2005 Salt Lake City Annual Meeting (October 16–19, 2005)

Paper No. 24
Presentation Time: 6:00 PM-8:00 PM


STRINGER, C.E., Department of Geology, University of South Florida, 4202 East Fowler Avenue, Tampa, FL 33620, FRATESI, S.E., Geology, Univ of South Florida, 4202 E. Fowler Ave, Tampa, FL 33620 and VACHER, H.L., Department of Geology, University of South Florida, 4202 E. Fowler Ave, SCA 528, Tampa, FL 33620, cestring@mail.usf.edu

Quantitative literacy (QL), or numeracy, is the habit of mind with which one successfully engages, as opposed to avoids, reasoned discourse that includes quantitative content. QL involves elementary mathematical skills and a willingness to solve problems. The opposite of math phobia, QL is both a workplace and a citizenship issue.

Many institutions across the country are implementing initiatives to make QL a part of the undergraduate curriculum (see National Numeracy Network, www.math.dartmouth.edu/~nnn). These initiatives include one or both of (a) a stand-alone QL course and (b) a buffet of discipline-specific courses aiming to infuse QL across the curriculum. For both approaches, the theme is “teaching mathematics in context,” and the approach includes hands-on, interactive problem solving. For both approaches, geology is relevant because it provides rich context for applying elementary mathematics to solve problems that can engage students. This intersection of geology context with QL education provides an opportunity to disseminate important geological concepts beyond the silo of discipline-based education.

Spreadsheets Across the Curriculum (NSF DUE 0442629) is a workshop-based project to develop self-paced, instructional Power-Point modules that guide students to create Excel spreadsheets to make computations (www.evergreen.edu/washcenter). Each module (13-18 slides) poses a problem in the context of a home discipline; guides the student to formulate one or more spreadsheets to solve the problem; and concludes with “end-of-module questions” that ask the student to apply and/or adapt their spreadsheets to solve similar problems. One set of modules takes on the calculation of geologic age. Content includes (1) the relation between radioactivity and amount of parent isotope; (2) the resultant exponential-decay function; (3) the concept of probability in relation to decay constants; and (4) parent-daughter ratios, half-lives and why they are so.