Physical Geology Lab and Oceanography Lab
at Los Angeles Valley College

Implementor(s): Jacquelyn Hams
Enrollment: 60
Anticipated Start Date: Summer 2010

Challenges to using math in introductory geoscience

Los Angeles Valley College is a two-year college in the greater Los Angeles area. The student population reflects the diversity of the Los Angeles area. The majority of the students are Hispanic, followed by Armenian, Caucasian, African-American, and others. For the majority of students in the laboratory classes, English is not the primary language and this creates difficulties in reading comprehension. The majority of students are underprepared in basic arithmetic and algebra required for many of the lab exercises. Students take the introductory courses for transfer to the California State and University of California systems. Very few students receive A.S. degrees.

Students often save the science requirement for the very end of the coursework and some students become upset and challenge me stating that there is no math prerequisite for the class and they should not be required to complete the exercises. This is a reflection of the "fear of math" syndrome that many instructors face when teaching courses that involve calculations.

TMYN represents an opportunity for students to practice math skills just prior to the activity or assignment and overcome the math anxiety exhibited by many students.

More about your geoscience course

TMYN tutorial program was incorporated into the introductory Oceanography lecture class as a pilot study during the summer 2010 and is currently used in the introductory Oceanography and Geology laboratory courses. The Physical Geology and Oceanography laboratory classes are for introductory and primarily non-science majors who are taking the classes for transfer credit. I do not have TAs to assist in the class. The lecture and laboratory courses are taught separately and students are not required to take them concurrently. The lab class is a pre or co-requisite for the lecture class. This presents a challenge in that students often take the lab class 3-5 years after completing the lecture course. Another challenge to the laboratory course is the fact that several different instructors teach the lecture portion of the course and there may or may not be continuity with the lab class.

Both the Oceanography and Physical Geology lab classes meet once a week for 3 hours. TMYN fits well into lab classes because there is adequate time to incorporate the modules in a 3 hour lab class whereas that time block is not available in a lecture class.

Inclusion of quantitative content pre-TMYN

The current laboratory manuals used in Physical Geology requires approximately 50% or more quantitative skills. A lab manual is not used for the Oceanography Lab class, but approximately 25% of the lab requires quantitative skills. and a math placement test is not required in introductory classes at the community colleges in California.

Before TMYN, I walked the students through the algebra and math required for conversions and basic equations such as rate of movement, etc. by putting the calculation on the board for the entire class. However, when a different equation or set or math skills is needed for a different problem, students could not set up the problem for a solution and I had to repeat the process.

With TMYN tutorial program, students complete the practice module and associated assessment immediately before the laboratory activity for that class session. All of the modules remain open and available for review for the entire semester if needed for another laboratory activity.

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

Select the link below to view the implementation table.

Math You Need Implementation Table (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 14kB Jan9 13)

Strategies for successfully implementing The Math You Need

I have found the following strategies to be effective since implementing TMYN tutorial program in 2010.

Orientation Session for TMYN Modules

Conduct an orientation during the first or second class meeting for the Oceanography and Physical Geology lab classes to accomplish the following goals:

    1. Register students and provide login information for the TMYN site.
    2. Conduct a practice session that includes Rearranging Equations and Unit Conversions to familiarize students with the site. Understanding the content of these modules is necessary for successful completion of laboratory exercises throughout the semester.
    3. (Optional) Administer a pre-test . (A post-test is also given if time allows at the end of the semester).
    4. (Optional) Complete the Math Attitudinal Survey.

Timing is everything

Students practice the module/s and complete the assessment immediately before completing the laboratory exercise associated with the module. This has been the most important factor in the successful completion of TMYN at our institution. The completion rate was not as successful in the 2010 pilot study when students were instructed to complete the modules on their own outside of class.

Assessment Credit

Students receive two (2) points credit for each completed module assessment regardless of the assessment score. Students feel more comfortable completing the assessments if the actual score is not part of the class grade, but they are still given some credit for participation.

Reflections and Results (after implementing)

TMYN tutorial program has been used in multiple Oceanography and Geology lab classes since the pilot study during the summer of 2010. The modules were used in the Geology lab classes in Fall 2010 and Spring 2012 and in the Oceanography lab classes in Fall 2011 and Fall 2012. I attribute the success to the fact that students complete the modules and assessment just prior to completing the lab activity. Students have access to practice problems all semester, but their participation is assured when the instructor accompanies them to the lab.

The following conclusions are based upon results of student surveys and supported by assessment data.

  • 92% of the students completed all or some of TMYN modules and assessments.
  • 60% of the students reported that TMYN modules helped them understand quantitative material presented in the class.
  • 31% of the students learned the most from the Unit Conversion modules.
  • 33% of the students felt that the Unit conversions modules were the most challenging.
  • 54% of the students felt that Plotting Points was the easiest module.

The following graphs show the average module assessment scores from various lab classes since the implementation of TMYN modules in 2010.

Assessment Scores 2010 Pilot


Oceanography Lab F2011

Geology Lab Spring 2012

Ocean Lab F2012

Average Scores Same Module

Future activities for TMYN include tracking pre and post test results.


Sample Oceanography Lab Syllabus (Microsoft Word 600kB Jul28 11)