SimBio News: New Publication on Tree-thinking Assessment

June 13, 2008
Collaborations with leading evolutionary biologists, assessment specialists, and grants from the National Science Foundation have been helping SimBiotic Software identify common student misconceptions around key evolutionary topics, and to identify how well simulation labs help students overcome those misconceptions.

A major component of Phase I of the NSF-funded project involved investigating students' tree-thinking skills and the effectiveness of our Flowers and Trees lab. With researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, we designed a controlled study to assess the Flowers and Trees lab on a diverse group of college biology students. We found an overall 35% improvement in their understanding of evolutionary trees. Students showed significant improvement in three of the four common misconceptions identified (the exception being their understanding of how to correctly count nodes).
We also compared the Flowers and Trees lab to a paper lab and lecture activity of the same length, taught by Jon Herron, the co-author of Evolutionary Analysis. We found that the Flowers and Trees lab was just as effective as the more traditional activity.

If you'd like to read more, the paper is available online from CBE Life Sciences Education: Perry, Meir, Herron, Maruca, and Stal, 2008. Evaluating Two Approaches to Helping College Students Understand Evolutionary Trees Through Diagramming Tasks. CBE LSE 7: 193-201.

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