S. M. Harrell, M. L. Beals, L. J. Gross, B. Mullin, and S. E. Riechert.
Ecological Society of America Meetings. Spokane, WA. August 1999
ABSTRACT
The quantitative training of undergraduate biology students is generally weaker than that of students in the physical sciences. Quantitative concepts should be integrated into life sciences curriculum, rather than isolated in a few courses focused on mathematical concepts. Student's comprehension of quantitative concepts can be enhanced by incorporating simple mathematical examples into lectures. In addition, brief modules, designed to complement lectures or lab work, can be provided to students. Both lectures and modules should emphasize how quantitative methods can enhance biological understanding. To assess the quantitative skills and needs of biology majors, General Biology students were given a short competency exam covering basic mathematical concepts considered prerequisites for the course. Quantitative examples were included in lectures throughout the semester. Reinforcement of quantitative concepts within the biology curriculum is necessary for im provement of student skills. Ideally, an accessible set of quantitative examples should be available for instructors, and a goal of our project is to produce a Primer of Quantitative Biology containing such examples appropriate for inclusion in a General Biology sequence.
INTRODUCTION
quantitative training in areas such as data analysis, probability, and model interpretation is as essential as laboratory training
Quantitative training of
undergraduate biology students is typically weak
though 79% of lifescience programs require some degree of calculus, many quantitative techniques applicable to the lifesciences require broader exposure
quantitative concepts should be integrated into the lifesciences curriculum rather than isolated in math or statistics courses
Quantitative training could
be enhanced by integrating quantitative concepts into the lifesciences
curriculum through assessment of biology students' quantitative skills
addition of modules to complement
lectures or lab work
GOALS OF THE PROJECT
include quantitative examples in lectures and tests throughout the semester
assess student improvement with another competency exam at end of semester
Develop quantitative modules
and examples for use in upcoming semesters
Develop a Primer of Quantitative Biology
ASSESSING GENERAL BIOLOGY STUDENTS' QUANTITATIVE SKILLS
assessed student familiarity with these concepts
emphasized the importance of quantitative skills to biology
given at start, January, and end, May, of the 1999 Spring Semester
eleven multiplechoice questions, not requiring a calculator (Table 1)
exam given to students in classes
taught by three different professors
Table 1.
Topics covered on the competency exam given at the start and conclusion
of each semester. Scores for Dr. Mullin's class at the start (January)
and end (May) of the semester are given. Scores indicate the percent of
students who missed the question.




1

exponents 


2

metric conversion 


3

calculation of mean/median 


4

molecular weight 


5

% solution 


6

dilution/metric conversion 


7

graph interpretation 


8

constant rates of reaction 


9

volume of cylinder 


10

molarity 


11

graph/ interpolation 


Figure
1. Frequency distribution of total scores (out of 11 possible points) for
Mullin's class (1a), where quantitative concepts were emphasized, and other
sections (1b) at the start, January, and end, May, of the spring semester.
Figure 1a. Mullin's Class
One reason for the lack of quantitative exposure within biology courses is the general paucity of quantitative examples designed for undergraduate students
Gross, L. J. 1994. Quantitative training for lifescience students. BioScience 44:59.
Levin, S. A., editor. 1992. Mathematics and Biology: The Interface. Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, University of California. PUB710.
Marsh, J. F. and N. D. Anderson. 1989. An assessment of the quantitative skills of students taking introductory college biology courses. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 26:757769.
INTERNET SOURCES
WWW Resources for Mathematics Training for Biology Students
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Biology Education
General Biology Quantitative
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