I find it remarkable how deeply the biology education community has embraced the call to increase quantitative skills in biology. This is certainly not an easy change to incorporate into our curricula and it is one that the community will be working on, tweaking and improving over time as our own instructional quantitative strategies and skills mature. But even with this willing effort by the community where does one find the time to add “something else” to an already packed curriculum? The first part of the answer to that question is to first have confidence that it can be done; the second part of the answer has to do with strategic and efficient curriculum decisions; and the third part of that answer is to realize that, like our students, we are somewhere on learning progressions ourselves and that our skills and understandings will deepen the more we teach quantitative skills. No one has time to teach all the biology they would like to teach. Every year most of us make all sorts of decisions about what to include, what to emphasize, and what to leave out. The challenge of adding structured instruction in quantitative skills is daunting, particularly since most of us have not had time to develop our own math-based pedagogical tools and skills. With that in mind we often fall back on the type of math instruction that we likely encountered in our own educational background. If, like me, most of your math instruction was based on algorithms and focused on getting answers instead of learning how to do math, then likely if we model our quantitative skill instruction on the math instruction we experienced, we won’t be doing a very good job helping our students develop quantitative skills. Instead, perhaps we (the biology teaching community) should consider delivering quantitative skills instruction in a way that models effective and efficient math instruction informed by research. Here’s the good thing–it turns out that many of the strategies that work well for teaching science also work well for teaching math. We biology teachers just need a bit more experience trying to explicitly teach appropriate quantitative skills. We need to develop our own specialized pedagogical content knowledge. I thought I’d put out an example of how this might work in a classroom–certainly not as an exemplar but more as a starting point.
To this end, at the 2016 NABT meeting Jennifer Pfannerstil, Stacey Kiser and I shared strategies to introduce quantitative skills focused around a classic lab: The Floating Disk Catalase lab. The earliest version of this lab that I know of was published in ABLE.
A Quantitative Enzyme Study Using Simple Equipment by Beth A. D. Nichols and Linda B. Cholewiak. Yes, that is the same Beth Nichols that recently retired from ETS but has worked with so many in this community.