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Reimagining the Introductory Math Curriculum for Life Sciences Students.


Calculus is typically one of the first college courses encountered by science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors. Calculus often presents major challenges affecting STEM student persistence, particularly for students from groups historically underrepresented in STEM. For life sciences majors, calculus courses may not offer content that is relevant to biological systems or connect with students' interests in biology. We developed a transformative approach to teaching college-level math, using a dynamical systems perspective that focuses first on demonstrating why students need math to understand living systems, followed by providing quantitative and computational skills, including concepts from calculus, that students need to build and analyze mathematical models representing these systems. We found that students who complete these new math courses perform better in subsequent science courses than their counterparts who take traditional calculus courses. We also provide evidence that the new math curriculum positively impacts students' academic performance, with data that show narrowing of the achievement gap, based on students' math grades, between student subgroups in the new math courses. Moreover, our results indicate that students' interest in the concepts and skills critical to the quantitative preparation of 21st-century life sciences majors increases after completing the new contextualized math curriculum.

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