Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Learn math to learn science

USA Today reports:
Philip M. Sadler of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and Robert H. Tai of the University of Virginia surveyed 8,474 students taking introductory science courses at 63 U.S. colleges and universities. Their findings are reported in Friday's edition of the journal Science. ...

Using a scale of 0-to-100 points, Sadler and Tai found that every year of high school math a student took added 1.86 points to their grade in college chemistry. Taking chemistry in high school added 1.72 points to the college grade, but taking biology or physics in high school had no significant impact on the college chemistry grade.

Likewise, students taking college biology got a 1.84 point boost for each year of high school math. Taking high school biology got them an extra 1.35 points, but high school chemistry and physics had no significant effect.

And for physics, each year of high school math added 1.28 points, high school physics gave a 1.32 point boost, while high school biology and chemistry had no impact.
In other words, if you want to be a scientist, then study as much math as you can. You can learn science in college.

Update: A reader points out that maybe taking high school math and getting good college science grades are just both symptoms of a hardworking overachiever.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If it were only an increased knowledge of math that was causing the increase than you'd expect to see the biggest impact on the physics grade, which is by far the most math-centric science. But it had the least impact on physics.

It probably has more to do with being hard workers and overachievers. In my experience, physics is the subject that lends itself least to rote learning and raw work. Which would explain why the impact there is the smallest.