Publication Title

CBE Life Sciences Education

Document Type


Department or Program

Digital and Computational Studies

Publication Date



The next generation of life science professionals will require far more quantitative skills than prior generations. Calculus is important for understanding dynamical systems in biology and, therefore, is often a required course for life science students. However, many life science students do not understand the utility value of mathematics to biology. Therefore, according to expectancy-value theory, life science students may experience lower moti-vation, which can impact their performance in a calculus course. This study examines how two different biocalculus courses, which integrated calculus and biological concepts and successfully halved the rates of students earning a D, F, or withdrawing (DFW), affected life science students’ utility value, interest, and overall attitudes toward mathematics. Using pre and post surveys, we found that students’ interest in mathematics increased by the end of the semester, and they demonstrated a more sophisticated understanding of how mathematics is used in biology. Students whose attitudes toward mathematics improved primarily attributed these changes to a better understanding of the utility of mathematics to biology, feelings of competence in mathematics, or rapport with the instructor. Thus, communicating the utility value of mathematics to biology through integrated mathemat-ics–biology courses can contribute to improved attitudes toward mathematics that can impact students’ motivation and performance.

PubMed ID


Copyright Note

This is the publisher's version of the work. This publication appears in Bates College's institutional repository by permission of the copyright owner for personal use, not for redistribution.

Required Publisher's Statement

© 2021 M. L. Aikens et al. CBE—Life Sciences Education © 2021 The American Society for Cell Biology. This article is distributed by The American Society for Cell Biology under license from the author(s). It is available to the public under an Attribution–Noncommercial–Share Alike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons License (