Working towards integration of education and research in the mathematical and computational sciences and the biological sciences.

Rutgers University
July 17 - July 29, 2005

WHY THIS PROGRAM?
THE INTERFACE BETWEEN THE BIOLOGICAL AND THE MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES AT THE HIGH SCHOOL LEVEL

Modern biology has changed dramatically in the past two decades. Driven by large scientific endeavors such as the human genome project, it has become very much an information science, closely tied to tools and methods of the mathematical sciences. New algorithms and mathematical models played a central role in sequencing the human genome and continue to play a crucial role as biology develops models of information processing in biological organisms. Increasingly, undergraduate and graduate students are being exposed to this interplay between the mathematical and biological sciences. In high schools, the biology curriculum has made some advances by including such things as genetics and the human genome project, and even some of the mathematics in the Mendelian genetics model. There are also a few isolated efforts to bring biological examples into the mathematics classroom. But high schools are lagging behind. Current efforts need to be supported and new efforts developed to bring high school education up to speed in the integration of mathematics and biology. Students need to be exposed to the excitement of modern biology from both the biological and mathematical point of view. They need to be informed of the new educational and career opportunities that are arising from the interface between these disciplines. Introducing high school students to the interface between the biological and mathematical sciences will not only enhance the study of biology, but also the study of mathematics. Students interested in studying biology will realize the importance of understanding modern mathematics. New horizons will be opened for those who might find mathematics interesting, but wonder how it might be useful.

 

THE PROGRAM

This will be an exploratory two-week program featuring high school mathematics teachers (including those teaching computer science and statistics) and biology teachers. Participants will work in pairs consisting of teachers from the two disciplines. We prefer applications from a pair of teachers from the same school. However, you may apply with a colleague from another school. If you apply as an individual, we will pair you up with a faculty member from the other discipline. Math teachers will get a short tutorial on modern biology. Biology teachers will get a short tutorial on certain relevant topics in mathematics. All teachers will be introduced in depth and together to topics in computational biology and bioinformatics. They will learn about sequence alignment algorithms, finding the smallest number of mutations of a certain type to switch one sequence into another, algorithms for finding a sequence from its fragments, reconstruction of phylogenetic (evolutionary) trees, RNA structure prediction, and other mathematical techniques. They will also learn how mathematical modeling can be applied to the problems of stopping the spread of infectious diseases and defense against bioterrorist attacks. Computer lab sessions will introduce participants to key software tools of bioinformatics such as BLAST.

In the second week of the program, one group of teachers will engage in a research project under the guidance of researchers in computational biology and bioinformatics. They will also prepare research experiences for their students to bring back to their schools. A second group of teachers will produce classroom materials for use in their schools and possible later inclusion in the DIMACS Educational Modules Series, under the guidance of content experts in bio-math and experts in pedagogy. In applying to participate in the program, teachers should indicate which of these two components of the program they wish to participate in.

During the 2005-2006 academic year, partners will engage in joint follow-up activities with their partner: Team teaching, experimenting with a lesson to the other's class, joint student projects. They will also supervise student projects and pilot materials developed by other teachers. Students will report on classroom activities and projects at a conference in spring 2006.

This will be an experiment and we are just now working on designing it. We expect that this will be the basis for many future programs at DIMACS and participants will have an opportunity to be in on the beginning of what we hope will be a pioneering venture at bringing the biological and mathematical sciences closer together in the high schools.