Writing improvement in physical science

When I took over and redesigned SC 130 Physical Science in 2007 I had two focuses. The dual focuses were to put mathematics and writing into the core of the course. By building laboratories around mathematical models and having students write up the results of those laboratories in reports marked for content, grammar, vocabulary, organization, and cohesion, both goals were simultaneously achieved. A previous report looked at improvement in mathematical graphical analysis skills, this report looks at the improvement in writing.

The redesigned course is intended to include support for the general education program student learning outcome 1.1, "Write a clear, well-organized paper using documentation and quantitative tools when appropriate." The course also now serves the second institutional learning outcome, "Effective written communication: development and expression of ideas in writing through work in many genres and styles, utilizing different writing technologies, and mixing texts, data, and images through iterative experiences across the curriculum." The laboratory reports include tables and charts prepared in a spreadsheet and then inserted into the final report using word processing software. Effective written communication also requires command and control of grammar, vocabulary, organization, and cohesion. This article reports on these writing metrics in a non-language and literature course.

The course includes 15 laboratories. Odd numbered laboratories include a full write-up with grammar, vocabulary, organization, and cohesion being marked. The exception is that laboratory 15 is not turned-in, so laboratory 14 is done as a full write-up laboratory. Thus eight full laboratory reports are done during 16 weeks.

Grammar, vocabulary, organization, and cohesion are scored using a rubric with a total possible of 20 points. Four metrics are scored on a 0 to 5 point scale: grammar, vocabulary, organization, and cohesion. The rubric was reported in an earlier blog article.

On the first laboratory report in January the median was 17 with a lowest score of 8. On the last laboratory report in late April the median was 20 with a lowest score of 15. The improvement in both the mean and the median was significant.

The average for each of the four metrics also improved from January to April, and each of these gains was also significant.

By the limited scope of the four metrics examined, the students writing skills are improved by the physical science course.

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