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Attempts at Improving Quantitative Problem-Solving Skills in Large Lecture-Format Introductory Geology Classes William Roark Dupré and Ian Evans Department of Geosciences University of Houston Houston, Texas 77204-5503 [email protected] ABSTRACT We have used a variety of approaches to introduce quantitative concepts into our introductory geology classes, some of which rely on using case studies of local rivers to improve student interest and appreciation of quantitative methods in scientific problem solving. Fortunately, there are rivers in most parts of the country, so these approaches are easily transferable and applicable in many areas. A simplified form of the continuity equation applied to stream flow serves as the starting point for developing a discussion of how and why local rivers are channelized for flood control. Students also analyze the recurrence interval of flooding along a local river of interest.
· Interpretation of x-y and pie graphs, · Variables expressed as algebraic equations, · Concept of rates (for example, erosion, sea-level
rise, geothermal gradients, stream gradients, and evolution), · Fractions, ratios, and percentages (for example, porosity, specific gravity, radiometric decay, and scale), and · Probability concepts (for example, recurrence interval).
Keywords: Education – geoscience; education – science; education – undergraduate; education – special clientele; hydrogeology and hydrology; surficial geology – geomorphology; miscellaneous and mathematical geology.
We have used a variety of approaches to apply these skills and concepts in our classrooms; however only a few are described here. In particular, we find that the use of case studies of local rivers aids both in developing student interest (Dupré, 1997) and in improving their appreciation of quantitative methods in scientific problem solving. Fortunately rivers are present in most parts of the country, so these approaches described here are easily transferable and applicable in many areas.
Introduction The Physical Geology course taught at the University of Houston is a traditional, freshmen-level course designed in part to satisfy a state-mandated core-distribution requirement for all undergraduates. Although geoscience majors take the course, over 95% of the students who enroll are non-science majors. Most sections are taught in large lecture classes of 100-200, and optional labs are taken by approximately 25% of the students. College algebra is a co-requisite for the course, providing our students with an opportunity to apply the math skills the University deems important enough to be required of all graduates. We believe one of the prime goals of science is to solve problems, and math is a fundamental tool in scientific problem-solving. Also, some basic understanding of mathematics is requisite for scientific literacy (AAAS, 1994). If students can use basic math to solve (or at least understand) simple real-life problems, they will ultimately develop a better appreciation for how science works, how it affects their lives, and how math-based misconceptions can cause serious problems to both individuals and society as a whole. In short, math provides some of the tools with which students can learn science by doing science (National Research Council, 1996; deCaprariis, 1997). The math skills needed to understand the quantitative aspects in our course are relatively modest and are routinely taught in middle and high school (TEA, 1999; TIMSS, undated). They include:
Flooding: An Issue-Based Approach The large class size, combined with time constraints, require that we develop the ideas outlined in this paper by engaging the class in question-and-answer exercises to allow the students to see how arguments and information can be marshalled to develop a better understanding of a potentially complex topic. We begin a week-long discussion of rivers with an overview of the benefits and hazards associated with rivers, particularly focusing on hazards related to flooding and erosion. We start with a question – “how can a few inches of rain cause so much flooding?” Students are used to seeing rainfall amounts reported on TV, yet they have a problem mentally transforming the rainfall to runoff. We continue by asking, “what is the volume of runoff passing through nearby Brays Bayou [located a block off campus], if an average of 1 inch of rain falls upstream? At that point some students recognize that it depends on the area being drained by the river. The class ”discovers" the concept of the drainage basin. We then ask, “is the volume of rain equal to the volume of runoff?” Some will respond no, as some water is lost due to infiltration into the ground. In that case, “what are the variables that determine the rate at which water infiltrates?” The students develop a list, which can include soil type, rate of rainfall, ground slope, soil moisture content, vegetation, and land use. They can then develop the following relationship:
Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 48, 2000, p. 431
Improving Quantitative Problem-Solving Skills in Large Lecture-Format Introductory Geology Classes Equations are rare (and in some cases completely absent) in most introductory geology textbooks (for example, see Shea, 1990, 1994). One advantage of We then do a simple calculation showing that, for using the continuity equation is that it is included in the actual drainage area of Brays Bayou of 95 square most recent textbooks, even if it is poorly stated in miles (246 square kilometers), a one-inch rain with an many cases (Wampler, 1997). This equation is typiaverage infiltration of 0.2 inches results in 2.6 billion cally used in textbooks only to show how discharge cubic feet of runoff. The students are surprised by can be calculated, yet it can also provide the basis for the large volume produced from such a small rain. analyzing why local streams are channelized, and The discussion then turns to how volume of run- how such channel modifications reduce local flooding. off translates to an elevation of flood waters. Upon Such an approach is usually restricted to more adreflection, the class realizes that it isn’t the volume vanced textbooks (for example, see Dunne and Leopold, of water that’s important to most flood issues, it’s 