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Bio 2010: Transforming Undergraduate Education for Future Research Biologists
engineers, could then be a more advanced treatment, with more information on mechanism and synthesis than in the first semester.
The typical two-semester introductory physics course with calculus, which has changed rather little over more than a quarter-century, is often the only option for a biology student who wants a strong physics preparation. One way to teach the material on the physics concept list, described earlier in the chapter, would be as a three-semester sequence. However, there are other ways that such material could be covered. For example, the more conventional physics topics might be covered by a one-year course within a physics department while the other materials (which more specifically bridge biology and physics) might then be part of another course, in either the physics or biology department; in fact, some of it is appropriate for a physical chemistry course. The choice of department and number of semesters would vary from institution to institution, and depend to some degree on the expertise of the faculty in each department. Alternatively the material could be taught as an interdepartmental course. While all the topics listed have direct relevance to biology, the emphasis in course design should be on learning and developing the relationship between observations and mathematical description and modeling, rather than on slavishly covering every topic.
An attractive option for quantitative literacy, mathematics, and computer science at some institutions might be the development of an integrated course to teach quantitative approaches and tools for research, as has been successfully developed at the University of Tennessee (see Case Study #4.) This innovative two-semester course designed for life science majors replaces the traditional calculus course. It introduces topics such as the mathematics of discrete variables, linear algebra, statistics, programming, and modeling early in the course, to provide completely new material for well-prepared students. These topics are then connected to applied aspects of calculus. It should be noted that this course makes extensive use of graduate students in Tennessee’s mathematical and computational ecology program. These graduate students are well positioned to explain the connections between mathematics and biology.
A two-semester quantitative course such as the one at Tennessee exposes students to many mathematical ideas but is too brief to provide much depth in many of them. A more intensive alternative would be a four-semester series. Two semesters could deal with calculus (single and multivariate), quantitative differential equations (including phase plane analysis), and the relevant elementary linear algebra, taught in the context of