Structural Geology
At Fort Lewis College FLC logo

Implementor(s): Kim Hannula
Course Name: Structural Geology
Enrollment: 15-25

Challenges to using math in structural geology

Structural Geology is one of the few courses in our curriculum which has a math pre-requisite (pre-calculus). However, students have problems with skills (primarily right triangle trigonometry and rearranging equations) that are a very small part of the pre-calculus course. Despite a math pre-requisite, math skills were a barrier to understanding the geology content.

More about your geoscience course

Structural Geology is typically taken by junior geology majors. It has explicit pre-requisites of a sophomore mapping course and either pre-calculus or introductory physics (primarily because those two courses involve trigonometry). The sophomore mapping course also uses TMYN, so students have experience using the site and assessment.

Inclusion of quantitative content pre-TMYN

Trigonometry is used in map and cross-section problems in lab early in the semester, and comes up in discussions of stress. Matrices and derivatives could also be used, but in the past I have just mentioned that it's possible to use much more math than we use in the class.

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

  • Trigonometry (map problems, bed thickness problems)
  • Unit conversions (structure sections)
  • Map scales (on unit conversion sample problems page) (structure sections)

Strategies for successfully implementing The Math You Need

TMYN is graded as part of the participation grade for the course (5% of the course grade). It is used as a pre-lab assignment to prepare for map and cross-section labs at the beginning of the semester.
  • On-line pre-assessment (due before the first lab)
  • Trigonometry module (tangent problems only) due before first lab
  • Trigonometry module (sine and cosine problems only) due before second lab (bed thickness problems)
  • Unit conversion (including map scales) due before third lab (structure sections)
  • On-line post-assessment (due last week of semester; identical to pre-assessment)

Reflections and Results (after implementing)

In the past, I have spent a lot of lab time explaining trigonometry (and how to figure out what the hypotenuse is, and how to rearrange trig equations) during lab. I still needed to do some explaining, but I was able to move more quickly through the explanation part (and give students more time to work while I was available for questions).

An unexpected side effect was that the students in Structural Geology were also more successful in the calculus courses they were taking at the same time. Students also mentioned looking at the TMYN site for help for other courses.


Structural Geology syllabus (FLC Hannula 2010) (Microsoft Word 88kB Jul28 11)