Beyond Biology 2011 |


Biomathematics Curriculum Materials Development at Sweet Briar College
Raina Robeva, Department of Mathematical Sciences, Sweet Briar College
Robin Davies, Department of Biology, Sweet Briar College

Since 2002, Sweet Briar College has received three National Science Foundation awards for developing curricular materials for undergraduate mathematical biology education. A distinctive feature of the materials is their connection with current and ongoing medical and molecular biology research as well as their emphasis on the critical role mathematics now plays in achieving significant breakthroughs.  Partnering with researchers and educators from the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Western Michigan University for the various components of the three projects, we developed a team-taught course in biomathematics, followed by a textbook and a laboratory manual for the course published in 2007. We are now developing a collection of modules for conventional mathematics and biology courses that highlight applications of modern discrete mathematics and algebraic statistics to pressing problems in molecular biology. Calculus is not a required prerequisite and, due to the modest amount of mathematical background needed for some of the modules, the materials can be used for an early introduction to mathematical modeling. This work attempts to address a critical national need for introducing students to mathematical methods beyond the interface of biology with calculus. Our talk presents a summary of the progress we have made since 2002, highlights what we consider to be our strongest accomplishments and weakest points, and maps out steps for further advancing mathematical biology education into the next decade.

Infusing Quantitative Approaches into the Undergraduate Biology Curriculum
Kären C. Nelson, University of Maryland
Katerina V. Thompson, University of Maryland
James Sniezek, Montgomery College
William F. Fagan, University of Maryland

A major curriculum redesign effort at the University of Maryland (UM) has brought together teams of faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students to infuse all levels of our undergraduate biological sciences curriculum with innovative pedagogies, current research approaches, and increased emphasis on interdisciplinary connections and quantitative approaches. Our efforts have largely been guided by the recommendations in the NRC report BIO 2010 (2003) and have resulted in revisions to courses in biology, biochemistry, chemistry, mathematics, and physics. Our MathBench initiative addresses the need for enhancing quantitative proficiency through a series of interactive, web‐based modules that are used to supplement existing course content across the biological sciences curriculum. UM introductory biology students using MathBench showed significant increases in quantitative skills that were independent of previous math coursework, and they were also more willing to attempt to solve quantitative problems, whether or not they ultimately arrived at the correct answer. UM graduates who had used MathBench in their coursework reported a greater appreciation for the essential role of mathematics in modern biology compared to those who had not. We are currently collaborating with faculty at Montgomery College, a nearby 2-year institution, to implement MathBench in introductory biology courses there to ease the transition of the students who subsequently transfer to UM. MathBench modules allow students from diverse educational backgrounds to hone their quantitative skills, preparing them for more complex mathematical approaches that represent the future of modern biology.

Developing Research Skills in Theoretical Ecology: A Research-based Course for Young Undergraduates and High School Students
Glenn Ledder, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Brigitte Tenhumberg, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

As part of an interdepartmental effort to attract promising students to research at the interface between mathematics and biology, we created a course in which a group of recent high school graduates and first-year college students conducts a challenging research project in insect population dynamics. The students set up experiments, collect data, use the data to develop mathematical models, test their models against further experiments, and prepare their results for dissemination. The course is self-contained in that the lecture portion develops the mathematical, statistical, and biological background needed for the research. A special writing component helps students learn the principles of scientific writing and presentation. The course has been very successful and can serve as a prototype for similar courses at other institutions.

An Initiative to Broaden Diversity in Undergraduate Biomathematics Training
Gregory Goins, Department of Biology, North Carolina A&T State University
C. Dinitra White, Department of Biology, North Carolina A&T State University

At North Carolina A&T State University (NCATSU), there is critical need to better coordinate genuine research and classroom experiences for undergraduates early in their academic career. Here we describe the development and implementation of an faculty alliance that culminated in a NSF-supported undergraduate biomath (UBM) award (iBLEND). The fundamental purpose of the iBLEND alliance was to inspire under-represented minorities to pursue research careers by increasing the visibility of research conducted at the interface of math and biology at NCATSU. The iBLEND initiative increased exposure and extended benefits to a larger number of our students and faculty, who might otherwise have disregarded research at the interface of biology and mathematics. Because of the many positive impacts, iBLEND gained significant buy-in from administration, faculty, and students by: (1) working from the ground-up with administration to promote campus-wide biomathematics research and training; (2) fostering associations between research and regular undergraduate academic courses; (3) creating and disseminating biomathematics teaching and learning modules and (4) enhancing learning community support at the interface of mathematics and biology. Currently, iBLEND is viewed as a productive site for graduate schools to recruit underrepresented minority students having specific competencies related to mathematical biology.

