Using Mathematical Modeling to Improve Quantitative Skills of Geology Students

Project: Research project

Project Details


This project adapts tools developed for use in mathematics courses (STELLA, Mathematica) to develop the quantitative skills of students in geology laboratories and courses. Students in upper-level geology courses and one mid-upper-level geology course are using these tools to analyze data and construct dynamic models. Each course emphasizes a different aspect of mathematical modeling: Oceans and Atmospheres (dynamic system modeling with STELLA and EXCEL), GIS, Remote Sensing and Spatial Modeling in Environmental Sciences (spatial modeling, geostatistics, decision making), Modeling in the Geosciences (iterative modeling, self-organized criticality, non-linear responses), and Hydrology (2- and 3-D models of groundwater flow, streamflow, and the hydrologic cycle in watersheds). Modeling projects are also being added to existing courses, such as Geomorphology, Paleobiology, Tectonics, and Structural Geology, and Introductory Geology.

Student research projects (required for the geology major) are enhanced by the availability of sophisticated modeling tools and instruction in those tools that emphasize comparing models, testing them with field-collected data, and understanding their limitations rather than simply learning technical computer skills. Project results, including new teaching exercises and research, are being presented at professional meetings and workshops and made available on the Web.

Faculty are developing real-world, collaborative exercises incorporating mathematical modeling skills, using examples from previously funded NSF projects and workshops, especially the 1999 PKAL workshop on 'Building the Quantitative Skills of Non-majors and Majors in Earth and Planetary Science Courses' and its follow-up publication in the Journal of Geoscience Education (volume 48). As part of a program of faculty development to support these changes, faculty are continuing to participate in on-campus and external training and workshops.

The primary courses are taught to twenty to forty students each year; the supplementary material in other courses reach anywhere from 90 (not including Introductory Geology) to 240 students each year (including Introductory Geology). Faculty in the Geology and Mathematics and Computer Science Departments and an external expert are evaluating the project.

Effective start/end date5/1/014/30/06


  • National Science Foundation: $30,625.00


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