Quantitative Literacy Area Goals

GenEd Quantitative Literacy courses present mathematical thinking as a tool for solving everyday problems, and as a way of understanding how to represent aspects of a complexworld.  They are designed to prepare students as citizens and voters to have the ability to think critically about quantitative statements, to recognize when they are misleading or false, and to appreciate how they relate to significant social or political issues. While computation may be part a QL course, the primary focus is not computational skills.

Quantitative Literacy courses are intended to teach students how to:

  • Understand quantitative models that describe real world phenomena and recognize limitations of those models;
  • Perform simple mathematical computations associated with a quantitative model and make conclusions based on the results;
  • Recognize, use, and appreciate mathematical thinking for solving problems that are part of everyday life;
  • Understand the various sources of uncertainty and error in empirical data;
  • Retrieve, organize, and analyze data associated with a quantitative model; and
  • Communicate logical arguments and their conclusions.


Critical Reasoning and Problem Solving

MATH 0828
The course teaches students how to deal with and solve complex problems by confronting them with critical analysis. We look at these problems both from an historical perspective and the practical view of how and when these types of problems affect the students’ everyday lives. The course takes students through several key mathematical disciplines, including probability and statistics, including the hallmark of probability – reasoning under uncertainty – as well as set theory and counting techniques and graphing, especially with Venn diagrams, a skill they will find beneficial as the world turns to technology and graphics. For example, when we introduce probability, we cover the first dramatic application of the discipline, Mendel’s discovery of the centuries-old problem of explaining the scientific laws of heredity as he gives birth to genetics. We also cover Mendel’s use of statistics. This leads us to study modern uses of the same concepts in areas such as medicine – how to evaluate statistical studies and how to analyze topics such as false positives – as well as the application of DNA in areas such as how it has significantly changed our justice system.

Digital Mapping: From Mercator to Mashups

From web-based applications like Google Maps, to automobile navigation systems, to satellite pictures of hurricanes, digital maps are widely used to display information about the Earth. This course unmasks the underlying technologies used for computer-based mapping, including Global Positioning Systems (GPS), satellite remote sensing, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). We will investigate how computers store and analyze digital maps, and see how mapping technologies can be used to address a variety of societal problems, such as analyzing the environmental impacts of urban growth, tracking the spread of a deadly disease, and planning for earthquakes and other natural disasters.

Investing for the Future

Thinking about investing but don’t know what to do or where to start? Mystified by a 401(k) versus a Roth IRA selection? Confused by the choice of mutual funds, index versus actively managed, load versus no load? And what about exchange traded funds (ETFs)? Want to prepare for your financial future, but not sure how? Learn what it really means to invest in your future, beginning with how to compute what you need for the future such as college or retirement. Then learn how to connect the dots between risk, return, and cost of investing. This class will teach you about seemingly complicated financial topics in a very comprehensible manner that will help you make informed financial decisions to ensure a secure financial future.

Math for a Digital World

How can I tell if an Email message is really from my bank? If I do online banking, can other people see the information? Does playing the lottery make sense? Does it make sense to draw for an inside straight? How can polling results differ so much from the election — or do they? Sometimes the winner of an election in the US gets much less than 50% of the vote. Would it make sense to have a run-off in such cases? How long will the world’s oil last, assuming that we use more each year. How long will a million dollars last you, assuming it earns interest until you spend it? If you bought your text online, could someone tap into the Internet and get your credit card number when it’s transmitted? Why does the VIN on your car have so many digits?

Mathematical Patterns

MATH 0824, 0924
News stories, everyday situations, and puzzling vignettes will be used to illuminate basic math concepts. Learn probability, for example, by discussing the gambler’s fallacy and gambler’s ruin, the drunkard’s random walks, the Monty Hall problem, the St. Petersburg paradox, the hot hand, monkeys randomly typing on a typewriter, and many others. A similar approach involving estimation problems and puzzles will be taken in the units on basic numeracy and logic. Throughout the course, lectures and readings will examine the mathematical angles of stories in the news, suggesting fresh perspectives, questions, and ideas on current issues from Google searches to the randomness of the iPod shuffle.

Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences


Psychological, political, social, and economic arguments and knowledge frequently depend on the use of numerical data. A psychologist might hypothesize that I.Q. is attributable toenvironmental or genetic factors; a politician might claim that hand gun control legislation will reduce crime; a sociologist might assert that social mobility is more limited in the United States than in other countries, and an economist might declare that globalization lowers the incomes of U.S. workers. How can we evaluate these arguments? Using examples from psychology, sociology, political science, and economics, students will examine how social science methods and statistics help us understand the social world. The goal is to become critical consumers of quantitative material that appears in scholarship, the media, and everyday life.

Statistical Reasoning & Games of Chance

Learn about probability and statistics (combinatorial probability, conditional probability, Bayes’ theorem, independence, random variables, expectation, variance, binomial and Poisson distributions, random sampling, empirical probability, laws of large numbers, central limit theorem, pseudo random numbers, and Monte Carlo simulation) while looking at real-life applications such as blackjack and poker, sports betting, lotteries, pari-mutuels, and the stock market. You will better understand betting systems and their drawbacks, and investigate the social and ethical impact of legalized gambling.

Statistics in the News

Through discussion of approximately 50 news articles, learn basic principles of statistics. This course focuses on the relevance, interpretation and usage of statistics in the news media. It has no quantitative prerequisites and involves more reading than math aptitude. Statistics deals with the study of variability, uncertainty, and decision-making, and has applicability to most other disciplines and everyday life.