1978; Manning, 1987; Dingman, 1994), however it can the rate at which that volume passes a single point. also be used quite effectively at the introductory level. We have now introduced the concept of discharge We ask the students “How do you increase the ve(=volume/unit time), as well as the closely related locity of water flowing through a hose?”, and they reparameter stage (= stream surface elevation). If time ply “by putting your thumb over part of the nozzle” allows, we discuss rating curves, which plot discharge (that is, by decreasing the cross sectional area). We against stage, and how stage, as measured at gaging then ask them “How can you reduce cross sectional stations, is actually used as a proxy for discharge in area (hence stage) without reducing discharge?”, and, most cases. Hydrographs, which using the continuity equation, plot discharge (or stage) against ...on any given day, approximately 40% they respond “by increasing time, are an important graphivelocity.” A class discussion of the students are likely to be absent. cal tool in describing runoff. Hygenerates the following ways drographs of real-time stage to increase stream velocity: 1) and discharge can be downloaded from the Internet decrease resistance to flow, 2) increase the efficiency (U.S. Geological Survey, 2000) and used to illustrate of the channel, and 3) increase the slope of the channel. points made in the previous day’s discussion. Use of Given these relationships, we help guide the stureal hydrograph data is extremely effective in gener- dents to develop a hypothetical algebraic relationating student interest. Several freshman textbooks ship similar to equation 2: use hydrographs to show the lag time between rain (Efficiency) y & (Slope) x fall and runoff, and to illustrate the increased peak . (2) V= k discharge (and stage) with urbanization of the drain(Resistance) z age basin by increasing the speed by which water flows out of the drainage basin (for example, see Plummer This approximates the Manning Equation (equation and others, 1999; Tarbuck and Lutgens, 1999). We 3), which provides a framework for discussing various also note that urbanization, by replacing more perme- aspects of channelization. able soils with impervious structures, also increases 2 1 the volume of runoff, further accentuating the in1.49R 3 S 2 , (3) V = creased peak discharge. In short, upstream developn ment can result in increased downstream flooding. where: Channelization and the Continuity Equation V = average flow velocity (in ft/sec), We give an overview of the various structural and n = Manning’s roughness coefficient non-structural responses to floods, focusing on chan(a dimensionless measure of the resistance to flow), nelization. Channelization often involves modificaR = hydraulic radius (a measure of channel cross section of a segment of a stream to increase its flow tion efficiency), and velocity, thereby decreasing the cross sectional area S = slope of the energy gradient (approximated by slope and lowering flood stage so that the discharge can be of the channel). contained in the channel without overbank flooding. To illustrate the effect of channel roughness (or A simplified form of the continuity equation (equation 1) applied to stream flow can be the starting resistance to flow), we show pictures of two urban point for developing a useful discussion of how and streams (Figure 1 A and B). Virtually all students recognize that the concrete-lined channel has the lower why a local river is channelized for flood control. roughness coefficient, hence the fastest flow. This proQ = VA , (1) vides the engineering rationale for replacing riparian vegetation with concrete, thereby increasing flow velocwhere: ity and decreasing stage. We have an overabundance Q = Discharge (volume/unit time, of such concrete-lined waterways near the campus and (for example, cubic feet/second throughout Houston to serve as examples, as do most or cubic meters/second)), urban settings. V = average stream velocity, and Velocity can also be increased by making the A = cross sectional area of the stream. channel cross section more efficient. This is done by (average rainfall – average infiltration) ´ drainage area = volume of runoff.
Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 48, 2000, p. 432
Improving Quantitative Problem-Solving Skills in Large Lecture-Format Introductory Geology Classes
A Figure 1. Comparison of natural (A) and concrete-lined (B) urban streams.
increasing the hydraulic radius (R) of the channel, as defined by equation 4: R = A/P
where: A = Cross sectional area of the water in the channel, and P = wetted perimeter (= the perimeter of the channel in contact with water). The term “hydraulic radius” isn’t used in freshmen texts; however, the concept of channel efficiency can be found in many textbooks (for example, see Thompson and Turk, 1994; Dolgoff, 1998; Monroe and Wicander. 1998; Tarbuck and Lutgens, 1999; Plummer, McGeary, and Carlson, 1999); one (Pipkin and Trent, 1994, p. 243) shows how this unnamed ratio can be used to predict change in velocity. We show the students two channels with the same cross sectional area – one wide and shallow and the other narrow and deep (Tarbuck and Lutgens, 1999, p. 235). Most students recognize that water in the wide, narrow channel has more contact with the channel margin (a greater wetted perimeter), thus more friction to slow it down relative to a channel with a more efficient (higher) hydraulic radius. In discussing the influence of channel slope, we ask students how to slow down when skiing down a steep slope, and many answer, “by taking a less direct, ‘zig-zag, course.” This introduces the concept of sinuosity and its relationship to slope. The sinuosity of a stream is a dimensionless ratio describing how much the channel deviates from a straight line. It can be calculated by dividing the channel distance by the straight line distance between two points (equation 5). Sinuosity=
channel length straight-line (valley) length
We show the students topographic maps of Brays Bayou in 1916 and 1978 (Figure 2) and ask them how straightening the channel affected sinuosity and channel slope. Slope (S) is defined as: S=
Figure 2. Comparison of channel shape and sinuosity of Brays Bayou before and after channelization (U.S. Geological Survey, 1920 and 1982).
