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Maths for distance-learning science students Sally Jordan The Open University 14th September 2005

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Background information Open University Science Faculty students come from a very wide range of mathematical backgrounds; come from a very wide range of mathematical backgrounds; may not have studied maths for a long time; may not have studied maths for a long time; are often very lacking in confidence in their mathematical abilities. are often very lacking in confidence in their mathematical abilities. Maths for Science is a 10 CATs point Level 1 course, designed to be studied before our Level 2 science courses.

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Maths for Science content Starting points (includes arithmetic, negative numbers, fractions, powers) Starting points (includes arithmetic, negative numbers, fractions, powers) Measurement in science (includes SI units, scientific notation, significant figures) Measurement in science (includes SI units, scientific notation, significant figures) Calculating in science Calculating in science Algebra Algebra Using graphs Using graphs

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Maths for Science content cont. Angles and trigonometry Angles and trigonometry Logarithms Logarithms Probability and descriptive statistics Probability and descriptive statistics Statistical hypothesis testing Statistical hypothesis testing Differentiation Differentiation Appendix: Resolving vectors Appendix: Resolving vectors

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Maths for Science Teaching material is in course book, CD- ROM, supplementary material Teaching material is in course book, CD- ROM, supplementary material Supported by telephone advice line and computer conference Supported by telephone advice line and computer conference Maths is taught in the context of Science Maths is taught in the context of Science Many worked examples and questions Many worked examples and questions

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Maths for Science The course runs 4 times a year and lasts 10 weeks or 4 months The course runs 4 times a year and lasts 10 weeks or 4 months About 4500 OU students have studied the course since September 2002 About 4500 OU students have studied the course since September 2002 The Course Book is available as a hyper- linked eBook as part of the PPLATO project ( The Course Book is available as a hyper- linked eBook as part of the PPLATO project (

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Maths for Science Student quote: ‘I found ‘Maths for Science’ an excellent course - I used to sit and practically cry when I got things right, which I would never have imagined, in a million years, ever being able to do. It gave me so much confidence - one of the best things I have ever done.’ Student quote: ‘I found ‘Maths for Science’ an excellent course - I used to sit and practically cry when I got things right, which I would never have imagined, in a million years, ever being able to do. It gave me so much confidence - one of the best things I have ever done.’ Students are more likely to complete L2 Science courses if they have taken Maths for Science previously. Students are more likely to complete L2 Science courses if they have taken Maths for Science previously.

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Maths for Science assessment We wanted to provide feedback that was: Rapid Rapid Targeted Targeted Detailed Detailed We wanted to do this for both formative and summative assessment.

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Each End of Course Assessment is web-based is web-based is available to students for the final 5 weeks of the presentation is available to students for the final 5 weeks of the presentation can be attempted in as many sittings as a student wants, with no time limit can be attempted in as many sittings as a student wants, with no time limit has only about 25% of questions which are multiple choice. has only about 25% of questions which are multiple choice.

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Answering questions Students are given three attempts at each question. Students are given three attempts at each question. Feedback increases after each attempt and the marks awarded decrease in line with this. Feedback increases after each attempt and the marks awarded decrease in line with this. When a student gives the correct answer, or after three incorrect attempts, the full answer is given. When a student gives the correct answer, or after three incorrect attempts, the full answer is given.

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What have we learnt? The most badly answered question on every assessment is of the type….. The most badly answered question on every assessment is of the type…..

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Why is this question so poorly answered? Many students give incorrect units Many students give incorrect units Many students give incorrect significant figures Many students give incorrect significant figures Many students’ understanding of precedence is weak; they find Many students’ understanding of precedence is weak; they find

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Taking the work forward We are continuing to analyse the data from the Maths for Science assessments in order to investigate students’ mathematical misunderstandings. We are continuing to analyse the data from the Maths for Science assessments in order to investigate students’ mathematical misunderstandings. This is leading to improvements to the questions and to the course itself and also contributing to our understanding of why so many students struggle with maths. This is leading to improvements to the questions and to the course itself and also contributing to our understanding of why so many students struggle with maths.

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