Oceanography at Fitchburg State University

Implementor(s): Elizabeth Gordon Fitchburg State College logo
Enrollment: 22-25
Anticipated Start Date: Fall 2011

Challenges to using math in introductory geoscience

Fitchburg State University is a four-year public institution with a diverse student population, which includes those traditionally underrepresented in higher education (first-generation, low-income, and students with disabilities). Approximately half of our incoming students require developmental math coursework, but often enroll in science classes prior to completing them. The result is that many students (mostly non-majors) in our courses lack requisite math skills, but they are taking these courses alongside science majors. The goal of implementing TMYN in Oceanography is to help those under-prepared students gain the math skills needed to succeed in the course, allowing more in-class time for content. The online format of the modules are also beneficial for our students, most of whom commute to campus or have off-campus employment.

More about your geoscience course

This course, which includes 2.5 hours of lecture and 1.25 hours of lab per week, is required for our majors and minors, but most students are enrolled to fulfill their Liberal Arts and Sciences Lab science elective. There are no prerequisites for the course. There are no TAs.

Inclusion of quantitative content pre-TMYN

Students encounter math frequently in this course. Previously, I would typically introduce a calculation in class, have them try it on their own/in groups during class time, and then have a similar calculation as a homework assignment or in lab. For students who had major difficulty with the calculations, I tried to work with them individually during class/lab, encouraged them to work with me outside of class time, and have encouraged some to visit the math help center - but students have reported that the math center is geared toward math classes and not math that is embedded in science classes. Since many of our students have off-campus employment - often full-time - scheduling additional time on campus presents a challenge for them. Incorporating TMYN into this course provides a math resource that can be accessed as a student's schedule allows.

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

  • Density (isostasy)
  • Graphing
    • Plotting Points (temperature and density profiles)
    • Best Fit Line (seafloor spreading)
  • Rates (seafloor spreading, sedimentation rates, arrival times of tsunami)
  • Rearranging Equations (throughout the course)
  • Unit Conversions (throughout the course)

Strategies for successfully implementing The Math You Need

Students complete the pre-test during the first week of class (delivered online, but completed during class). As an introduction to TMYN, students work through the Density module in class. Density will be discussed during the following week as it relates to oceanic and continental crust and isostasy. The remainder of the modules (described below) were completed outside of class time, with a deadline immediately prior to their use in class/lab.

The first two labs cover seafloor spreading – during the first lab, students calculate spreading rate based on distance from the ridge axis and seafloor age and complete unit conversions (km/Myr to cm/y). The second lab revisits the seafloor spreading data from Lab 1, but students learn to use a spreadsheet to organize and graph data, determine the best fit line, and determine spreading rate from the best fit line. To incorporate TMYN, students will complete Rates and Unit Conversions for Lab 1, and Best Fit Line for Lab 2.

The sediments lab (Lab 4) includes rates again (sedimentation rates), but students will need to rearrange the equations to calculate the age of sediment layers based on sedimentation rate and depth. Students will therefore complete the Rearranging Equations Module before Lab 4.

During the remainder of the course, students can revisit the above modules (as outlined on the syllabus). Students would benefit from working through the unit conversions and rearranging equations modules two times at a minimum, so I encourage this by allowing them to replace a previous quiz score with one that comes later in the semester.

Assessment of their learning is based on pre- and post-test results, as well as quiz scores. The pre-test score does not count for the grade. The module quizzes and post-test are graded and incorporated into their 'Assignments' grade.

Reflections and Results (after implementing)

Overall, the first year of implementation seemed successful. Students improved their math skills during the course of the semester, as evidenced by the pre- to post-test gain (25% during fall, 10% during spring). Students completed most of the modules early in the semester based on how concepts come up, and they were encouraged to revisit them as necessary later. TMYN was heavily integrated - I mentioned TMYN in class almost every day during the first month, and it appeared in their assignments and labs (e.g., "recall the TMYN rates module that you just completed - use that information to complete the following calculation . . . "). It was mentioned with less frequency later since they had completed most of the modules, but I reminded them about the modules when new calculations were heading their way. This integration established TMYN as the 'culture' of the class, and most students responded favorably based on relatively high participation rates on the modules and improvement in scores. Anecdotally, students also seemed more willing to ask for additional assistance with calculations, and the fear factor was less apparent.


Oceanography syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 28kB Jul28 12)