Aligning Calculus with Life Sciences Disciplines: The Argument for Integrating Statistical Reasoning


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Governmental and educational organizations have pointed out that students coming into the biological sciences require stronger skills in statistics and data modeling that are not usually addressed in typical engineering-based calculus courses. Our work here documents how faculty in biology and mathematics addressed this issue at a large urban university in the southwestern USA. The Calculus for Life Sciences course was redesigned to integrate data analysis and engage students in activities connecting the foundational and practical aspects of statistics-based calculus for professionals in life sciences. The goal was to obtain a better-prepared cohort of students with a positive perception of the use of mathematics and statistics in their careers. Over the course of four semesters, the course doubled the average enrollment of students, the failure rate reduced by more than 50%, and students reported positive attitudinal responses regarding the application of math to biological studies. The perception of mastery reported by students throughout the semester, however, did not correlate with the mastery of skills demonstrated on graded activities. This article provides a case study of the successes and pitfalls that we encountered as we attempted to shift all aspects of the course, including pedagogy, grading, and curriculum.
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Key words
statistical reasoning,life sciences disciplines,calculus
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