A Collaborative, Project-Based Approach to Biomathematics at Utah State University
Brynja Kohler, Utah State University

In this presentation, I will describe some history of the collaboration among colleagues in Biology and Mathematics and our efforts to integrate mathematics into the laboratory education of biologists. To overcome the passivity and isolation typical of lecture oriented mathematics instruction, colleagues have developed a Biology/Applied Mathematics Instruction Model and a variety of projects in biology to engage students in observation, data collection, mathematical modeling, and the application of mathematics. I will describe one project in detail in which students investigate the diffusion model using brine shrimp from the Great Salt Lake, and share some of the pedagogical aspects of instruction that lead to the successful implementation of these projects.

HHMI Quantitative Biology Summer Institutes
Patricia Marsteller, Emory University

In response to the call of Bio 2010 for integrating quantitative skills into undergraduate biology education, 30 HHMI program directors at the 2006 HHMI Program Directors Meeting established a consortium to investigate, implement, develop, and disseminate best practices resulting from the integration of math and biology. With the assistance of an HHMI funded mini-grant, led by Karl Joplin of East Tennessee State University, these institutions held a series of summer institutes and workshops to document progress toward and address the challenges of implementing a more quantitative approach to undergraduate biology education. This presentation summarizes the results of the 2007 and 2008 summer institutes and a 2009 workshop on using problem based learning to integrate mathematics, biology and computational methods. The consortium developed four draft white papers, a wiki site and a listserv.

One major outcome of these three meetings is a special issue of Cell Biology Education-Life Science Education, that will emerge this fall. Many of the papers in this issue emerged from or were influenced by these meetings. This presentation calls on mathematicians, computer scientists, and life scientists to join us in completing the inventory of resources that can be used in integrating biology, mathematics, and computation and seek to inspire collaborators to develop a single database or digital library that will allow instructors to find resources that they can adopt and adapt to their own institution and students, evaluate resources and share their own resources with the community. The report suggests that the community develop lists of quantitative competencies for entry into graduate programs in the life sciences that parallel the recommendations for future physicians found in Scientific Foundations for Future Physicians: Report of the AAMC-HHMI Committee (AAMC and HHMI, 2009) and calls for new quantitative competencies for all undergraduates that will allow them to become scientifically literate citizens who are able to weigh competing claims and make responsible decisions.

Deepening Quantitative Preparation: Scientific Foundations of Future Physicians Report and NUMBERS COUNT!
Claudia Neuhauser, University of Minnesota Rochester HHMI Professor

Bio2010 catalyzed a national discussion on how best to prepare future biomedical researchers. How people learn and the need for interdisciplinary approaches to solving complex problems were the basis for recommendations that called for a stronger foundation in mathematics, physical, and information sciences Many colleges and universities reformed their biology curriculum, integrated active learning and inquiry-based laboratory experiences. The report has influenced subsequent reports on preparing students for careers in the life or health sciences, including the AAMC/HHMI Scientific Foundations for Future Physicians report, the Vision and Change report, and the revision of AP Biology. We will review the more recent reports and discuss the need to go beyond current recommendations in light of the information revolution and the urgent need to solve complex problems that our society is facing. We will present some examples of a quantitative curriculum that introduces quantitative concepts through case studies based on authentic data sets.

Building Undergraduate STEM Research Opportunities at Minority Serving Institutions
Marilyn Suiter, National Science Foundation (NSF)

The Division of Human Resource Development (HRD) of the National Science Foundation is located within the Directorate for Education and Human Resources. The Division’s programs aim to increase the participation and advancement of underrepresented minorities and minority-serving institutions, women and girls, and persons with disabilities at every level of the science and engineering enterprise. Programs within HRD have a strong focus on partnerships and collaborations in order to maximize the preparation of a well-trained scientific and instructional workforce for the new millennium.

As the U.S. seeks to strengthen its STEM enterprise as outlined in the America COMPETES Act, the effort demands new resources and tactics for professional STEM workforce development, especially among populations historically underrepresented in STEM fields. Three current programs — the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP), the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Undergraduate program (HBCU-UP) and Tribal Colleges and Universities Program (TCUP) — have established records of facilitating learning and research by tens of thousands of underrepresented minority undergraduate students pursuing STEM careers.

HRD promotes excellence in STEM education through its highest priorities: the development of a diverse and well-prepared workforce of scientists, technicians, engineers, mathematicians, and educators; creation of a well-informed citizenry; and the design, development, and evaluation of new tools, approaches, and models for learning. Those priorities support access to the ideas and tools of science and engineering for all. EHR’s investment in education, research, and infrastructure enhances the quality of life of all citizens and the health, prosperity, welfare, and security of the Nation while educating the STEM workforce of the future.

