DIMACS (The Center for Discrete Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science) will hold a conference on the linkages between the mathematical and biological sciences in the high schools. The conference will explore methods to establish connections between these disciplines, bringing together those who have tried it, those who have made it work on the undergraduate level, and those who know how to get new programs into the schools. The conference will explore topics in mathematics and computer science that could be included in biological sciences courses and topics in biology that could be included in mathematical sciences courses. Topics at the conference will also include availability and development of materials that will assist the development of linkages. There will be sessions on what is happening at the undergraduate level that could be adapted to the high school level and on what changes in the undergraduate curriculum have implications for high school education. Alternative models for teacher training at the interface between the biological and mathematical sciences will also be discussed.
The conference will include both invited talks and contributed papers and poster sessions. In particular, there will be a session or sessions devoted to presentations by high school students who have been exposed to or experimented with topics at the interface between the mathematical and biological sciences.
Why is this conference a good idea at this time? 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 the 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 for the most part, high schools have done little to develop connections between the biological and the mathematical sciences. 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 points of view. They need to be informed of the new educational and career opportunities that are arising from the interconnections between these disciplines. Introducing high school students to the interconnections between the biological and mathematical sciences will enhance both the study of biology and 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 find mathematics interesting, but wonder how it might be useful. There is the potential for all students (not just high-achieving students) to study mathematics both longer and more seriously because they are aware early of its importance in applications such as protecting us from bioterrorism, responding to public health crises, and understanding modern diseases.
We expect the conference to produce recommendations concerning ways to make the interface between biology and mathematics accessible to high school students. The ideas generated by this conference can be expected to inform future curriculum development and teacher training projects. It is expected that the conference will have broader impact well beyond the attendees, focusing the attention of a large and diverse group of leaders on the linkages between the biological and mathematical sciences at the high school level and leading to new curricula, new instructional materials, and new experiences for teachers and students.