Quantitative reasoning, also called numeracy or quantitative literacy, is the ability to use and make sense of numbers. Quantitative reasoning skills are used in everyday life and have a strong, proven relationships with science literacy, understanding of risk, sound financial decision making, and many other important life skills. However, poor quantitative skills are a common barrier to entry into STEM fields. (another sentence here, maybe about discouragement).
Innumeracy, the lack of quantitative reasoning skills, has particular implications for underrepresented groups (including women, students of color, and the learning disabled) and pre-service teachers, who score significantly lower on numeracy assessments, including the QuaRCS. However, numeracy is not a fixed ability; quantitative reasoning is a skill that can be improved over time. Research-validated strategies for improving quantitative skills and attitudes toward mathematics have the potential to improve recruitment into and retention within STEM disciplines, especially for groups who are traditionally underrepresented.
However, rigorous educational research into strategies for mitigating innumeracy in the classroom is sparse, and there are many unanswered questions in the field numeracy. Our goal is to use our developed and validated Quantitative Reasoning for College Science assessment instrument (QuaRCS, Follette et al. 2015, Follette et al. 2017) to explore predictors of innumeracy in the undergraduate general education science student population, as well as instructional methods capable of addressing it. General education college science courses are an important venue for improving numerical and science literacy, as they reach a large proportion of non-STEM major undergraduates. Approximately 700,000 students enroll annually in introductory astronomy and geosciences courses alone.
We believe that improving numeracy instruction in general education science courses will both foster the quantitative skills necessary for all students to become discerning voters and savvy consumers and be of particular benefit to those from underrepresented groups in pursuing further STEM education.
Our study is primarily focused on studying the following topics
- How quantitative reasoning varies in the undergraduate general education science student population
- The relationship linking quantitative reasoning to cognitive and affective variables
- The impact of instructional methods on both quantitative reasoning and student’s mathematical affect (feelings and perceptions towards quantitative material)
We propose to use our developed and validated Quantitative Reasoning for College Science assessment instrument (QuaRCS, Follette et al. 2015, Follette et al. 2017) to explore predictors of innumeracy in the undergraduate general education science student population, as well as instructional methods capable of addressing it. We will expand our previous, relatively localized study to collect a large national sample of QuaRCS data, allowing us to explore the causal interplay between general education science students’ numerical skills, attitudes, effort, and demographics.
A large statistical sample will also allow us to explore to what degree instructors of general education college science courses can improve their students’:
(a) ability to correctly solve quantitative reasoning problems couched in real-world contexts,
(b) attitudes toward mathematics and related self-efficacy, and
(c) metacognitive awareness of their own numerical skills.
This will allow us to identify “exemplary instructors” whose students demonstrate significant positive pre- to post-course differences in these three areas (a-c) measured by the QuaRCS. To determine and study how particular curricular designs and instructional practices achieve these outcomes, we will recruit 10-12 individuals from among identified exemplary instructors to participate in a detailed study of their courses and classrooms, specifically in regard to where, when and how they emphasize, remediate and discuss numerical topics in their courses. We will disseminate results from both the expanded QuaRCS study and the exemplary instructor study, raise awareness of the importance of quantitative reasoning in the college science classroom, and empower instructors to continue (or begin) to emphasize quantitative skills in their courses through improvements to our established “Re-Numerate” conference workshop series.
Results describing the development and validation of the QuaRCS instrument have been published in the following two papers:
- Follette, K. B., McCarthy, D. W., Dokter, E., Buxner, S., & Prather, E. (2015). ”The Quantitative Reasoning for College Science (QuaRCS) Assessment, 1: Development and Validation.” Numeracy, Vol. 8, Iss. 2.
- Follette, K., Buxner, S., Dokter, E., McCarthy, D., Vezino, B., Brock, L., & Prather, E. (2017). ”The Quantitative Reasoning for College Science (QuaRCS) Assessment 2: Demographic, Academic and Attitudinal Variables as Predictors of Quantitative Ability.” Numeracy, Vol. 10, Iss. 1.