Math You Need > The Math You Need, When You Need It > Implementation Plans > Physical Geology at McHenry County College

Physical GeologyMCC Image
at McHenry County College

Implementer: Kate Kramer
: 24-30

Challenges to using math in introductory geoscience

McHenry County College is a small community college of approximately 5,500 students, located in the far northwest suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. It serves a variety of students from both rural and urban communities. Because of our diverse population the students also have a very diverse education. Many students enroll in Physical Geology because they think the course is "just about rocks." Geology is a course that incorporates many different facets of other courses, particularly mathematics. Unfortunately, when some students enter the geology classroom they are not properly prepared for the type or amount of math that they will encounter during this course, thus creating anxiety and possibly failure in my classroom.

More about your geoscience course

The Physical Geology course at McHenry County College is a four credit-hour course that is designed for students pursuing a Bachelor's Degree in Arts and Sciences (by transferring to a four-year college or university). The course consists of both a lecture and laboratory portion. The lab component of the course consists of many hands-on and theoretical problems for the students to complete. Many of these problems include various calculations, including rearranging equations, converting units, and graphical analysis. The lecture component of the course reiterates many of these points.
Many of the students enrolled in the course were not properly prepared to answer the math questions within the course, thus making it very difficult to understand key concepts in geology.

Inclusion of quantitative content pre-TMYN

Prior to incorporating TMYN into this course I found myself spending most of the lab (and sometimes part of lecture) explaining math to the students, instead of explaining geology to the students. I also found that some students would "fall through the cracks" - allowing other students in their lab group to complete the math portion of the lab, and never understanding the basic concepts of the question. Quantitative skills are incredibly important in the geology classroom, and I wanted something for the students to use as a tool that would help improve their skills.

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

  • Density
  • Graphing
  • Rearranging Equations
  • Slopes & Topographic Maps
  • Unit Conversions

Strategies for successfully implementing The Math You Need

I began by explaining to the students that Geology is a course that requires good math skills, and TMYN is a resource for those students who need help with math (it's also a great refresher for those who haven't had math in some time). It's important to stress to students that math is a component of their everyday life, and understanding math in context is a useful skill. On the first day of class I have the students complete a pretest with various math questions. I allow the students one opportunity to take the pretest, however I tell them they will receive participation points of completing it (i.e. the actual grade will not count in the gradebook). My reason for completing the pretest in this manner is to assess students incoming math skills (with no cramming before hand). Some students have excellent math skills, and I encourage those students to continue using TMYN (and because the assessments are graded- it will only help their grade).

I instruct the students to use TMYN modules prior to coming to a lab where a particular math skill will be used. When a student has completed the module I have them complete an assessment on the WAMAP site. The assessments are graded, however I allow the students unlimited attempts at the assessments until it is due, as I believe that this allows the students to master the math topic they are working on. I also make certain to reiterate specific steps or math concepts during the lab exercises and lecture topics.

I also found that one of the best strategies is to encourage students to use TMYN as a tool, so that they do not view it as "work." If they see TMYN as a helpful tool they are much more prone to refer to the modules, and complete the assessments.

I believe that instructor engagement is essential to the success of my implementation. Some examples of how I engage my students with math in physical geology include:

  • Integration into lectures and labs
  • Be enthusiastic and positive about math
  • Show the students how useful math is in geoscience
  • Point out specific problems from TMYN and describe how they apply to lecture and lab material

After completing approximately 5 models I have the students take a post test to assess how they have "grown" their math skills over the semester. Similar to the modules, the students are only allowed unlimited opportunities to take this test, to show that they have mastered the subject matter.

Reflections and Results

I am incredibly satisfied with TMYN. The improvement that I see in my student's math skills is tremendous, and I find it easier to "talk" math with them during the lecture and lab portion of my class. I think that my implementation plan has worked very well, and the response that I have received from the students has been great. It was great to hear students say "I CAN do math!" I plan to continue to implement TMYN in the same manner that I have done.


Physical Geology Syllabus McHenry County College (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 122kB Jun25 12)