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Evolution, Education and Evaluation: Tree-thinking in Intro Biology. Phil Gibson OU TSI October 20, 2011. Miller, J.D., E.C. Scott, and S. Okamato. 2006. Public Acceptance of Evolution. Science . 313: 765-766. The Basic Ideas of Tree-thinking.

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Evolution, Education and Evaluation: Tree-thinking in Intro Biology

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Evolution, Education and Evaluation: Tree-thinking inIntro Biology

Phil Gibson

OU TSI October 20, 2011

Miller, J.D., E.C. Scott, and S. Okamato. 2006. Public Acceptance of Evolution. Science. 313: 765-766.

The Basic Ideas of Tree-thinking

“Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution." Theodosius Dobzhansky (1973)

“Nothing in evolution makes sense except in the light of phylogeny.” (Society of Systematic Biologists 2001).

“Nothing makes sense in phylogeny except in the light of DNA.” (Kalinowski et al. 2010)



What we want to know

  • Question #1: What is the relationship between ability to read phylogenetic trees relate and acceptance of evolution?

  • Question #2: How does student understanding of natural selection and genetics relate to understanding and acceptance of evolution?

  • Question #3: Will a tree-thinking based curriculum using active learning modules improve student understanding and acceptance of evolution and evolutionary theory?

BIOL 1134 Evolution, Ecology, & Diversity

1. Encourage understanding and appreciation for major, modern biological thought and theories:

  • Unity and diversity of life (DNA and genetic variation)

  • History of life (evolution and phylogeny)

  • Relationship between structure and function (adaptation)

  • Focus on life at the individual, population, community, and ecosystem levels (hierarchical organization, interdependence)

  • Develop student skills, understanding, and appreciation for the nature of science.

    • Thinking, reasoning, and problem-solving in biology.

    • Prediction and hypothesis testing in science.

    • Data collection, analysis, and interpretation

    • Group collaboration and interactions.

  • Tree-thinking Curriculum Structure

    DNA & Genetics

    Inheritance & Pedigrees


    Read & Construct Trees


    Concepts & Mechanisms


    (Biodiversity surveys, adaptations, speciation etc.)

    Components of the curriculum.

    • Genetic basis of phylogeny & tree thinking: genetics, inheritance, and population genetics

    • Principles of tree-thinking: how-to of phylogeny construction and interpretation

    • Application of tree-thinking: opportunities to collect and analyze data, processes of hypothesis development and testing

    • Modules: Case study, group inquiry, active learning

    Pedigree Analysis & Genetics

    Phylogeny of Domestic Dog Breeds – Result of Artificial Selection

    Platypus Reproduction & Mammalian Evolution

    Pollination and Floral Evolution

    A Deadly Passion: Evolution of Sexual Cannibalism


    Praying mantis

    Australian redback spider

    Assessment & Evaluation

    • Measure of the Acceptance of the Theory of Evolution (MATE): 20 question Likert-scale survey (Rutledge & Sadler 2007)

    • Tree-thinking Challenge, Understanding Phylogenetic Trees, Tree Thinking Concept Inventory Variety of questions to read and construct phylogenetic trees. (Baum et al. 2005, Meir et al. 2007, Neagle 2009)

    • Concept Inventory of Natural Selection, Genetics Concept Assessment (Anderson & Fisher 2002, Smith et al. 2008)

    MATE pre-post Comparison

    Tree Reading Assessments

    MATE & TTCI Spring 2011

    MATE, Natural Selection & Genetics

    Normalized Learning Gain

    Deeper Analysis & the Education Literature

    • The education literature is rich with techniques for further analysis

    • Item Analysis, Discrimination Index calculations, Cronbach’s αprovide further insights that basic statistics don’t reveal.

    • Further analysis of specific questions and answers.

    What we’ve learned so far. . .

    • Tree-thinking curriculum appears to increase understanding and acceptance of evolutionary theory.

    • Acceptance of evolution is related to tree-thinking ability knowledge of natural selection, and knowledge of genetics.

    • Better assessments are needed.

    • There’s more work to do!


    • National Science Foundation

      • DUE #0940835

    • The University of Oklahoma

      • College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Botany and Microbiology, Department of Zoology

    • J. Cooper, M. Jones, S. Rhodes, A. Makowicz, C. Poindexter, M. Gibson, D. Washecheck

      All research conducted under OU IRB# 12682

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