Life’s a Risk!
An Interdisciplinary and Interactive Statistics Course
Linda C. Thiel
Ursinus College: Liberal Arts College of 1250 students
Course: IDS 151Q Life’s a Risk (Syllabus)
Audience for the course: Non-science majors, primarily first year students
Team: Linda C. Thiel, Mathematics and Computer Science and Ellen Dawley, Biology
- Promote scientific literacy;
- Promote an understanding of basic statistics;
- Promote an understanding of how science works;
- Fulfill core requirement of a "laboratory course in the natural sciences."
Idea for course from 1995 Project Kaleidoscope Assembly of Faculty for the 21st Century, Interdisciplinary Discussion Group 27.
Getting the course approved:
- First initiative submitted in 1995;
- Discussions in the science division in Fall 1997;
- Faculty Salon in Fall 1997 to get feedback from other divisions;
- Pilot course approved in Spring 1998;
- One section of the course first taught in Fall 1999.
- No Statistics;
- No experience team teaching;
- A desire to teach an interdisciplinary course;
- A desire to team teach with someone from another science department.
Getting up to speed:
- Summer money from the college;
- Chance Workshop at Dartmouth;
- Weekly meetings during the summer with other team member;
- Detailed Syllabus to coordinate statistic topics and Labs.
The pilot course:
Text and readings:
- Maximum of 16 students (ended with 14);
- 3 hours per week in classroom;
- 3 hours per week in biology lab.
- Interactive Statistics, Aliaga and Gunderson, Prentice Hall;
- A Minitab Guide to Statistics, Meyer and Krueger (packaged with the text);
- A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper, J.P. Paulos, Anchor Books
- Selected readings from popular and scientific literature:
- Activity Based Statistics, Richard A, Schaeffer et al, Springer-Verlag
Sample of selected readings:
- Short presentation of statistics topics;
- 3 - 4 small group activities per class;
- Occasional class activities (M&M distribution, Tack Toss);
- Discussion of articles (newspaper, magazine, Web);
- Short presentations of background material for labs;
- Minitab Labs in Mathematics and Computer Science Computer Labs;
- Presentation of projects;
- Evaluation (quizzes, midterm)
- "Surgical birth control grows, then level off," Philadelphia Inquirer, July 16 1998
- "New drug cuts breast cancer death rate," Bangor Daily News, August 6, 1998
- "Alcohol and fertility," The New York Times on the Web, August 25, 1998
- "Placebo Use is Suspended in Overseas AIDS Trials," The New York Times, September 8, 1998
- "Smoking May Harm Hearing," The New York Times on the Web, June 16, 1998
- "Study backs calcium use against PMS," The Philadelphia Inquirer, August 26, 1998
- "Dirt, early exposure to infection may prevent allergies," Bangor Daily News, August 10, 1998
Bacteria: Hand washing laboratory activities
From the Activities Exchange, Handwashing module by Christine L. Case
Reading: "A Reported at Large: The Dead Zone," Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker, September 29, 1997.
Human Gene Testing
Detection of ALU Insertion Ploymorphisms by Polymerase Chain Reaction, Laboratory DNA Science, by Bloom, Freyer, Micklos
Reading: "Beyond Discovery: The Path from Research to Human Benefit, National Academy of Science article called Human Gene Testing
"Local Waters: Questions and Answers"
From Women in Chemistry, Laboratory Modules, by Judith Halstead;
Collected and analyzed water from a local river.
Climate Change: Global Warming
Analysis of data from the National Geophysical Data Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration;
Reading: "The Great Climate Flip Flop", the Atlantic Monthly, January 1998.
How to Minimize the Loss of Vitamin C When Cooking Vegetables
Lab: Titration of the vitamin C lost in cooking
Reading: "Broccoli Sprouts Anew as Possible Cancer Preventative," Natalie Angier, The New York Times, September 16, 1997.
Basic Microbiology and Ames Test
Pesticides and Eggshell Thinning
Ames test for detecting possible chemical carcinogens
U.S. Geological Survey Web site;
Background reading on some atomic principles;
Used Minitab to determine if there is a correlation between indoor radon and soil gas radon;
Collected radon readings from buildings on campus.
Helpful Web site: ChemLinks
Ellen Dawley has provided more information about the Labs.
Analysis of Risk for 15-24 Year Olds: Main cause of deaths
Some Web sites:
Changes I will make when I teach the course again:
Changes the college has suggested:
- Do projects earlier in the course
- Encourage more graded group work (Labs, Minitab work)
- Provide more opportunity for discussion
Course to run in Fall 1999:
- More coordination between Labs and Lecture;
- More involvement of the mathematics faculty member in teaching the labs.
- Lecture section enrollment increased to 32 students;
- Divided into 2 lab sections, 16 students each;
- Will be team-taught with Andrew Price, Chemistry.
This page is maintained by Linda Thiel, Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, Ursinus College.
- Activities in text a big help
- They could write!
- Study questions for articles a must
- Activities involving entire class worked well
- Mathematicians can work with other scientists
- Team teaching with people from other fields can benefit our teaching and understanding