> > MathBench Biology Modules

MathBench Biology Modules

Project Directors: Kaci Thompson (kaci@umd.edu) and Karen Nelson (kanelson@umd.edu), University of Maryland
Program Website


A readily observed need to enhance the foundation-level quantitative abilities of undergraduates in the life sciences.


The major goal of this initiative is to integrate quantitative approaches and mathematics more deeply into the undergraduate life sciences curriculum in a way that reinforces biological concepts, increases math literacy, and prepares students to be receptive to more complicated mathematical approaches in upper-level courses.


The MathBench project involves a suite of online 'modules' that are designed to provide undergraduate students in the life sciences with refreshers (or introductions) to a diversity of quantitative, graphical, and mathematical issues necessary for success in modern biology. Integration of the MathBench modules into fundamental courses across the biological sciences curriculum allows students from diverse educational backgrounds to hone their quantitative skills, preparing them for more complex mathematical approaches in upper-division courses. These modules, which are designed to supplement in-class instruction, use humor, references to popular culture, and interactive elements to engage students, but they also build upon the students' intuitive understanding to help them explore biological concepts using fairly sophisticated mathematical approaches. The modules focus on a series of ten major quantitative skills identified by faculty as being essential for a comprehensive understanding of modern biology. A total of 37 modules have been completed or are in progress for use in five fundamental biology courses at the University of Maryland (UM) and in partner institutions; these include a special set of modules adapted for community colleges. The entire MathBench suite of modules is thoroughly grounded in pedagogical research and enriched with robust interactive elements that fully capitalize on the advantages of technology-enhanced instruction.

We have established a consortium of nine institutions (encompassing research universities, primarily undergraduate institutions and community colleges) to further implement and evaluate the modules in preparation for wider dissemination. Some information related to a broader consortium of institutions interested in developing resources for biology students is also available here.


Dr. Kaci Thompson
Director, Undergraduate Research & Internship Programs
College of Chemical and Life Sciences
University of Maryland

Dr. Karen Nelson
MathBench Team Leader
University of Maryland

Dr. Bill Fagan
Professor of Biology
University of Maryland
MathBench Project Originator and Advocate


Thus far the project has been funded by:

  • Howard Hughes Medical Institute
  • National Science Foundation CCLI Phase I grant
  • University of Maryland

We are currently pursuing additional funding opportunities.

More information:

An Expanded Overview (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 28kB Mar23 10) for this project is also available.

Selected References:

Ewing, J. 2002. The next big thing in mathematics. in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Jungck, J. R. 2005. Challenges, connection, complexities: Educating for collaboration. Pages 1-12 in L. A. Steen, editor. Math & Bio 2010: Linking Undergraduate Disciplines. The Mathematical Association of America.

Mayer, R. E. 2002. Rote versus meaningful learning. Theory Into Practice 41:226-232.

Moreno, R., and R. E. Mayer. 2000. Engaging students in active learning: The case for personalized multimedia messages. Journal of Educational Psychology 92:724-733.

Steen, L. A. 2005. The "gift" of mathematics in the era of biology. in L. A. Steen, editor. Math & Bio 2010: Linking Undergraduate Disciplines. The Mathematical Association of America.