Physical Geology (Lecture and Lab)
at Patrick Henry Community College

Implementor(s): Brett Dooley
Enrollment: 18
Anticipated Start Date: August 22, 2011 (Semester)

Challenges to using math in introductory geoscience

Patrick Henry Community College is a two-year school in south-central Virginia. Students in my Physical Geology class tend to be unprepared for college work. The Martinsville/Henry County area has a near 20% unemployment rate. Many students are non-traditional students coming back in a school to work or Trade Act program. While some will transfer to a four year institution, many are getting and Associates Degree or Career Certificate and seeking immediate employment. The average age for students is 29. The student body is largely Caucasian (roughly 76%), with a significant African-American population (about 23%), and minor Hispanic population (less than 1%). The only prerequisite classes for this course are developmental reading and writing, though many are still not high functioning in these areas. They have no math prerequisites and often little math ability or understanding. The students are often taking geology (or biology) because they think they don't need any math skills. The students are frequently not familiar or comfortable with computers, so doing measurements and data collection or graphing in Excel (or similar software) is also challenging. One must teach the computer skills prior to using even Word or Excel.

More about your geoscience course

Geology is only in its second year at this campus. Its first year (two semesters plus a 10-week summer session) was completely online with optional on-campus labs and optional field trips. It has just finished its first year as a pure face-to-face course on campus with mandatory labs and field trips. The four-credit class meets for three hours twice a week and each day is split between lecture and lab, both taught by me, to present a seamless transition between the two course components. As a new course, taught by an adjunct, it does not figure strongly into the campus plan and has had some enrollment issues. The course is designed to serve the general education students looking for a lab science credit. TMYN will hopefully help me be more inventive with ways to bring graph interpretation, data collection, and data interpretation into the course. I am the only person on campus involved with geology.

Inclusion of quantitative content pre-TMYN

Currently I have students measure mass and volume to calculate density, but have had such difficulties even with this, that I was unsure how I could continue taking measurements or calculations. I also had them determine elevation differences from topographic maps, but both reading the maps and subtracting were often difficult. I brought calculators in to help. We also calculate difference in arrival times of P and S waves to help determine the epicenter of an earthquake. Wow, is all I can say. Calculating half lives was also a battle. By the end many students could do it, but it was a rote process for them and nothing I think they truly understood. About 15-20% of the class time is spend on quantitative skills.

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

  • Unit Conversions: (Introduction, Rocks, Dating, Tectonics, Slopes)
  • Density: (Igneous Rocks, Tectonics)
  • Graphing: (Minerals, Rocks, Dating, Tectonics, Earthquakes, Slopes)
  • Topographic Profile: (Maps, Earthquakes, Slopes)
  • Rates: (Dating, Tectonics, Slopes)
  • Slopes: (Maps, Earthquakes, Slopes)

Strategies for successfully implementing The Math You Need

To help my students with their quantitative geology skills I intend to use five modules of The Math You Need in my Physical Geology class. By providing a pre-test of math skills and introducing The Math You Need during the first week of classes (doing the module on unit conversions) students will gain familiarity with the system and confidence in their own ability to use it. From that point on, modules will be assigned to be done outside of class prior to the class/lab in which those content areas will be used. Students will be reminded of both my office hours and those of the math lab should they require assistance while attempting to do the module. They will be given a minimum of two days to do the modules, but more often at least a week.

All of the modules will be used multiple times during the course, which will hopefully serve both to reinforce the students' skills and their confidence and reiterate the importance of these skills in geology and their lives. When modules are being repeated the students will have a new quiz placed in their wamap account. Students will have the choice of reviewing by simply retaking the end of module quiz or reviewing the module depending on their need at the time. The beginning of the class/lab period in which the module is due will be used to go over any questions that were not answered prior to class. A few sample problems will be given as either a Think-Pair-Share or a clicker assessment to make sure everyone is ready for the class/lab and then the regularly scheduled activity will begin.

To encourage full participation by the students in The Math You Need modules the end of module quizzes will count for 5% of the students' grade. Additionally, similar style questions to those on the end of modules quizzes will appear on in class quizzes and on unit exams. A post-test of math skills will be given during the last week of the semester.

Reflections and Results (after implementing)

After implementing, Fall 2011

Students were introduced to TMYN on the first day of class. A 10 question pretest was given on that same day, and the first module (graphing) was completed in the lab section of class that day as well. Future TMYN modules (density, rates, and slopes) were assigned and completed outside of class. Lab sections began with a review of TMYN module, but all other facets of TMYN were student-centered outside of class time. After the last module was completed a posttest was given. Average student scores imroved 39% from pretest to posttest. Interestingly, there was no significant different in item type despite the fact that some modules were presented only once while for other modules were repeated.

After implementing, Fall 2012

Students were introduced to the idea of TMYN on the first day of classes, but the internet was down on campus which prevented students from being able to complete either the pretest or the first module in class. These were assigned to students to complete outside of class. The next lab began with an introduction to TMYN and wamap, but most students had alread completed the first module. In the future, should the internet be down again I would choose to postpone pretest and first module until such a time that we could do it in class. Three students never did complete most of the modules. They each told me they knew how to access the modules and quizzes, but I am not certain they actually did. I would feel more comfortable being able to help them through the first module. Despite this, average student scores improved by almost 20% from pretest to posttest. This group of students was much more vocal about their dislike of math in general and the modules specifically. I don't know if this had to do with the nature of the group or with their awkward introduction to the modules. I will continue to use TMYN with my physical geology courses as there is enough evidence to suggest a benefit to students in their quantitative skills.


Physical_Geology_PHCC_FA2011_Dooley (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 44kB Jul28 11)