Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

A First-Year Experience Sequence for Science and Mathematics Majors

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

A First-Year Experience Sequence for Science and Mathematics Majors

Article excerpt

"State University" is a large science and engineering school located in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area. It is considered a commuter campus; the majority of students are not residential, thus limiting the sense of community on campus. Because of the size of the campus (approximately 19,000 undergraduates), most math and science majors are enrolled in large sections of lower division courses with students outside their majors and part-time faculty as instructors; students often complain that they feel isolated in their first few years on campus. Continuation rates after one year at State University hover around 82%, and the two-year rate is approximately 72% (Internal Research and Academic Resources, 2010).

In 2006 the College of Science at State University developed a two-quarter, first-year experience sequence, SCI 101 and 102. Each course is three credits (one-credit lecture, two-credit activity) and is required for any College of Science major. Adopting traditional models for such courses, the first quarter of the sequence contained the standard collection of college-life topics, including time management, study skills, and campus involvement. The course was also aimed at building a cohort of fellow majors in a small-class environment (10-20 students) taught by a tenure-track professor in the department of their major. The second quarter continued the philosophy, though the emphasis shifted from general science to studying a particular major. Topics varied by department, but most departments focused on a general overview of the various paths students could take within their given major, including internships and undergraduate research.

The first offering occurred in the fall of2007, with seven sections across the College of Science. During the first quarter it became apparent, both in the classroom and through campus-wide discussions, that the course required a different approach. It was decided that the course needed a stronger content focus, and because the course sequence was offered by the College of Science, a decision was made to focus the first quarter on the theory of science. At the close of the fourth yearly offering, the mathematics section of State University's first-year experience sequence had found its footing. The purpose of this article is to outline activities and topics that have been most well-received by students enrolled in the course. Anecdotal evidence and preliminary findings from a student pilot survey are included at the end of this paper.

SCI 101: Theory of Science, first quarter

As the course was reframed, no curricular materials for a theory of science course aimed at college freshmen were found; however, a graduate-level text, Scientific Method in Practice (Gauch, 2002), was found. Gauch stated in his book that most scientists are trained in their fields but are rarely trained in how science works, and so despite the difference in rigor and intended audience, the book meshed nicely with the intent of the freshmen course. The basic structure and topic list from Scientific Method in Practice were incorporated into the 10-week course, with highlights outlined here.

Gauch (2002) proposed the PEL (presuppositions, evidence, logic) model as a simplified approach to the more classic description of the scientific method (hypothesis, testing, analyzing data, and communicating results). He used the PEL model to illustrate the cyclical nature of science and how inductive and deductive logic are used as the vehicles that move science between evidence and modeling. In this way, the PEL model highlights the necessity of logic in science.

Following the PEL model, many weeks of SCI 101 are spent on logic--not only its function but also common deductive fallacies, including ad hominem, composition, and appeal to popularity. Students are expected to memorize these fallacies, identify real-life examples, and analyze arguments throughout the remainder of the quarter. …

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