Journal Title

CBE Life Sciences Education

Publication Date

Summer 2017


Calculus is one of the primary avenues for initial quantitative training of students in all science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, but life science students have been found to underperform in the traditional calculus setting. As a result, and because of perceived lack of its contribution to the understanding of biology, calculus is being actively cut from biology program requirements at many institutions. Here, we present an alternative: a model for learning mathematics that sees the partner disciplines as crucial to student success. We equip faculty with information to engage in dialogue within and between disciplinary departments involved in quantitative education. This includes presenting a process for interdisciplinary development and implementation of biology-oriented Calculus I courses at two institutions with different constituents, goals, and curricular constraints. When life science students enrolled in these redesigned calculus courses are compared with life science students enrolled in traditional calculus courses, students in the redesigned calculus courses learn calculus concepts and skills as well as their traditional course peers; however, the students in the redesigned courses experience more authentic life science applications and are more likely to stay and succeed in the course than their peers who are enrolled in traditional courses. Therefore, these redesigned calculus courses hold promise in helping life science undergraduate students attain Vision and Change recommended competencies.


Life sciences--Study and teaching; Calculus--Study and teaching; Postsecondary education

Publication Information

© 2017 C. D. Eaton and H. C. Highlander

© 2017 The American Society for Cell Biology.

Eaton, C. and Highlander, H. C. 2017. The Case for Biocalculus: Design, Retention, and Student Performance. CBE Life Sci Educ. 16:ar25 1-11. doi:10.1187/cbe.15-04-0096.

Publisher verson:

Archived version is the final published version.





Document Type

Journal Article