At the Biomaths Education Network meeting in June 2012 we discussed ways in which mathematical modelling could be taught with freely available software. Toby Carter described the use of StarLogo. Toby’s work built upon that of Anne Smith at the University of St Andrew’s which is described in V A Smith and I Duncan, Biology Students Building Computer Simulations Using StarLogo TNG. Bioscience Education, Volume 18: December 2011,

A related article in Bioscience Education comes from Sean Rands of the University of Bristol on the use of NetLogo to model flocking of birds.

The article describes very clearly how the practical class was set up and how the use of modelling was integrated within the class. The model of flocking behaviour will run within a browser however it uses Java and I had problems with the security certificate preventing the application from running on my computer and the website recommends downloading the Netlogo application.

Ref: S. A. Rands, Using Physical and Computer Simulations of Collective Behaviour as an Introduction to Modelling Concepts for Applied Biologists. Bioscience Education. Volume 19: June 2012

Modelling4All

Ken Kahn ran an HEA-funded workshop at Oxford in April 2013. The workshop’s focus was on how to teach computer modelling to biology students via rich examples in epidemiology, ecology, and animal behaviour. They introduced two approaches:

The **Behaviour Composer**: a web-based tool designed to support teachers, learners and researchers, including those with little or no programming experience, to build, share, and discuss computer models.

The **Epidemic Game Maker**: a way to quickly and easily make models of epidemics and turn the models into games.

Both of these are available at http://m.modelling4all.org/ .

## Post-16 maths for employability

The Sutton Trust have just published a report: “The Employment Equation: why our young people need more maths for today’s jobs” by Professor Jeremy Hodgen and Dr Rachel Marks of King’s College, London which demonstrates the need for young people to continue to study maths after GCSE. Of particular interest are two of their recommendations:

“Simple maths” is defined as:

The report also notes the increased use of technology, particularly spreadsheets and automated approaches, which has led to a “black-box” mentality where employees have little understanding of what the software is doing. Therefore a combination of developing understanding whilst using software tools extensively in real-world problems is recommended.

To what extent would this vision of post-16 maths help students entering bioscience degrees? It would certainly be better than the current situation where the majority of bioscience undergraduates don’t take any maths during their A level studies and thus become rusty on the maths that they had done at GCSE.

However there are some additional topics that are really essential for bioscientists namely scientific notation, exponentials and logarithms. I think you could argue that basic calculus in the sense of understanding rates of change could also be included. Many mathematics educators argue that bioscientists should at least do AS maths as they would then cover logarithms and basic calculus but then bioscientists argue that it could become difficult to recruit sufficient students and after all it’s really not that important. Or is it?