Published on *Hope College* (http://hope.edu)

A grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) is helping professors from two Hope College departments develop a course that will take a new approach to integrating their two disciplines.

The project, "Integrating Mathematics and Biology:

A Case Studies Approach to Linear Algebra," is being led by

Dr. Janet Andersen, associate professor of mathematics, and

Dr. K. Greg Murray, associate professor of biology. The

$71,175 from the NSF will provide support as they develop

the course for debut in the spring or fall of 2002.

The course will be geared toward biology and

mathematics majors simultaneously. It will feature real-

life examples taken from published biological research

chosen to represent a variety of biological and mathematical

topics. Students will receive academic credit in both

disciplines: two hours in biology, and two in mathematics.

The goal, according to Andersen and Murray, will

be to provide meaningful yet different benefits for both

sets of students. While the mathematics majors will indeed

learn mathematics, the hope is that they will benefit

especially from receiving in-depth experience in how their

discipline can be applied. While the biology students will

learn biology, the greatest gain for them, the professors

feel, will be in receiving a greater grounding in how

mathematics is used in their area of science.

Especially significantly, the students will be

split into four-member teams mixed by discipline, so that

they can pool their specialized background in working

through the material together.

While other schools have offered courses such as

"mathematics for biology majors," the mix envisioned--

professors from each discipline team-teaching a blended

group of students--is new, according to Andersen.

"I can't find any evidence out there of anybody

who's tried something similar," Andersen said.

"To some extent, this is going to be an experiment

in 'Can it be done?,'" she said. "If we can, I think it'll

be a huge benefit to our students."

The two professors have been talking about the

idea for the past seven years, each feeling that such a

course would have been helpful when they were

undergraduates. For example, Murray noted that while

mathematics wasn't stressed when he was an undergraduate

biology major, the discipline became essential in graduate

school.

He hopes that having a mathematics course that

relates to their discipline will help Hope's biology

students see that mathematics does matter to them--

especially when, in the case-studies approach, they have a

chance to work with the mathematical models themselves.

"One of the biggest problems in learning math,

especially for science students, is in learning context," he

said. "Having some personal connection is the best way to

be engaged of all."

Andersen and Murray also note that while they will

be the ones teaching the course, they will also, in a way,

be students, gaining as instructors the greater depth

outside of their majors that they wish they'd had as

students.

"A primary motivation for both of us is that we'll

get to learn new things, too," Murray said.

**Links:**

[1] http://hope.edu/2000/11/07/nsf-grant-bio-math-course