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Teaching Dynamics to Biology Undergraduates: the UCLA Experience.


There is a growing realization that traditional "Calculus for Life Sciences" courses do not show their applicability to the Life Sciences and discourage student interest. There have been calls from the AAAS, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the NSF, and the American Association of Medical Colleges for a new kind of math course for biology students, that would focus on dynamics and modeling, to understand positive and negative feedback relations, in the context of important biological applications, not incidental "examples." We designed a new course, LS 30, based on the idea of modeling biological relations as dynamical systems, and then visualizing the dynamical system as a vector field, assigning "change vectors" to every point in a state space. The resulting course, now being given to approximately 1400 students/year at UCLA, has greatly improved student perceptions toward math in biology, reduced minority performance gaps, and increased students' subsequent grades in physics and chemistry courses. This new course can be customized easily for a broad range of institutions. All course materials, including lecture plans, labs, homeworks and exams, are available from the authors; supporting videos are posted online.

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