Progress Report to the National Science Foundation on Grant DUE-9752339
Alternative Routes to Quantitative Literacy for the Life Sciences
Submitted by:
Principal Investigator: Louis J. Gross (gross@tiem.utk.edu).
Co-Principal Investigators: Beth C. Mullin and Susan E. Riechert
The Institute for Environmental Modeling and
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996-1610
August 20, 1999
Investigators and their affiliations: L. J. Gross, The Institute for
Environmental Modeling and Departments of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
and Mathematics; Beth C. Mullin, Department of Botany; Susan E. Riechert,
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Otto J. Schwarz, Department
of Botany; Monica Beals, Grad Student, Ecology; Susan Harrell, Grad Student,
Mathematics.
Brief description of efforts on this project over the past year:
Quantitative Competency Exams:
There were several project components under development over this first
year of funded effort. First, a quantitative competency examination was
developed specifically to evaluate the quantitative skills of students
taking the general biology sequence for science majors. This exam was
developed based upon the skills and concepts that Dr. Mullin thought
appropriate for students taking the Organization and Function of the
Cell component of the general biology sequence.
The exam was given at the beginning of the semester to students in
all sections of the course, and a retest was given at the end of the
semester. Results were compared between students in Dr. Mullin's
class, in which a preliminary effort was made to illustrate
quantitative concepts appropriate to certain portions of the course
material, and students in other sections taught by faculty without
any particular emphasis on quantitative concepts. Dr. Mullin
emphasized quantitative concepts in lectures, included quantitative
problems on class exams, and encouraged students to work on
understanding the problems on the competency exam. Student test
scores at the end of the semester increased dramatically from those
at the beginning of the semester in Dr. Mullin's course, while they
did not change at all for the other sections. Although this clearly
demonstates the capability for student's basic comprehension of
quantitative ideas to improve during a science course without explicit
instruction in quantitative concepts, there were explicit incentives
to improve given to students in Dr. Mullin's class that were not
present in the other course sections. Data and Figures describing the
results are in a poster that provides an overview of the project on
the project home page at:
http://www.tiem.utk.edu/bioed/
Primer of Quantitative Biology:
A second major component of the project involves the development of
a Primer of Quantitative Biology designed to accompany a general biology
sequence. The objective is to provide, for each standard section of
such a course sequence, a set of short, self-contained examples
of how quantitative approaches have taught us something new in that area
of biology. We are aiming most examples towards high-school level math,
though there will be calculus and above examples included throughout as
well. A standard format for each module was established and a draft
collection of over 35 modules have been developed to date. These have all
been made available through the project home page. As development of these
modules were ongoing during the first year of the project, they have not
yet been used (except for a few that Dr. Mullin discussed in the Cell
Biology course) in a course setting.
After discussion with several potential publishers, it was decided that
the Primer would have two components. The beginning of the Primer will
consist of brief reviews of basic mathematical concepts, mainly at a
high school level, that are essential to understanding the basic
quantitative literature in biology. These will be discussed completely
with biological examples and linked in detail to the second part of
the Primer which will consist of the modules described above. The
full text would be published as hard-copy by a commercial publisher, while
the majority of the modules (perhaps all of them) would be available
for free individual use on the web.
Dissemination:
Several activities/talks were given over the first year that included
aspects of the effort on this project. These include:
Mathematics Awareness Month, a project of the Joint Policy Board for
Mathematics, this year focused on Mathematical Biology. As part of this,
Dr. Gross wrote two essays which were posted on special page of the
Mathematics Awareness Month Home Page, located at the Mathematics Forum
Site at http://forum.swarthmore.edu/mam/ and Dr. Gross also organized
the Mathematics Awareness day activities at UTK focused on high
school students. Information on the Day's activities are at:
http://www.tiem.utk.edu/~gross/mam.html
NSF Chautauqua Course "Quantitative Life Science Education: Preparing
Fearless Biologists". Presented by Dr. Gross at Christian Brothers
University, Memphis, TN on June 17-19, 1999 at no cost to this project.
This included detailed descriptions of the efforts on this project,
copies of modules provided to the Course participants, and feedback
from the participants (all of whom were college mathematics or biology
faculty) on these modules was obtained.
Special Session on Education in Mathematical Biology, chaired by
Dr. Gross at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Mathematical Biology
at the Free University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, June 29-July 3, 1999
at no cost to this project. Dr. Gross presented a paper on the project
"Quantitative Training in the Life Sciences: Designing an Undergraduate
Curriculum in Computational Biology", and led a separate group discussion
on mathematics for biology students.
Poster presented by Susan Harrell at the Annual Meeting of the Ecological
Society of America, Spokane, Washington, August 9, 1999, partially
supported by this project. Poster title was "Improving the quantitative
skills of life sciences students through General Biology reform" and
provided a summary of the efforts on this project. Poster content is
available on the project home page.
Home Page: In addition to basic information about the project and the
collection of modules developed, this contains a page with an extensive
collection of links to ongoing reform projects in General Biology
education developed as an aid to this project. It also contains
links to a wide variety of ongoing projects devoted to quantitative
training in the life sciences, developed in collaboration with the
Education Committee of the Society for Mathematical Biology. Location is
http://www.tiem.utk.edu/bioed/
Activities for Second Year of the Project:
The major efforts will be:
1. Completion of a first draft of the Primer of Quantitative Biology.
This will include the development of additional modules particularly
in the areas of Ecology and Evolution.
2. Use of the modules in the Biodiversity component of the general biology
sequence taught by Dr. Riechert during Fall semester. This will include
the competency evaluation and the evaluation of course materials.
Additionally, specific modules will be developed to link with the
the laboratory component of this course.
3. Use of the modules in the Cell Biology component of the general biology
sequence by Dr. Schwarz in conjunction with efforts to modify the
laboratory component of this course to further enhance the quantitative
concepts and skills expected of students.