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Rutgers Leads Effort to Link Math and Biology High School Curriculums

Rutgers Leads Effort to Link Math and Biology High School Curriculums

Rutgers University and Colorado State University have teamed up to improve high school biology and mathematics courses by emphasizing the mathematical methods that undergird modern biology. It’s an approach that researchers at both institutions hope can tie the two subjects together in new curriculum modules.

As the lead institution in the collaborative project, which also includes the Massachusetts-based Consortium for Mathematics and its Applications, Rutgers was recently awarded a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The project seeks to close a gap between math and biology instruction in high school courses by creating materials that highlight the mathematical principles of gene mapping, population trends, public health and the spread of diseases.

“Modern biology is increasingly an information science, closely tied to the tools and methods of mathematics,” says Dr. Fred S. Roberts, the project’s principal investigator and the director of Rutgers’ Center for Discrete Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science. “Traditionally, however, students who liked biology may have thought math was irrelevant or too difficult. We need to teach it in a way that engages aspiring biologists.”

Roberts, who is also a professor of mathematics, says students interested in biology could recognize the usefulness of mathematics if seen through the lens of biology. The NSF grant will fund development of instructional modules that can be used in high school biology and mathematics courses without having to restructure the curriculum for either subject. Teams of teachers, writers and content experts will prepare modules, train teachers to field-test the materials and evaluate the results, Roberts says.

“In far too many high schools today, math and biology might as well be in different worlds,” says Dr. Margaret B. Cozzens, a consultant on the grant and associate director of the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation, a private foundation that promotes high quality math and science teaching in high schools.

“Not only do aspiring biologists need solid math grounding,” she says, “but mathematics students need to see the breadth of applications and career opportunities available to them.”

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