Volume IV: What works, what matters, what lasts

The Biological ESTEEM Collection: Excel Simulations and Tools for Exploratory, Experiential Mathematics

The BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium is a leading pioneer in connecting mathematics to "partner" disciplines and in connecting partner disciplines to mathematics.  They have recently made public a significant new collection of "Digital Classroom Resources" that illustrate the importance of mathematics to biology students, the importance of real data and biological applications to mathematics students, and the importance of computer simulation, modeling, visualization, and calculation to both sets of students.  There are many collaborators in developing this resource, which can be found at the BioQUEST website: http://www.biogquest.org/esteem and at the MAA's DCR site: www.mathdl.org/mathDL/3/.

The three "E's" of the Collection are:

  1. Excel TM:  Microsoft's spreadsheet software EXCEL was chosen as a general development environment for three reasons: most biologists and mathematicians have it on their desktop computers, use it at least minimally for data collection, and find it fairly easy to operate.
  2. Exploratory: Since parameters are so easy to change in Excel, and it is so easy to import data from diverse and heterogeneous resources, it is a good platform from which ESTEEM activities can be undertaken- data mining and visualization, modeling, sampling, statistical analysisi and hypothesis testing, computations, data base construction, simulation, and problem construction/design.
  3. Experiential: The goal is to give students an opportunity to develop an intuitive sense of the power, utility, and beauty of applying mathematics and computer science to biology.

The Biological ESTEEM Collection is an open collection, and BioQUEST leaders invite biologists, mathematicians, computer scientists, and other interested parties to contribute new modules or to suggest major revisions to existing modules.  They pose a series of questions to potential contributors:

  • "How can mathematics and biology education reformers catalyze discussion, enhnace learning, promote social action, and bridge a gap between us?
  • How can we move beyond the separate and unequal educational practices of the past such that we can enable diverse learners to mutually and collaboratively learn biology and mathematics in a seamlessly integrated learning environment?
  • Can we do this in a way that maintains disciplinary strengths, builds on natural talents and interests of students in each distinct arena, and yet building interdisciplinary communities?
  • What metaphors will work: Border crossing?  Hybridization?  Cross-fertilization?  Integration?  Connectivity?  Netowrking?  Symbiosis?  Synergisms?

We do not yet know where these interactions will go, but we are driven by the recognition that problems don't come in neat little packages, that future science will require students to learn how to deal with the terabytes of data collected per day, and that multivariate, multidimensional, and multidisciplinary challenges will require far different approaches than are used in current practice.  Furthermore, we recognize that students already know their careers will, with high probability, expect them to be able to be 'versatilists' rather than specialists; flexible expertise is appropriate in such a dynamic landscape."

Reprinted with permission.