The Unique Role of Introductory Geology Courses in Teaching Quantitative Reasoning

Powell, W.G. and Leveson, D.J.

2003, Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 52, p. 301-305

Quantitative literacy (a basic familiarity with numbers, arithmetic and graphs) and quantitative reasoning (the application of logic to problems and the ability to understand the real-world meaning of numbers and mathematical statements) are end-members of a continuous spectrum of quantitative concepts. Different disciplines tend to lie on different points of this spectrum in terms of what they emphasize in introductory classes. Introductory geology lies mid-way on the quantitative spectrum. For example, probability is a concept that is essential to reasoning in geology, but commonly it is not expressed numerically. Rather, it is expressed and evaluated by appeal to logical argument. Weighing data and appreciating implications of scale, location and spatial relationships are critical in tackling geology problems, and one could argue that in a cross-curricular quantitative reasoning program these aspects of quantitative reasoning may be best delivered through introductory earth science courses. Thus geological reasoning is a unique and valuable form of quantitative reasoning.