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MathBench Biology Modules
This University of Maryland website contains a suite of interactive Web-based modules that can supplement existing course content across the first two years of a biological sciences curriculum. It helps to reinforce biological concepts, increase math literacy, and prepare students for more complicated mathematical approaches in upper-level courses—without requiring instructors to revise their courses substantially. The modules cover a wide variety of topics (including population dynamics, measurement, and cellular processes), but they focus repeatedly on a core set of skills and concepts—such as manipulating equations and graphs or distilling mathematical equations from a verbal description. The modules, which contain hundreds of interactive activities, simulations, games, and questions, use humor, intuitive approaches, and everyday situations. They range from the relatively simple (what to do with division) to the relatively abstruse (discrete diffusion models). As one example, an activity in population dynamics helps students understand mutation and equilibrium through a humorous, three-episode television show in which “the Medical Examiner and his Assistant are confronted by a frightening cosmetological disorder: the Blue Hair syndrome.” Students determine what proportion of the population carries the blue hair gene, and what proportion can be expected to suffer from the fictional syndrome itself. The activities show students when the Hardy-Weinberg Law applies, and when it fails to apply. An article in the March/April 2009 Journal of College Science Teaching, which describes the modules and explains how students responded to them, is available online.
Program Director: Norma Allewell, Ph.D.
Award Years: 1992, 1998, 2002, 2006
Summary: The University of Maryland College Park is a public research university in College Park, Maryland. Its HHMI-funded initiatives include:
- A comprehensive curriculum redesign that brought together teams of faculty to revamp courses in five areas (mathematics and biology, bioinformatics, host-pathogen interactions, chemistry, and sensory physiology) and ensured that important concepts and methodologies were introduced in introductory level courses and built upon in advanced courses;
- Curricular innovations, widely disseminated online and at national professional meetings, that included: the development of Web-based modules to enhance quantitative thinking for students in five introductory biology courses; the creation of bioinformatics exercises for introductory biology courses; the development of lecture demonstrations of key chemical concepts and accompanying teaching packets; a multi-week, open-ended laboratory for introductory cell biology; the development of a host-pathogen interactions concept inventory used to assess student learning in introductory and advanced microbiology courses; and the development of several instructional videos to illustrate important concepts in genetics;
- The Catalyst Seminar, an undergraduate research program that introduces students to faculty-mentored research and helps students find research opportunities.
- Jump Start, a summer science immersion program that invites talented high school students to participate in one of three one-week sessions that expose students to hot topics in modern biology; and
- An annual symposium for secondary school science teachers, which consists of invited lectures by University of Maryland faculty on content areas of interest to the teachers, brief presentations on new approaches to teaching biology, and panel discussions of common teaching issues.