where: DY = change in elevation between two points, and X = distance between two points measured along the channel. Since straightening a channel reduces X without changing DY, it reduces sinuosity (from 2.4 to 1.2) and increases slope. In doing so, we have increased velocity and thus reduced local flooding. At this point, it is important to discuss the fact that, although channelization may decrease flooding along a particular stream segment, it can result in increased flooding downstream. Other negative aspects of channelization include reduction in groundwater recharge, loss of riparian and aquatic habitats, aesthetics, and so forth. What is the 100-Year Flood? The local Houston newspaper quoted a flood survivor who was re-building his house in the floodplain as saying, “They say this is a 100 year flood. I don’t guess I’ll see the next one anyway.” (Henderson, 1998). This illustrates the common misconception that the 100year flood is a flood that occurs once every 100 years. This is reinforced when a local flood-management official states on TV that, “the longer it’s been since we have had a 100 year flood, the more likely it is to occur
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Improving Quantitative Problem-Solving Skills in Large Lecture-Format Introductory Geology Classes
Figure 3. Flood record at the Richmond gaging station on the Brazos River.
in the future.” We address these misconceptions head on in class using the coin toss as an example. The students demonstrate that “heads” does not come up once every two times you flip a coin, even though, on the average, it will come up 50% of the time. They also see that the coin has a 50% (or 1 in 2) chance of being heads on any given flip, regardless of the previous “flip history.” Similarly, the 100-year flood does not occur exactly once every hundred years, but is a flood with an annual recurrence interval of 100 years. The annual recurrence interval (RI) of an event of a particular magnitude is the average number of years between events of similar or greater magnitude. Annual recurrence interval is calculated as: RI=
N+ 1 M
where: N = number of years of record, and M = relative rank of the event (M=1 for largest magnitude event of record). The annual exceedence probability (P) of an event of a particular magnitude being equaled or exceeded in any given year is the reciprocal of the recurrence interval (equation 8). P=
Thus a 100-year flood is also one that has a 1% (1 in 100) chance of being equaled or exceeded in any given year, regardless of the previous “flood history.” Most introductory textbooks include a graph of
recurrence interval versus flood discharge, and some even provide data sets and show how it is calculated (for example, see Chernicoff, 1999; Monroe and Wicander, 1998; Plummer and others, 1999; Press and Siever, 1998). In addition, on-line data sets of peak annual flood discharges for rivers throughout the country are available through the Internet (U.S. Geological Survey, undated). To increase the interest of our students, many of whom have heard of 100-year floodplain maps and the related FEMA insurance program, we discuss an article from the local newspaper (Munk, 1997) describing the plight of a small town (Simonton) approximately 50 kilometers west of Houston. The town has been incorporated since 1979; however, only recently have floods along the Brazos River (October, 1991 and December, 1994) caused serious damage. The class concludes that any response to the flood problem (for example, levees, buyouts, floodproofing) must include an analysis of the probability of damaging floods in the future. As an extra-credit assignment we give the students a histogram (Figure 3) and a table listing the peak average daily discharges for each of the 75 years of record (1925-1999) from which they calculate the recurrence interval and exceedence probability of all flood events greater than 80,000 ft3/sec (including the 1991 and 1994 floods). They realize on the basis of their calculations that the town has suffered serious damage from a flood with an eight-year recurrence interval, that is, one with a 12% chance of occurring any given year. A second part of the case study (not discussed here) illustrates that levees proposed to protect the houses from flooding can’t be built because of the rapid erosion rates and impending meander cut off. It should be noted that the concept
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Improving Quantitative Problem-Solving Skills in Large Lecture-Format Introductory Geology Classes of recurrence interval as described here is based on the assumption that climatic variations over the period of record don’t affect the probability of an event occurring in the future. Gosnold and others (2000) correctly question this assumption; however this is a complication which, depending on time, may or may not be appropriate for an introductory class. Does Our Approach Work? The effectiveness of this approach is difficult to measure. In part, this is because most of it is based on discussions in class, where, on any given day, approximately 40% of the students are likely to be absent. Only 50-60% of the students do the