Geol 1403 - Physical Geology
at Lone Star College - Tomball

Implementor(s): Kristie Bradford
Enrollment: 30 max per class
Anticipated Start Date: August 27, 2012 (Semester)

Challenges to using math in introductory geoscience

Lone Star College - Tomball is a community college with an enrollment of nearly 10,000 students located just north of Houston, TX. It is one of the five campuses and various satellite campuses of the Lone Star College System which has over 90,000 students combined. My students arrive in my class with a wide range of abilities. Most, however, hate math/arithmetic and simply don't know how to do most of what I require of them without significant assistance. The math requirement for my class is little more than what is taught in 8th grade in most school districts. Part of the problem is that I have students who are outside of the typical college age and therefore have not used math for quite a few years. Some just don't know how to do it without a calculator. I would like to see my students be able to manage the quantitative aspects of my class without me having to spend an inordinate amount time covering the math skills needed for the exercises. There are no specific geology tutors available in the Extended Learning Center. All student questions are fielded by me. There are math tutors available but those tutors often don't know how to help students with quantitative geology questions.

More about your geoscience course

Physical Geology is a core science course. Most students enroll in the class to fulfill their general education science requirement. They take geology often as a last resort viewing that geology will have less math and be less difficult than biology, chemistry or physics. Very, very few of my students are geology majors at the beginning of the semester although some do choose a geology major by the end. This class consists of both a lecture and lab component. Each class meets twice a week for three hours each time. Lecture and lab are combined in that three hours and I teach both the lecture and the lab portions. No other instructors are involved in teaching any component of the class. Most often, it is in the lab exercises where I ask them to use their quantitative skills.

Inclusion of quantitative content pre-TMYN

When I first started teaching geology, I had an entire lab devoted to numerical methods. It took so much time to teach the students how to do each problem through the use of example questions and solutions that it gave me little time to teach geology in the beginning. At times, I was practically tutoring student by student during the lab section. I could not get to all of them and some would simply hand in incomplete work as they just did not know how to do the problems, even after receiving some assistance from me. As a result, slowly but surely I removed nearly all quantitative content from the class. I would like to bring quantitative content back into the class but not have to spend entire class periods covering the math skills the students need to complete the assignments. TMYN will free up time during class and lab to cover the geology components needed without having to repeatedly give intensive instruction to small groups of students.

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

  • Density (mineral and rock)
  • Graphing (reaction rates and S-P curves)
  • Topographic Profile and Slopes (constructing beach and topographic profiles, calculating gradient)
  • Rates (stream velocity and discharge; plate motion; flood, earthquake, and eruption frequency)
  • Unit Conversions (topographic maps and rates)

Strategies for successfully implementing The Math You Need

Math is a difficult subject for many students and as a result they have learned to fear math. By showing them how they use math on a daily basis I can ground the new material to what they already know. Anytime new material is grounded to old material, the chance that a student will remember the information increases. To implement TMYN, I plan to begin by administering a pretest during the first week of class that will assess their strengths and weaknesses with respect to the five modules I will be using. This test will be counted as a 20 point completion grade. Then I will use the following to give the the students the opportunity to improve or augment their skills:

  1. Require that students complete the TMYN module assigned prior to the start of lab/class in which the skill will be used.
  2. Allowing the students to take the post-module as many times as is needed to correctly answer the questions.
  3. Award 10 points for successful completion of the post-module assessments as an incentive
  4. Use the skills learned in the TMYN modules to complete the lab assignments.
  5. Include math skills questions on the exams to encourage retention of the learned skills

In order to determine how well they have learned the required elements, I will administer a post test to evaluate their skills at the end of the class. This test will be graded and count as a quiz grade worth 40 points to give them the motivation to try their best and to complete the online test.

Reflections and Results (after implementing)

In the end, I used the following modules:

  • Density
  • Rates
  • Unit Conversions
  • Topographic Profile and Slopes

Despite regular reminding of the students to complete the online assessments, I had difficulty getting them to comply. Only a few actually completed all four assessments. As outlined above, the pretest and the module assessments were completion grades. The post test was worth 30 points: 20 for completing the test and 1/2 point for each correct answer. Unfortunately, few completed the post test. I think that next semester, I will have them complete the test before the last week of school. Too many forgot or just skipped it because they were too busy.

I found The Math You Need to be most helpful for the topographic map lab. Normally I have to spend a significant amount of time going over unit conversions and map scales. In the past, when it came time to measure distance on the map and then convert it to real distances, students simply couldn't do the problems and I ended up spending much of the lab teaching small groups of students how to complete each problem. After doing the unit conversion module and the Topographic Profile and Slopes module, students worked primarily on their own. For the first time, it was actually a pleasure to teach that lab!

I plan use TMYN again this semester (Spring 2013). In order to better get the students to complete the assessments, I plan to set up email reminders for those who have not completed the assignments the day before they are due. Hopefully that will make a difference in the completion rate.


Fall 2012 Syllabus (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 1.1MB Jul27 12)