SimBio News: NSF Grant to Study Evolutionary Biology Misconceptions

May 1, 2008

This summer, SimBiotic Software will begin work on a new 2-year project to investigate misconceptions college biology students have about evolution, and to evaluate the effectiveness of computer activities to overcome those misconceptions. Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, this project will build on our earlier work examining students' problems with tree-thinking (see our publications list). This grant funding will allow us to focus on four areas:
  1. The Hardy-Weinberg equation;
  2. Genetic drift;
  3. The effectiveness of model-building for teaching evolution; and
  4. New techniques for overcoming the Counting Nodes misconception in tree-thinking.
For each of those areas, SimBiotic will be following a 7-step assessment protocol whose goal is to first elucidate the problems students have around the topic, design a test that elicits misconceptions, and then use this test to see which teaching techniques have the most impact on student learning. We will implement new teaching tools within our SimBio Virtual Labs framework, with the aim of including the best tools from our study in new versions of EvoBeaker™ laboratories. Particularly exciting to us is the opportunity to explore ways of teaching Hardy-Weinberg with simulations, as this is an area where we regularly hear requests for help from professor. We are also excited by the opportunity to test whether students constructing their own models will lead to better understanding of evolutionary concepts. We will work on the latter using a graphical programming environment called CodeBlocks made by the Teacher Education Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. We use large numbers of classes in these types of studies to include students from a broad range of backgrounds. If you teach introductory biology or evolutionary biology classes and would like to participate in this study, please contact us and we would be happy to sign you up. We will likely be looking for our first batch of classes in spring 2009.

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