Integrating quantitative thinking into an introductory biology course improves students' mathematical reasoning in biological contexts

Susan Hester, Sanlyn Buxner, Lisa Elfring, Lisa Nagy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations

Abstract

Recent calls for improving undergraduate biology education have emphasized the importance of students learning to apply quantitative skills to biological problems. Motivated by students' apparent inability to transfer their existing quantitative skills to biological contexts, we designed and taught an introductory molecular and cell biology course in which we integrated application of prerequisite mathematical skills with biology content and reasoning throughout all aspects of the course. In this paper, we describe the principles of our course design and present illustrative examples of course materials integrating mathematics and biology. We also designed an outcome assessment made up of items testing students' understanding of biology concepts and their ability to apply mathematical skills in biological contexts and administered it as a pre/postcourse test to students in the experimental section and other sections of the same course. Precourse results confirmed students' inability to spontaneously transfer their prerequisite mathematics skills to biological problems. Pre/postcourse outcome assessment comparisons showed that, compared with students in other sections, students in the experimental section made greater gains on integrated math/biology items. They also made comparable gains on biology items, indicating that integrating quantitative skills into an introductory biology course does not have a deleterious effect on students' biology learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)54-64
Number of pages11
JournalCBE life sciences education
Volume13
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 3 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)

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