assignments, such as the recurrence-interval problem set, whether they are required or given as extra credit. This approach is more effective when integrated into major individual or group projects requiring students to use real data to make a report, complete with documented recommendations for future action. One of us (WRD) did this for one section of the optional freshman lab and for an upper-division geohazards course, and the student reports were, on the whole, exceptional. Unfortunately, limitations of class size, personnel, and space preclude our using projects with formal reports in the large introductory classes. Nonetheless, students generally do better on exam questions relating to the topics discussed in this paper than on questions on other topics. In fact, some of the best results on the exams are obtained on questions dealing with the more quantitative aspects of river behavior, flooding, and channelization. Conclusion · Local rivers provide a useful context to introduce more quantitative concepts to non-science majors, as well as to help motivate students by showing how geologic issues affect their local community. · The continuity equation provides a focal point to develop a classroom discussion of how and why rivers are channelized. It allows class participation and builds on several quantitative concepts, some of which are discussed in textbooks. · The concepts of recurrence interval and exceedence probability, though difficult to understand, can be better understood if students do calculations using real data to better define a real geologic problem. Acknowledgments This article has been significantly improved thanks to the efforts of LeeAnn Srogi, James Westgate, and two anonymous reviewers, as well as the editorial staff of the Journal. References Cited AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science), 1994, Project 2061, Benchmarks for scientific literacy: New York, Oxford University Press, 272 p. Chernicoff, S., 1999, Geology (2nd edition): Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company, 640 p. deCaprariis, P.P., 1997, Impediments to providing scientific literacy to students in introductory survey courses: Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 45, p. 207-210.
Dolgoff, A., 1998, Physical geology: Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company, 638 p. Dingman, S.I., 1994, Physical hydrology: New York, Macmillan Publishing Company, 575 p. Dunne, T., and Leopold, L.B., 1978, Water in environmental planning: New York, W.H. Freeman and Company, 818 p. Dupré, W.R., 1997, Developing introductory labs of local interest [abstract]: Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America, Salt Lake City, Utah. Gosnold, W.D., Jr., LeFever, J.A., Todhunter, P.E., and Osborne, L.F., Jr., 2000, Rethinking flood prediction: Does the traditional approach need to change?: Geotimes, v. 45, n. 5, p. 20-23. Henderson, Jim, 1998, A river gone mad: Houston Chronicle, November 1, p. 1E, 4E. Manning, John C., 1987, Applied principles of hydrology: Merrill Publishing Company, 278 p. Monroe, J.S., and Wicander, R., 1998, Physical geology (3rd edition): Belmont, CA, Wadsworth Publishing Company, 646 p. Munk, Patti, 1997, Flood forces city to pick property tax or deannexation: Houston Chronicle, March 23, p. 38A39A. National Research Council, 1996, National Science Education Standards: Washington, National Academy Press, 262 p. Pipkin, B.W., and Trent, D.D., 1997, Geology and the environment, (2nd edition): Belmont, West/Wadsworth, p. 243. Plummer, C.C., McGeary, D., and Carlson, D.H., 1999, Physical geology (8th edition): Boston, WCB/McGrawHill, 577 p. Press, F., and Siever, R., 1998, Understanding Earth (2nd edition): New York, W.H. Freeman and Company, 682 p. Shea, J.H., 1990, Mathematics in physical-geology textbooks: Journal of Geologic Education, v. 38, p. 138-148 Shea, J.H., 1994, Some additional thoughts on introductory textbooks: Journal of Geologic Education, v. 42, p. 410. Tarbuck, E.J., and Lutgens, F.K., 1999, Earth, 6th edition: Upper Saddle River, NJ, Prentice Hall, 638p. TEA (Texas Educational Agency), 16 August, 1999, Released TAAS tests and end-of-course examinations: http:// www.tea.state.tx.us/student.assessment/release.htm (7 March, 2000). Thompson, G.R., and Turk, J., 1994, Modern physical geology: Fort Worth, Saunders College Publishing, 566 p. TIMSS (Third International Math and Science Study), undated, Welcome to U.S. TIMMS: http://ustimss.msu.edu/ (7 March, 2000). U.S. Geological Survey, 1920, Burnett Bay, Texas Quadrangle: Topographic map sheet, scale 1:31,680, contour interval 1 foot. U.S. Geological Survey, 1982, Highlands, Texas Quadrangle: Topographic map sheet, scale 1:24,000, contour interval 5 feet. U.S. Geological Survey, 2000, USGS real-time water data; http://water.usgs.gov/realtime.html (13 May, 2000) U.S. Geological Survey, undated, U.S. NWIS-W data retrieval: http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis-w/US/, (7 March, 2000). Wampler, J.M., 1997, Misconceptions of the hydraulic factors of river discharge: Journal of Geoscience Education: v. 45, p. 177-179.
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