Using tree rings to develop critical scientific and mathematical thinking skills in undergraduate students
The project is a collaborative effort among Columbia University, U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Passaic County Community College, and Centralia College to develop, evaluate and refine undergraduate science and mathematical modules based on applications of tree rings to age dating, climate and environmental change, volcanic hazards, statistical modeling, and forensic science. Interactive multi-media modules are being made available through a website and are accompanied by background material and guidelines for flexible use to instructor adoption. Students can measure tree-ring widths virtually and/or use datasets to conduct inquiry-based investigations and quantitative analyses, with an emphasis on learning the process of science. The project is also conducting faculty-development workshops at the partnering institutions, and undertaking rigorous evaluation of learning outcomes.
The intellectual merit of the project lies in its innovative approach to leveraging the readily grasped basic premise and wide range of applicability of tree-ring science to engage students in learning scientific methods and quantitative reasoning. Broader impacts include infusion of tree-ring science in the undergraduate curriculum at the diverse partnering institutions and beyond. Skills and attitudes imparted by the modules both benefit students who go on in STEM and bolster scientific literacy among the general population.