Earth Science 101: Earth Environments (Intro Physical Geography)
at University of Wisconsin La Crosse

Implementor(s): Ryan Perroy
Enrollment: 90
Anticipated Start Date: Fall 2012 (Semester)

Challenges to using math in introductory geoscience

The University of Wisconsin La Crosse is a 4-year comprehensive public university located in southwestern Wisconsin (the heart of the 'Driftless' Zone). UW-L serves ~10,000 students from 37 states and 44 countries. Many UW-L students are the first in their families to attend college, there is a sizable Hmong and international student population, and there are also many recent veterans. The students who take ESC101 range from highly motivated Geography and Earth Science majors (a small %) to liberal studies majors that are taking it because other classes that would meet the Gen Ed science lab requirement are perceived to be 'too hard'. In general, the majority of the students in ESC101 are unprepared and weak in quantitative skills- using excel, plotting relationships, understanding and using simple formulas, thinking about units, etc. There is a wide range in abilities and motivation and I hope TMYN can provide some tools for me to more successfully incorporate quantitative skills in my class.

More about your geoscience course

ESC101 fulfills a General Education science lab requirement, and generally attracts students who are either truly interested in the Earth Sciences or who are trying to avoid perceived 'harder' sciences like physics and chemistry. The class lecture meets MWF for 55 minutes and there is a once-a-week 2-hour lab section that I would envision could be most affected by TMYN, but I'm happy to bring these techniques into lecture and problems sets as well. I do not currently have a TA but will split some of the lab duties with another lab instructor this Fall as a trial experiment. The goal of the course is not necessarily to produce an army of physical geographers that can calculate atmospheric lapse rates, but to produce scientifically literate citizens. The emphasis is on developing critical thinking skills, understanding and applying the scientific method, and basic problem solving. Currently no on-line section of ESC101 is offered, though this may become an option in the future.

Inclusion of quantitative content pre-TMYN

The students do weekly D2L problem sets that involve making calculations, a number of the lab sections are excel-based (calculating recurrence intervals for floods, working with ice core or sunspot data, etc.), and we work through simple formulas in class like Wien's Law. My goal is to first use TMYN to more effectively get across the quantitative content in my course, and then hopefully slightly increase the amount. I set aside a good portion of the first computer lab to work through basic excel commands they will need, I provide some background information on working with units, and try and provide a class environment and match students in pairs or small groups that have varying levels of quantitative skills so they can assist each other. I probably spend 15-20% of the class working on quantitative skills, and during some laboratory sessions >75% of the time working on remedial skills.

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

Plotting Points: Rivers/Sunspots/Paleoclimate
Topographic Profile: Topographic Maps/Volcanoes/Mass Wasting
Rates: Weathering/Plate Tectonics/Climate Change/Paleoclimate
Slopes: Topographic Maps/Volcanoes/Mass Wasting
Unit Conversions: Eolian Processes/Topographic Maps

Strategies for successfully implementing The Math You Need

Students will complete a 16 question pre-assessment quiz at the beginning of the semester (single attempt). This same quiz will be given to the students at the end of the class during the final laboratory session (single attempt). I plan to have students work through five TMYN modules over the course of the semester. Each module will be introduced one week before the pertinent laboratory session. Each module will include a 5-question quiz (due before lab) that can be re-taken indefinitely. For the laboratory sessions with a TMYN module, the session will begin with me asking if there are any questions about the module and introducing the lab materials, emphasizing connections with the module.

For some TMYN modules, multiple laboratory topics directly relate (see above), presenting opportunities to increase the # of connections the students make with these skills.

The TMYN module quizzes and post-assessment quiz will be worth 5% of their total grade.

In addition to the post-module quiz questions, questions about the 'helpfulness' and difficulty of the modules will be presented

Reflections and Results (after implementing in Fall 2012)

TMYN was introduced into the Fall 2012 version of my ESC101 with generally positive results. As planned, I had the students complete a 16-question pre-asessment quiz in the first lab section. It took longer than I anticipated and made some of the students slightly aggravated, so in the future I will probably either cut down on the # of assessment questions or give them some additional incentive/warning. The pre-course assessment was not for any points. I reduced the # of modules we covered in the class from 5 to 4 (combined the Slope and Topography modules into one) and had the students work through the modules and associated quizzes in the week before the related lab. The students could take the module quizzes as many times as they liked before the lab meeting (TMYN quizzes were worth 5% of their total grade), so theoretically they could get perfect scores for that portion of their grade. Students did not always remember to take the module quizzes (45% of the students failed to even attempt the 'Unit Conversions' module quiz, for example) so that tells me I need to do a better job of incorporating the modules into class in a way that speaks to the students.

84 students completed both the pre- and post-course 16-question/16 point assessments.

76% improved their score (average increase 2.3 pts, max increase 6.5 pts), 6% had no change, and 18% did worse (average decrease 1.7 pts, max decrease 7.3 pts).

There was a positive correlation between TMYN assessment scores and letter grades in the class.

I will be taking a break from teaching ESC101 next semester, but plan to use TMYN in the future when I teach it again. I am interested to see if the effects of TMYN can be isolated from simply taking ESC101 in general and am talking with my colleagues here in the department that also teach ESC101 (presently without TMYN) to see if we can devise a large enough cohort of students to take the assessment quizzes and find out.


Perroy ESC101 Syllabus Fall 2012 (Acrobat (PDF) 836kB Aug24 12)