Oceanography (GLY 304, The World Ocean)
at Eastern Kentucky University

Implementor(s): Walter S. Borowski
Enrollment: 24
Anticipated Start Date: The semester starts 20 August 2012 (Semester)

Challenges to using math in introductory geoscience

Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) is a public, four-year, regional university dominated by programs offering baccalaureate degrees, although Master's and doctorate degrees are awarded. Our institution's service area includes central and eastern Kentucky, including Appalachia. Students entering EKU have a broad range of differing competencies with many students being first-generation college students. They are generally ill-prepared in mathematics and science, and are often fearful of these disciplines. The primary motivation for most of our non-science students is to graduate with a degree leading to general employment. Some students do go on to graduate and professional schools.

I plan to apply workshop products within a general-education class that typically contains few, if any, science majors. This population typically is weak in math or is downright math phobic. For example, one-fourth to one-third of students struggle to re-arrange simple equations, before plugging-in known quantities. There is a wide range of mathematics abilities within the class short of calculus.

My institution and department is absolutely neutral with regard to incorporating mathematics into general education classes, i.e. they do not promote nor hinder the use of mathematics. However, as a scientist I feel that mathematics should be introduced and used within general-education science classes in order to show how data are manipulated and analyzed in order to reach sound inferences or conclusions.

I already use almost all of the TMYN items displayed on the website in my course, but view this as an opportunity to introduce students to the skill/concept before applying it in class. At present, I plan to give web-based homework to students for the modules listed below, then use those learnings in class. Each in-class exercise will include reinforcement for the concept as introduced in the homework then demonstrate its application. All of the targeted math skills are used repeatedly throughout the course.

More about your geoscience course

This course can satisfy 1 of 2 classes necessary in EKU's requirements for general-education, lab-based science. Therefore, the class is primarily designed to serve general-education students, although geology majors can take the course as an elective. There are no TA's for the course.

I am the only instructor for the course and teach it as integrated lab and lecture. Some class days may be devoted entirely to a laboratory exercises, other days may contain several shorter exercises intercalated with lecture. A strength of the course is that it meets for 2 hours, twice a week. This gives added flexibility to instruction.

Inclusion of quantitative content pre-TMYN

My course now incorporates exercises every day that perform calculations and/or use actual oceanographic data. For example, we plot temperature profiles for ocean waters to observe the basic thermal structure of the ocean and discover reasons for ocean stratification in terms of temperature. We then explore the consequences of ocean structure on climate, life, etc. These exercises usually utilize pencil and paper, but computer applications are used as well (these usually allow students to gain experience with MS Excel).

Other quantitative exercises include:

- salinity - law of constant composition (Excel exercise)
- tsunami travel time
- water depth calculation using echo sounding (speed of sound)
- sedimentation rate calculations
- plotting temperature and oxygen profiles using data gathered from a local lake (Excel)

- tropical cyclones - graphing wind speed vs. atmospheric pressure
- graphing relationships between wave height, wind speed, wind duration, and fetch

I estimate that 25 to 30% of class time is involved in some sort of exercise that utilizes mathematics to some extent.

I think TMYN will not increase the quantitative content of my course per se, but rather deepen it by setting a better foundation for math skills used throughout the course. Evidence from past implementations show that most students enhance their mathematical abilities by experiencing TMYN, despite marked differences in prior preparation and ability. This is my goal in implementing TMYN into my oceanography course.

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

Best Fit Line
Rearranging Equations
Unit Conversions

Strategies for successfully implementing The Math You Need

I plan to use TMYN as out-of-class assignments as early as possible in the semester. Students will go through the on-line tutorial and exercises, and complete the quiz for credit, capping-off the module. Students may take the module assessment multiple times.

For assessment of the effectiveness of TMYN, I will use a pre-test and post-test following the basic wishes of the TMYN PIs. The pre-test will be given via paper-and-pencil (to minimize potential cheating) on the first day of class, along with other assessment tools for the course. The post-test assessment will be given in paper-and-pencil in mid-semester after all modules are completed but well before end-of-semester obligations swamp students. I use three questions per module in the assessments, and these questions test only for that specific skill. Also, I will incorporate the "helpfulness" and "difficulty" attitudinal questions.

Points given for module quizzes and overall assessment will be folded into the total number of participation points (classwork, exercises, and homework) of the course (see syllabus). Completion of the quizzes earn automatic points. To give students incentive for doing well, they can earn bonus points for correct answers.

The modules tie into my course content in the following way:

Density - continental crust vs. oceanic crust, water masses

Unit conversions - replete through the course

Rates - rates for sedimentation, tectonic plate movement, residence time, tsunami travel time, seismic wave travel time,

Rearranging equations - replete throughout the course

Best-fit line - Law of Constant Composition; tropical cyclone pressure versus wind velocity

Reflections and Results (after implementing)

I implemented TMYN exactly as described above, and my use of the modules and module-ending quizzes went smoothly. There was little additional work in implementing TMYN.

However, only 13% of students (3 of 23 in the class) participated fully by completing all modules (5) with an additional 30% (7 students) completing 80% of the modules (4). 30% of the class (7 students) did not complete any modules, and the remainder of students participated in between 1 to 3 modules.

Lack of participation likely affected gains in pre- versus post-test results. Overall, 13 % (3 students), 22% (5), and 65% (15) of students showed score decreases, no improvement, and score gains, respectively. Average and median gain in correct answers was 5 and 4 questions, respectively, when looking at those students who did show improvement. As might be expected, there is some correlation between the number of modules completed and post-test improvement, but there are some students who completed 80% of the modules and lost ground on the post-test. The results are muddy.

Student attitude toward TMYN modules was very favorable. 85% of students felt TMYN improved their math skills, wasn't too difficult or time-consuming, and helped in the course.

To summarize, lack of participation in the TMYN modules was extremely disappointing. I did indeed refer to TMYN throughout the course – especially when we worked problems. My plans for the Spring 2013 semester are to implement TMYN in exactly the same way, but to refer to the modules even more often in class while asking students about their progress. In other words: show more enthusiasm for TMYN and demonstrate more relevance.


Borowski World Ocean Syllabus (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 34kB Jul27 12)