CASE STUDY #4
Quantitative Education for Biologists University of Tennessee
This course sequence provides an introduction to a variety of mathematical topics of use in analyzing problems arising in the biological sciences. It is designed for students in biology, agriculture, forestry, wildlife, and premedicine and other prehealth professions. The general aim of the sequence is to show how mathematical and analytical tools may be used to explore and explain a wide variety of biological phenomena that are not easily understood with verbal reasoning alone.
Prerequisites are two years of high school algebra, one year of geometry, and half a year of trigonometry. The goals of the course are to develop the students’ ability to quantitatively analyze problems arising in their own work in biology, to illustrate the great utility of mathematical models to provide answers to key biological problems, and to provide experience using computer software to analyze data and investigate mathematical models. This is accomplished by encouraging hypothesis formulation and testing and the investigation of real-world biological problems through the use of data. Another goal is to reduce rote memorization of mathematical formulae and rules through the use of software including Matlab and MicroCalc. Students can be encouraged to investigate biological areas of particular interest to them using a variety of quantitative software from a diversity of biological specialties.
In many respects, this course is more difficult than the university’s science/engineering calculus sequence (Math 141-142) since it covers a wider variety of mathematical topics, is coupled to real data, and involves the use of the computer. Although the course is challenging, it has been designed specifically for life science students, and includes many more biological examples than other mathematics courses. It, therefore, introduces the students to quantitative concepts not covered in these other math courses that they should find useful in their biology courses. The main text is Mathematics for the Biosciences by Michael Cullen, which is extensively supplemented by material provided in class.
Each class session begins with the students generating one or more hypotheses regarding a biological or mathematical topic germane to that day’s material. For example, students go outdoors to collect leaf size data. They are then asked: Are leaf width and length related? Is the relationship the same for all tree species? What affects leaf sizes? Why do some trees have larger leaves