This page is designed to provide a guide to a planned implementation of The Math You Need, When You Need It. It will change as the implementation proceeds at this institution. Please check back regularly for updates and more information.

Physical Geology
at Austin Community College

Implementor(s): Meredith Denton-Hedrick
Enrollment: 24
Anticipated Start Date: August 22, 2011 (Semester)

Challenges to using math in introductory geoscience

Austin Community College is a urban institution (spread out over 8 urban and suburban campuses) with an open-door admissions policy. The biggest challenge I face with regards to including math in my geology courses is the wide range of math skills in each class. In a typical class, some students are enrolled in developmental math classes, while others may have already completed calculus. The ones with the fewest math skills are unprepared for even the simplest use of equations. I see TMYN as a tool to teach these students the math they need to succeed in my class, but I expect it to benefit them in other classes as well.

More about your geoscience course

I will be implementing TMYN in Physical Geology, which serves as the introductory freshman-level geology course for geology majors, and for non-majors who need a laboratory science class. The majority of my students are non-science majors, with a handful of science majors and usually only one or two geology majors each semester. Geology is part of the core curriculum at ACC, and many non-science majors take geology to satisfy their science requirements because they believe it won't require any math and "geology is easy" compared to the other sciences.

We have three hours of lecture and three hours of lab each week, split evenly over two days. The lab is where the math skills are needed, for things like rates and gradients and for solving simple algebraic equations for different variables. Most of the labs are hands-on assignments, but I do occasionally do online activities that require computers. I teach the labs myself and do not have a TA.

Inclusion of quantitative content pre-TMYN

The first lab of the year is a basic math review. I review topics including significant figures, rounding, unit conversions, and basic algebraic manipulation, and have them solve simple rate calculation problems. Later in the semester, when we get to labs containing quantitative problems I know will give the students trouble (rearranging equations for radiometric dating, calculating gradients for streams, etc.), I generally do those problems together in class. The problem with doing them as a class is that valuable lab time is spent getting students through the math, rather than explaining what the answers mean.

My goal with TMYN is definitely to increase the number of quantitative problems I can include in my course, while at the same time, reducing the amount of time I spend teaching how to do the math. I also want to improve my students' success on the lab quizzes where they have to apply what they've learned.

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

  • Unit Conversions
    • Plate Tectonics Lab
    • Topographic Maps Lab
  • Rearranging Equations
    • Plate Tectonics Lab
    • Absolute Dating Lab
    • Earthquakes Lab
  • Rates
    • Plate Tectonics Lab
    • Streams Lab
  • Slopes
    • Topographic Maps Lab
    • Streams Lab

Strategies for successfully implementing The Math You Need

When To Introduce Modules

The general concept of the TMYN modules will be introduced at the beginning of the semester. As the semester progresses, specific modules will be assigned as pre-lab assignments. The pre-lab assignments will be designed to introduce math concepts prior to their use in the next lab assignment. The intent of the pre-labs is to prevent the math from acting as a hurdle to completion of the lab assignment and understanding of the science presented in the lab.

Delivery Method

Because we have a number of students without home internet access, paper copies of the TMYN modules will be distributed in class, but students will also be given the URL to enable them to access the module online if they prefer. Once they have completed the module, learning will be assessed with an online quiz on It is possible for students to skip the online module and attempt the quiz right off the bat, but students will be encouraged to complete the TMYN modules first.

Ultimately, I plan to require students to complete a pre-lab quiz before they are allowed to move on to the full lab assignment. In the first semester of implementation, however, I'm taking cautious approach. The quizzes will account for 5% of the students' overall grade, but I will not require the quizzes to be completed before the student can do the lab assignment.


Pre-lab quizzes will consist of four questions requiring the student to demonstrate mastery of the topic of the module. Students will have the option to reattempt each question an unlimited number of times in order to ensure they've mastered the topic. The pre-lab quizzes will count for 5% of the student's overall grade.

Reflections and Results (after implementing)


GEOL 1403 Schedule Fall 2011 (Acrobat (PDF) 34kB Jul28 11)