NAGT > Publications > In the Trenches > April 2012

In the Trenches - April 2012

Volume 2, Number 2

In This Issue - By the Numbers: Improving Quantitative Literacy

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The Math You Need, When You Need It

Jennifer M. Wenner, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, and Helen E. Burn and Eric M. Baer, Highline Community College, Des Moines, Washington

"What if you could include more quantitative content in your introductory geoscience courses without spending valuable class time teaching your students math? If you could improve the mathematical skills of the majority of your students, including those who are already skilled in mathematics?
Recent uses of The Math You Need, When You Need It (TMYN) — student-centered, online quantitative modules focused on introductory geoscience — suggest that you can. Since spring of 2010, TMYN has been used in conjunction with geoscience courses at 13 four-year and 10 two-year institutions impacting the mathematical skills of more than 1,500 students (See Table 1 on Page 2). Data from these implementations of TMYN suggest that completing the modules improves students' mathematical skills and that they are useful at a wide variety of institutions."

Quantitative Writing: Using Short Writing Assignments to Teach Data-Based Argumentation

John C. Bean, David Carrithers, Dean Peterson, and Trileigh Tucker, Seattle University, Seattle, Washington

"On our campus we call it by various names—rhetorical mathematics, rhetorical numeracy, or quantitative literacy across the curriculum. Whatever the name, we mean the same thing: Teaching students to be critical readers and writers of arguments that use quantitative data for evidence ('Quantitative Writing'). In selected core (i.e., general education) courses, students write papers in which they must interpret numbers, use them judiciously for evidence to support their own claims, and display them effectively in graphs or tables. In professional or scientific disciplines, teachers design short, vertically integrated assignments that teach new majors how disciplinary experts argue with data using various professional formats and styles. The goals of our program are similar to those pioneered in the QM4PP (Quantitative Methods for Public Policy) program at Macalester College (St. Paul, Minnesota) or the QuIRK (Quantitative Inquiry, Reasoning, and Knowledge) program at Carleton College (Northfield, Minnesota). Specifically, we want students to understand that numbers tell stories, to analyze how numbers are used in arguments, and to use numbers both ethically and persuasively in making their own arguments."

Connecting Quantitative Literacy and Geology

H.L. Vacher, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida

"Students develop specific skills and habits of the mind as they learn to analyze quantitative information in a literate, reasoned, and problem-solving way. Such skills are essential if people are to be able to meet the mathematical demands of their lives and to deal with quantitative and mathematical concepts during their years in school. Many education organizations, recognizing the importance of these skills and habits of mind, have developed curricula, programs, and metrics focusing on what the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U, 2007) calls "quantitative literacy" (Vacher, 2011). In its Liberal Education & America's Promise vision statement, AACU lists quantitative literacy as one of its Essential Learning Outcomes. Earlier reports, including the influential "Crowther Report" (Ministry of Education, 1959) also pointed out the importance of quantitative literacy and referred to it as 'numeracy.'"

Learning to Think Spatially

Carol Ormand, the Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota

"Spatial thinking is fundamental to the geosciences, for tasks as diverse as understanding atmospheric and oceanic circulation patterns; visualizing groundwater flow, the Earth's magnetic field, crystallography, and structural crosssections; and interpreting seismic reflection profiles. Furthermore, spatial thinking is not a single skill. The tasks listed above require a variety of spatial skills, including visualization of 3D objects, patterns and motions; penetrative thinking (imagining the interior of an object); and disembedding (seeing relevant data in a noisy pattern). Unfortunately, there is no formal teaching of spatial thinking skills in the K-12 curriculum. As a result, students arrive in undergraduate geoscience classrooms with a wide range of abilities in this area (e.g., Murphy et al., 2011). A number of studies, in geoscience education and in cognitivescience, have shown that spatial skills do improvewith practice (e.g. Titus and Horsman, 2009). However, average gains over a single semester tend to be quite modest. It is therefore cogent to consider how we can facilitate the development of spatial thinking skills in our geoscience courses."

Math and Science "Placed" in Context

Steven Semken, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, and Chris Schaufele and Nancy Zumoff, Kennesaw State University, Marietta, Georgia

Have you longed for new approaches to interest your students when learning the core math concepts needed for success in your geoscience course? Perhaps approaching the subject from a place-based, culturally connected perspective would help. That is what we did in the Kéyah Math Project, funded by the National Science Foundation under the Opportunities for Increasing Diversity in the Geosciences program. Our team of university and K-12 educators and cultural experts developed 13 free, place-based, mathematically infused online modules for use in a range of geoscience and environmental science courses (Schaufele et al., 2006). Although we developed KM with a specific population in mind (Native American students in the Southwest U.S.), the modules and the design concepts are much more broadly applicable.

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Web Features

NAGT, its members, and its sponsored projects have produced a number of resources related to quantitative reasoning and teaching with data. Some collections of these resources are highlighted below.

Quantitative Literacy and Reasoning

See more on the Teach the Earth SiteGuide: Quantitative Skills, Thinking, and Reasoning.

Spatial Thinking

Teaching with Research and Data

See more on the Teach the Earth SiteGuide: Teaching with Current Research and Data

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