arising in a variety of situations and involving a combination of words, data sets, graphs, diagrams, and symbols."

Highline students tend to come to the college under-prepared in mathematics and other courses. About a third of our students are ABE/ESL and nearly half our college's mathematics course offerings are below intermediate algebra. Many students chose to take mathematics later in their program. Physical Geology, like all lab science courses at Highline does have a pre-algebra pre-requisite. This means they should be able to draw an Cartesian graph and plot points on it. We are further challenged by the need to maintain our course content at a high level so that the course can be transferred to the University of Washington or other schools within the State.

More about your geoscience course

Physical Geology is one of several introductory geoscience courses at Highline. It is the most widely transferable and is one of a few that includes a lab component, a required part of the AA that many students use to transfer to a four-year university in non-science majors. The course also attracts a significant number of high school students seeking dual high-school and college lab-science credit. The course is capped at 24 students and there are no TAs. Because the course does not break into separate lab sections, there is much better integration between lab and lecture than is typical. The mathematics is therefore used throughout the course in labs, in-class activities, lecture, and homework.

The course is taught by a wide variety of tenured, full-time non-tenured and adjunct faculty with little to decades of teaching experience

Inclusion of quantitative content pre-TMYN

Students are asked to take a quantitative skills assessment at the beginning of each geology course. About 1/3 to 2/3s of the students were required to take a separate one-credit class based on the results. Students were offered the choice of face-to-face or online delivery of this one-credit course. About half chose the online version which included from four to six TMYN modules to be completed by the students in the first half of the quarter. Performance on the post-module assessments was important as the major determinant of the student's grade in the one-credit course.

Which Math You Need Modules will/do you use in your course?

  • Density
  • Plotting Points
  • Hypsometric Curve
  • Rearranging Equations
  • Unit Conversions

Strategies for successfully implementing The Math You Need

Before using TMYN we used the MathPatch program to support quantitative skills. Because this was an in-class one credit course we were limited to offering Physical Geology to day students. The movement of this support allowed us to offer this support, and thus the Physical Geology class to evening students. I also believe that it made the expectations of using quantitative materials clear when bringing on new adjunct faculty. I believe that their courses would have been much less quantitative without the use of TMYN.

Before the introduction of TMYN, students who did not perform well on an initial quantitative skills assessment were forced to take a 1 credit, 10-hour class. TMYN has allowed that requirement to be moved on-line and then removed.

Reflections and Results

The use of TMYN at Highline has evolved. Originally part of a one-credit class that students co-enrolled in with Physical Geology, we are now moving toward trying to use TMYN modules within the course structure and requiring all students to use the modules, not just the students that performed poorly on the QS assessment.