MARC U-STAR: Implementing Bio2010 Recommendations
Shawn R. Drew, MARC Program Director, MORE Division, NIGMS, NIH

The mission of the NIH is to improve human health. NIH’s ability to carry out this mission rests, in part, on training the next generation of biomedical scientists. Currently, too few quantitatively trained young American researchers are coming into the field. To address this need, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences through its MARC-USTAR program followed the recommendations of Bio2010, a groundbreaking report from the National Academy of Sciences, to enhance undergraduate biology education. To systematically implement Bio2010 recommendations, the MARC Branch provides a competitive funding opportunity that focuses on transformative curricular improvement activities to integrate the quantitative sciences (mathematical, physical, engineering and information) into the study of biology at the undergraduate level.

Changes to the College Board Advanced Placement Biology Curriculum
Brad Williamson, College Board Advanced Placement Biology

For the past 6 years the College Board, working directly with teachers, educators, researchers and scientists has been working on development of a new Advanced Placement Biology Curriculum. The work has been guided by evidenced centered design research and is now close to being implemented in AP Biology classes. The content of this new curriculum is structured around four “Big Ideas” of biology—one of which is evolution. The focus on only four “Big Ideas” limits the breadth of material covered in the curriculum while emphasizes the depth of content understanding. For the student this means more of a focus on a broad, but rigorous, conceptual understanding instead of focusing on largely disconnected specifics of biology as so many do in today’s classrooms. Importantly, this broad conceptual approach to biology content is coupled with an increased emphasis on the process and skills of doing biology which includes explicit application of mathematical tools and techniques. This is reflected in the content part of the curriculum but should be very apparent in the laboratory component that is currently under development.

Something Like a New Sense: The Biological ESTEEM Collection
Anton Weisstein, Truman State University
Gretchen Koch, Goucher College

How can we effectively convey to students the power and utility of quantitative approaches in studying biological systems? In this presentation, we introduce the philosophy and scope of the Biological ESTEEM Project, an open collection of Excel-based curricular modules. After illustrating three pedagogical approaches to integrating math and biology in the classroom, we will demonstrate a sample lesson plan for a pharmacokinetics module.

“It takes a village” – Curricular revision for biology majors at the University of Puerto Rico
Michelle Borrero and Migdalisel Colon, University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras

The Department of Biology at University of Puerto Rico- Rio Piedras Campus has been conducting an on-going comprehensive curricular revision through which it has delineated several strategies to incorporate quantitative and informatics concepts and skills. With the support of an administrative supplement for curricular improvement in MARC U*STAR Institutions (from NIGMS) we have implemented a course sequence that promotes the development of quantitative skills in biology majors and are revising all medullar courses and laboratories for the integration of the aforementioned skills. Our new curricular sequence takes into account the mathematical content that is required to develop important concepts in our biology courses, and includes it as a pre-requirement for them. As part of this effort, we have assessed the effect of making a statistics course a pre-requirement for Genetics. We developed an assessment instrument that measures student’s knowledge of basic statistical and probability concepts and other quantitative concepts applied to Genetics. Using this instrument, as a pre- and post survey, we identified concepts that students are not proficient even after they approve the statistics course. We will present our efforts to achieve student learning of these concepts in the Genetics course. In addition, we will discuss the progress made so far in the curricular revision of the undergraduate laboratory courses as a medium to help our students develop quantitative skills through research-like activities. Finally, we will present the challenges that we have encountered throughout this process and strategies that we have identified to address them.

An Open Source, Open Science Pedagogy for Computational Biology
Kam D. Dahlquist and John David N. Dionisio, Loyola Marymount University

One way to attract undergraduates from traditional biology and computer science majors into bioinformatics and to prepare them for future research in this field is to explicitly teach them how to carry out interdisciplinary research within the context of an undergraduate course. From the biology side, open access to large scientific data sets enables students to tackle authentic research problems to solve with software, problems large enough to require team effort. From the computer science side, open source principles, culture, and tools can be leveraged to teach best practices to solve these problems, including up-front project design, program and process documentation, quality control, standards, and project management. Our effort to implement this with computer science majors can be found at We close the loop of this open source, open science pedagogy by releasing the results and products of the research back to the community at large as a resource for further development, analysis, and curricular improvement. We have implemented this pedagogy in a Biological Databases course that is team-taught by a biologist and a computer scientist and is cross-enrolled by both biology and computer science majors. The course culminates in a final project where the students are grouped in teams to create GenMAPP-compatible Gene Databases for new species that are not yet available, using XMLPipeDB, an open source tool chain for building relational databases from XML sources. Each team is divided into the assigned roles of project manager, coder, ID minder, and GenMAPP user. Each team creates a database, uses it to analyze publicly-available microarray data for their species, writes technical documentation and a scientific paper, and releases the database and code back to the community. The students each contribute their domain-specific skills in biology and computer science, while learning how to work with colleagues from the complementary discipline.

