Biology faculty member Christine Small and 2012 biology alumna Kiersten Newtoff redesigned an existing and largely observation-based ecology lab to allow students to learn about the scientific method and the role of math and statistics in biology by conducting original research.
Traditionally, says Small and Newtoff, undergraduate biology students were taught quantitative skills in separate math and statistics courses. This redesigned course brings together math, statistics and biology in an environment where students are immersed in science using observations of bird form and function. Data collected on wild bird feeding behaviors is used to introduce hypothesis testing and applied statistics and to emphasize the critical role of quantitative thinking.
Small and Newtoff’s article “Integrating quantitative skills in introductory ecology: Investigations of wild bird feeding preferences” will be published in in the April 2013 edition of the journal The American Biology Teacher. This will be a part of the special emphasis issue Mathematical Application in Learning Biology.
This work was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation Transforming Undergraduate Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics program for the collaborative proposal between the mathematics and statistics department and the biology department called “SUMS4BIO: Strengthening Undergraduate Mathematics and Statistics Education for Biologists.”