Teaching complete evolutionary stories increases learning

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Many students have difficulty understanding and explaining how evolution operates. In search of better ways to teach the subject, researchers at Michigan State University developed complete evolutionary case studies spanning the gamut from the molecular changes underlying an evolving characteristic to their genetic consequences and effects in populations.


The researchers, Peter J. T. White, Merle K. Heidemann, and James J. Smith, then incorporated two of the scenarios into a cellular and molecular biology course taught to undergraduates at the university's Lyman Briggs College. When the students' understanding was tested, the results showed that students who had understood an integrated evolutionary scenario were better at explaining and describing how evolution works in general.

The results of the research, described in the July issue of BioScience, are significant because evolution is not usually taught in this comprehensive, soup-to-nuts way. Rather, instructors teach examples of parts of the evolutionary process, such as the ecological effects of natural selection or the rules of genetic inheritance, separately. It appears that this fragmentation makes it harder for students to understand the process as a whole.

Written By: e! Science News
continue to source article at esciencenews.com

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  1. I would absolutely love to get my hands on those case studies! This gives me a great idea for how to kick off my September Advanced Biology class. Well done Peter J. T. White, Merle K. Heidemann, and James J. Smith! Your work inspires me! And now the potential for it to impact my future classes is a reality!

    • In reply to #1 by crookedshoes:

      I would absolutely love to get my hands on those case studies! This gives me a great idea for how to kick off my September Advanced Biology class. Well done Peter J. T. White, Merle K. Heidemann, and James J. Smith! Your work inspires me! And now the potential for it to impact my future classes…

      TanyaK needs to be referred to this!

        • In reply to #3 by TanyaK:

          In reply to #2 by Neodarwinian:

          In reply to #1 by crookedshoes:

          “TanyaK needs to be referred to this!”

          Already been there and got the T shirt, darling.

          Does the T-shirt say…..?

          Evolution is the change in allele frequency over time in a population of organisms?

  2. I think TanyaK is on board with most of the process and when she gets around to seeing the proof of what she doubts, she will be right there. No problems with TanyaK, she has healthy doubt. Now she needs to employ honest reasoning and research. You will see.

    • In reply to #4 by crookedshoes:

      I think TanyaK is on board with most of the process and when she gets around to seeing the proof of what she doubts, she will be right there. No problems with TanyaK, she has healthy doubt. Now she needs to employ honest reasoning and research. You will see.

      I will abide then.

      • In the words of James Brown: “I got the feelin’” I am telling you, my spidey senses are tingling! If I could just get TanyaK to put the time in regarding the resources proffered on that other thread… i am telling you…

        Oh, and thank you for the comment and the respect (I am interpreting) that your comment imparts. Right back at you. did you see my nerd jokes the other day?

        In reply to #8 by Neodarwinian:

        In reply to #4 by crookedshoes:

        I think TanyaK is on board with most of the process and when she gets around to seeing the proof of what she doubts, she will be right there. No problems with TanyaK, she has healthy doubt. Now she needs to employ honest reasoning and research. You will see.

        I wi…

        • In reply to #9 by crookedshoes:

          In the words of James Brown: “I got the feelin’” I am telling you, my spidey senses are tingling! If I could just get TanyaK to put the time in regarding the resources proffered on that other thread… i am telling you…

          Oh, and thank you for the comment and the respect (I am interpreting) that…

          Yes, I did see the jokes, but the lady under question in the article seemed more of a CAM or C4 photosynthesizer to me! So, a spatial or temporal separation of process for her and no worries about photorespiration.

  3. One of the flaws in educational material, is they show evolution speeded up so much it looks improbable. We need to slow it down to a crawl, and show in various ways how speeded up it still is. When people realise how slow the process is, it will be much more plausible.

    Perhaps you have a slider to control the speed, and another to control the date. The animation could be dynamically generated by interpolation. Showing perhps a typical day.

  4. Roedy,
    Evolution is often the last unit in the biology course. This seems to afford it the best perch. On the surface it looks like it should; the course culminates in the instruction of the concept that ties it all together… i tell my students that “now it is time to make your snowball. gather it all up and pack it together”.

    Unfortunately, with school days lost to snow and standardized testing, teachers are many times wedging the most important shit into the last WEEK of class. That’s why I start talking and assigning evolution from day one.

    Last year I had a fundamental christian kid in my advanced class. Unbeknownst to me, she put a check mark in her notes whenever I said “evolution”. The total number of times I mentioned it divided by the total number of minutes of class worked out to the slogan that the other kids put on a t-shirt — Evolution every 5 minutes!!! I was never more proud of myself.

    • I wish you were my biology teacher through grade school! In fifth grade I got a creationist teacher (in NJ!), was the only time I ever failed science. As for evolution I think I picked it up reading extra chapters in the books.

      Keep on being awesome!

      In reply to #6 by crookedshoes:

      Roedy,
      Evolution is often the last unit in the biology course. This seems to afford it the best perch. On the surface it looks like it should; the course culminates in the instruction of the concept that ties it all together… i tell my students that “now it is time to make your snowball. gather…

  5. Couple of years back I gave a little talk on evolution and had a couple of T shirts custom made. They say/said:-

    Evolution is true!
    Get over it.

    I often get complete strangers coming up to me and saying they like it. (I made up the wording myself, please feel free to copy it.)

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