GEO 101: Physical Geology
at Linn Benton Community College
Implementor(s): Charlotte Goddard
Anticipated Start Date: October 2, 2011 (Quarters/Trimesters)
Challenges to using math in introductory geoscience
LBCC is one of the larger community colleges in Oregon, with ~8000 full time students taking classes at 4 campuses. It's open door policy means that a large variety of educational backgrounds are represented in the student body. My students range from at-risk high school students who are in a program to show them what college will be like to adults looking for a new focus in their career. Most of the students are of traditional college age, but because I teach an evening class I have a large percentage of older students who are in school in addition to having a full-time job.
I have students who tell me that they cannot do math. It is incredibly difficult to break them of this habit/belief. There is a math pre-req but it is more of a suggestion than something that will prevent registration. Students who are in high level math, or those in a concurrent math class, can integrate between the classes... especially if we talk about the slope of a line or other "common" algebraic equation. I would like to include one new math problem per week into the classes. The only obstacles to doing this are internal, the department does not produce obstacles. I hope that TMYN helps me better present math to the students so that I can help them increase their quantitative skills.
If there are obstacles to including quantitative skills in my classes they stem from the students. I think they self-select geology classes as their required lab sciences because of a perception that they will be less math intense than similar courses in Physics or Chemistry. The students in my classes, when faced with math, freely tell me how many times they have taken a particular math class and failed it. There are no apologies, no embarrassment, just the simple (and ingrained) belief that they cannot do it.
More about your geoscience course
The majority of the students are completing one of their lab requirements necessary for the AAOT (Oregon Transfer). This means that I mostly have students who have the intention of continuing their education past the associates degree. I have 1-2 science/geoscience majors per term out of 24 students. We have just made these courses slash courses... 101/201 so that students who express the intention of majoring in Geoscience or other similar path will have fewer roadblocks from the 4 year institutions in terms of transfer credit.
We do have a weekly lab. Most of our equations and math problems are worked on during lab (there is no traditional homework for the class). Quantitative problems are presented in the lecture portion and we work through a few, but mostly the students have the time to work through them during lab. There are no TAs or helpers. There is a full-time faculty member who also teaches the course. We meet and discuss ideas.
Inclusion of quantitative content pre-TMYN
In the introductory geology sequence we work on plotting flood and earthquake data, determining the scale of the axes, and constructing best-fit lines. We incorporate slope into many of our activities, from groundwater flow to topographic gradient. We also pepper unit conversions throughout the course and spend time the first week reviewing unit conversions. I make sure to address the math prior to each activity. We do have a suggested math prerequisite for the courses, but even the students who have completed these low-level math courses do not recall slope and have difficulties plotting data. It is really interesting, though, to see the few students who have a good understanding of math (especially those who are in a concurrent math class) and the ease with which they work through the problems. These students are often quite good at working through the steps (even going so far as to write the values on the data points in the plots) and do not need to be reminded to show their work and include units. Most of the students, however, get immediately frozen and request help from me when they see a math problem. I think that students, when faced with a problem they cannot immediately work through, should be able to think about the units of the values they are given and construct an equation that results in the units they need the outcome to have. Many of them cannot work through these steps. I hope that TMYN will help show them how to work through the steps and give them the confidence to do so.
I want to increase the quantitative content (to at least 1/week), but I also want to make sure that I am presenting the material in the best possible manner. As much as I try I still have students who will essentially not even try to answer quantitative questions on tests. They are so sure they cannot do it or so frozen by the thought of it. We spend maybe 1/10 of our time on quantitative skills.
These students are math afraid, I want to change that. When we cover percentages they tell me they cannot remember how to set up the equation, but then when I ask them how they know what percent they got on a test they can talk me through the exact same equation they just told me they didn't know. There seems to be extensive compartmentalization of skills. I need more skills to help the students integrate their learning, especially when it comes to math! I am interested in minimizing the gap between the math I get back from students and what I hoped I would get back from
Which Math You Need Modules will/do you use in your course?
- Calculating Density: Lab 1: Density, Isostasy, and Topography
- Plotting Points on a Graph: Lab 7: Earthquakes
- Constructing a Best Fit Line: Lab 8: Earthquake Recurrence in Cascadia
- Reading a Point from a Curve: Lab 7: Earthquakes
Strategies for successfully implementing The Math You Need
My hope is to be upfront that there will be the expectation of one new math idea (with regards to geo) per week, that I will introduce the skill and that we will work through examples and that I expect them to work through the problems. We will talk about density when we cover minerals, graphing and plotting points when we cover earthquakes (and possibly volcanoes), and unit conversions throughout the course (introduced the first day). Topographic profiles, slopes, and rates are presented in more detail in G102 (surface processes) during winter term. Many of these modules resurface multiple times during the class. I think that this repetition (and tie-in with new topics) is important.