UBM at Geneseo—Consistency and Change
Jennifer Apple and Chris Leary, SUNY Geneseo

Looking back at six years of support of undergraduate biomathematics at Geneseo, we have an opportunity to evaluate our experience and suggest lessons that might help similar institutions as they improve the quality of the experiences that they provide their students. We have found that maintaining our emphasis on the student research experience, combined with targeted institutional curricular change, has allowed the impact of the NSF grant money to be felt more broadly across the campus. Focusing on providing intense undergraduate research opportunities has given us the flexibility to adapt to changes in personnel and research interests over the years, and has put us in a position where we feel that the changes in the campus culture that we have fostered will bring long-lasting benefit to the institution.

BioMaPS at Murray State University: A Collaborative Research Experience
Terry Derting and Renee Fister, Murray State University

We will highlight the progress made at addressing research problems at the intersection of biology and mathematics in the context of an NSF-UBM program, BioMaPS (Biology and Mathematics in Population Studies) at Murray State University. The program involves teams of biology and mathematics students with biology and mathematics faculty working collaboratively through a year-long research initiative. Discussion will involve the successes and challenges involved in providing and assessing an integrative program that captures the creativity of research, introduces an interdisciplinary biomathematics course curriculum, and produces collaborative results. The skills that the students gain allow them to connect their separate disciplines into a complementary biomathematical whole. Assessment related to the educational gains of students and contributions of the program to training future STEM professionals will be presented.

REBMI: research experiences at the biology-mathematics interface.
J. G. Milton, A. E. Radunskaya, A. H. Lee, L. G. de Pillis and D. F. Bartlett,
The Claremont Colleges

The goal of the REBMI program is to prepare undergraduate students to work on interdisciplinary teams that tackle “translational”, real-life challenges at the interface between biology and mathematics. By creating “unstructured, open-ended” environments within active research laboratories, we leverage the strong and uncommonly open-mindedness of liberal arts students while at the same time exposing them to “real world” research experiences. In our presentation we review the successes and failures of our program and how our experiences are re-shaping the ways we think about preparing biologists and mathematicians to work together. Our observations emphasize that the effectiveness of team research depends not only on the individual expertise of the team members, but also on basic project management skills, for example, work scheduling, identified roles, meetings, priorities, deliverables, problem anticipation, and deadlines. Thus it will be necessary to modify undergraduate curricula to include team project management skills such as these so that the promise of MATH-BIO 2010 initiatives can be realized in the workplace.

Educase: Catalytic Biology Reform
A. Malcolm Campbell and Laurie Heyer, Davidson College

Blending Biology and Math is not a one-time intervention. Students need to utilize math in their biology courses and see biological applications in their math courses. We have produced a range of curricular materials to blend math and biology. Using research as a motivating force, we have mentored interdisciplinary math-biology team projects that stimulate students to take courses outside their major. The Genome Consortium for Active Teaching (GCAT; has empowered over 300 teachers to bring genomics into their curriculum through DNA microarrays. Now GCAT is bringing synthetic biology to faculty through investigative lab modules and faculty workshops. The last major obstacle to genuine reform is the traditional introductory biology course. We are implementing a new course that revives biology as a science, unifies small and big biology and highlights the role of math. We have applied the advice in How People Learn to produce a fresh approach to biology that will change the way you teach and how your students learn. All of our advances in education have been part of a new concentration in genomics, which formally recognizes the accomplishment of students who integrate their education with biology and math.

Getting Ahead in Math Bio Ed: towards a National Plan for Undergraduate Quantitative Life Science Education
Louis J. Gross, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Mathematics Director
National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis ( University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Despite several decades of efforts to develop and encourage quantitative components in life science undergraduate programs, there remains a disconnect between the formal mathematics education that most undergraduate biology students are exposed to and the direct application of this in their life science instruction. A variety of recent reports as well as expected modifications to the main test used in the US medical school admission process present a unique opportunity to develop a national-scale initiative to assist a broad array of institutions to enhance the mathematics components of their biological sciences curriculum, as well as the biological components of their mathematics curriculum. Such a plan necessarily should incorporate the needs of differing institutions, the variety of curricular trajectories of students, and a method to assess these efforts. I will discuss the NIMBioS plans for this initiative and the potential for collaborations with many stakeholders.

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