MPE 2013+ Workshop on Education for the Planet Earth of Tomorrow

September 30 - October 2, 2015
NIMBioS, University of Tennessee

Carlos Castillo-Chavez, Arizona State University, ccchavez at
Midge Cozzens, DIMACS, Rutgers University, midgec at
Eugene Fiorini, Muhlenberg College, eugenefiorini at
Holly Gaff, Old Dominion University, hgaff at
Suzanne Lenhart, NIMBioS, University of Tennessee, lenhart at
Fred Roberts, DIMACS, Rutgers University, froberts at
Kelly Sturner, NIMBioS, University of Tennessee, ksturner at
Presented under the auspices of the DIMACS Special Program: Mathematics of Planet Earth 2013+.


Wayne Getz, University of California at Berkeley

Title: Teaching Systems Thinking in Applied Sciences: Should Students Build Their Own Models?

A key component in teaching students in the earth, biological, health, or social sciences is imparting knowledge of how dynamical systems in these fields of study respond to natural and anthropogenic drivers. Instructors are challenged by the need to provide students with background material pertinent to the systems of interest, while giving students a hands-on opportunity to explore how these systems may respond to manipulation by managers. This challenge will be discussed in terms of finding the right balance between: i) providing students with general model building skills at the expense of time spent deeply exploring the behavior of systems of interest, and ii) locking students into exploring the behavior of "canned" models, thereby restricting the student's ability to be creative. In my talk, I will explore this issue in the context of epidemiological and population ecology.

Kristin Jenkins, BioQUEST, QUBES

Title: Diving in the Deep End: Teaching Interdisciplinary Science

We know that the challenges of the 21st century will require interdisciplinary solutions, yet how do we teach students interdisciplinary skills within an educational system that is structured to sequester disciplines? Complicating the situation, many faculty are not adept at crossing disciplinary boundaries because it has not been part of their training, in part due to the reductionist trend in science. To prepare our students for interdisciplinary thinking, we must first encourage our faculty to cross disciplinary boundaries. Professional development, educational resources, and effective pedagogical methods are all part of this equation. BioQUEST has been working in this area for 30 years and I will use some the of the materials from this project, including the new quantitative biology project QUBES, to demonstrate how we can support faculty and students in exploring interdisciplinary problem solving.

Leslie Ries, SESYNC and Rachel Lamb, Kaci Thompson, and Keryn Gedan

Title: Teaching Data Intensive Science in Environmental Biology

In the field of conservation biology, which seeks to prevent and mitigate an ongoing biodiversity crisis, assessing large-scale, complex, and interacting patterns in populations, ecology, human activities, and environmental conditions is critical. The ability to share data and use shared data increases our ability to ask large-scale questions and synthesize information from different origins and on different species or species groups, but students in conservation biology are rarely exposed to databases and data repositories until graduate school. We sought to expose undergraduate students of conservation biology to data intensive science and its uses in conservation. We elected a tiered approach to teaching conservation biology students about “big data”, by having all students attend a lecture on data intensive science, and a subset of students participate in two weeks of laboratory exercises, in which students tested hypotheses about the response of butterflies to climate change using two very large datasets. The lecture built on a more familiar example of bioinformatics, a well-established field that grew out of the need to process and analyze the ever-growing volume of genetic data, to teach students about ecoinformatics, the collection pathways, repositories, and data life cycles needed to study large conservation and ecological datasets. The lab had students probe 1) an expansive, public climate dataset and 2) a national-scale, long-term, monitoring data on butterflies that was collected by citizen scientists to investigate original questions. They used the datasets and the data tool R to answer their research questions, and then shared their analyses with their classmates. We performed a learning assessment on both groups, the lecture-only students, and the lecture + lab students, to evaluate the knowledge they gained about data intensive science in conservation biology and their interest in pursuing related coursework and career opportunities in the future.

Christiane Rousseau, Université de Montréal

Title: Education Material Around Mathematics of Planet Earth

The theme "Mathematics of planet Earth" is an immense source of problems for students in the schools, colleges and universities. It is an extraordinary opportunity to experiment that elementary mathematics is a very powerful toolbox, allowing exploring the world around us. The lecture will focus on examples, some very elementary, others less simple, that illustrate the power of mathematics to understand the world around us and the challenges it is facing.

James Walsh, Oberlin College

Title: The Mathematics and Climate Research Network (MCRN) - An Example of a Successful Community-Building Effort

The Mathematics and Climate Research Network (MCRN, is a virtual organization that aims to develop the field of climate mathematics. The MCRN is a grass-roots organization, which was started in 2010. It is vertically integrated, involving undergraduate and graduate students, postdocs, and junior and senior faculty. Its members collaborate remotely in Research Focus Groups (RFGs) using web-based tools. RFGs address a range of topics, many of which are relevant for MPE. I will discuss some examples of successful practices and ways to get students involved.

Mary Lou Zeeman, Bowdoin College

Title: Modeling for Decision Support

Using examples from ecology, fisheries and food systems, we will discuss some of the new types of cross-disciplinary collaborations demanded by decision support questions for a sustainable planet. We will also describe some approaches to training our students with these collaborative skills, and the associated mathematical and computational tools.

Benjamin Levy, University of Tennessee

Title: Modeling Feral Hogs in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Feral Hogs (Sus Scrofa) are an invasive species that have occupied the Great Smoky Mountains National Park since the early 1900s. Recent studies have revitalized interest in the pest and have produced useful data on vegetation, mast and harvest history. Using these data, a model with discrete time and space was formulated to represent the hog dynamics in the park. Estimation of actual total population and importance of a control program was investigated.

Co-Authors: Dr. Suzanne Lenhart, University of Tennessee; Dr. Charles Collins, University of Tennessee; Dr. Marguerite Madden, University of Georgia; Dr. Joseph Corn, University of Georgia; Dr. Rene Salinas, Appalachian State University; and Bill Stiver, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Samares Pal, University of Kalyani, Kalyani, India

Title: Hysteresis in Coral Reefs under Macroalgal Toxicity and Overfishing

Macroalgae and corals compete for the available space in coral reef ecosystem. While herbivorous reef-fish play a beneficial role in decreasing the growth of macroalgae, macroalgal toxicity and overfishing of herbivores leads to proliferation of macroalgae in coral reef ecosystem. Abundance of macroalgae changes the community structure towards macroalgae dominated reef ecosystem. We investigate coral-macroalgal phase shifts by means of a continuous time model in a food chain. Conditions for local asymptotic stability of steady states are derived. It is observed that in presence of macroalgal toxicity and overfishing the system exhibits hysteresis through saddle-node bifurcation and transcritical bifurcation. Computer simulations have been carried out to illustrate different analytical results.

Kelly Sturner and Suzanne Lenhart, NIMBioS, University of Tennessee

Title: Activities for Elementary, Middle and High School Students Connecting Math and Life Science

We present activities developed for students that emphasize the quantitative side of life science, developed at the National Institute for Mathematical & Biological Sciences (NIMBioS), for both classroom and informal outreach events. The activities involve analyzing bird data, modeling a forest, and using probability to measure biodiversity. These activities are inspired by current research areas related to planet earth and build upon the common ground from national movements in K-12 academic standards in both math and science.

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Document last modified on September 23, 2015.