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Correctly applying tree thinking to interpret phylogenetic trees requires technical knowledge of the diagrams and an understanding of fundamental biological and evolutionary principles they represent Donovan ; Baum and Offner Consequently, mistakes reading phylogenetic trees can give insights into student misconceptions about different aspects of evolution and evolutionary theory Baum et al. For example, determining relationships by using branch tip proximity i.

Thus, there are reasons to suspect that improved tree thinking might foster greater acceptance of evolution in undergraduates Alters and Nelson ; Nehm et al. A number of individual activities have been developed to teach tree thinking and improve acceptance of evolution Gendron ; Goldsmith ; Perry et al. Larger curricular modifications that infuse tree thinking throughout a course may be necessary to significantly change acceptance of evolutionary theory. Indeed, significant increases in acceptance of evolution were found when tree thinking was emphasized throughout upper level biology courses Nadelson and Southerland : Dodick and Orion ; Catley and Novick It is one of two introductory-level courses required for biology, plant biology, and microbiology majors and serves as a general education science course for non-majors.

The course objective is to introduce students to biological diversity, the evolutionary processes that produce biological diversity, and the basic features of structure and function in biological systems at the organismal and ecological levels. The course includes a single lecture taught by JPG and weekly laboratory sessions taught by graduate teaching assistants. Participants were recruited on the first day of class each semester and provided a participant consent form to opt-in for participation in the study in accordance with IRB approved and mandated procedures.

Background information about major, year in college, and whether they had previously completed college or university introductory biology courses that covered evolution was also collected from each student. Because only one section of BIOL is offered each semester, it was not possible to compare non-tree-thinking and tree-thinking curricula in concurrent sections. Thus, in our initial study, we compared a section of BIOL offered in Fall designated F09 that covered phylogenetics but did not emphasize tree thinking with a section offered in Spring designated S10 that used a tree-thinking framework throughout the course.

The same general topics were covered in both semesters, and both used case studies, guided inquiry, and active learning activities. However, the S10 tree thinking section included additional activities that involved phylogenetic analysis or interpretation. Most of the content that was cut from lecture to allow greater coverage of tree thinking was accommodated in laboratory sessions.

Due to human subjects research guidelines, only the tree-thinking curriculum was used in the final four semesters of the study from spring semester through fall semester designated S11, F11, S12, and F12, respectively. However, by using multiple linear regression analysis to look for correlations between the extent to which individual students improved their tree thinking and their acceptance level, we were able to more accurately assess whether improved teaching tree thinking also raises acceptance of evolution.

At the broad scale, evolution is a process of nested descent with modification, with lineages diverging from common ancestors and producing the branching patterns of phylogenetic trees. The tree-thinking curriculum we are studying emphasizes integrating concepts of inheritance, microevolution, macroevolution, and trait diversification to help students understand the many ways in which DNA and other forms of data corroborate one another across different hierarchical levels and support evolutionary theory.

Because tree thinking depends on understanding common ancestry and descent, there was deliberate emphasis on how successful reproduction and inheritance of genetic variation among many individuals and across generations are represented in phylogenetic trees. These themes showed up repeatedly in many topics covered in the course e. The goal was to draw close connections from such fundamental concepts as Mendelian inheritance and pedigrees to the more complex topics of phylogenetics and tree thinking. This approach emphasizes evolution as an emergent property of biological systems operating from the molecular to the ecosystem levels of organization.

Author notes

Active learning exercises were employed in lecture throughout the course in all semesters. Case studies and problem sets explored the following topics: inheritance, pedigree analysis, and population genetics Aronova-Tiuntseva and Herreid ; Leander and Huskey ; Rice ; natural selection Evarts et al. Laboratory sessions paralleled lecture topics. In lab, students used guided inquiry activities to learn and apply tree thinking in several different modules. Basic principles and process of phylogenetic analyses were studied using the Great Clade Race Goldsmith and a modification of the Dendrogrammaceae phylogenetic construction activity Duncan et al.

Students applied their knowledge of phylogenetic data collection and analysis through activities that investigated plant and animal diversity Smith and Cheruvelil ; Gibson and Cooper These involved students collecting morphological data from representative specimens of different taxa and then using their data to construct trees with the phylogenetic analysis program Mesquite Mesquite Project Team Next, students constructed phylogenies using genetic data e.

These activities not only gave students opportunities to develop phylogenetic analysis skills, but also provided multiple opportunities to apply tree thinking using different forms of data so they could engage in the scientific processes biologists use to investigate evolution questions. All students in the course were given the opportunity to complete the assessment instruments for a small number of points, but only data from students who self-selected to participate and completed all pretest and posttest assessments were included in the analysis.

Although data from the UET assessment are informative, aspects of the wording in distractors and limited topic coverage were found to present confounding factors that limited detailed analysis of results. Distractors in the TTCI included common misconceptions about time, common ancestry, trait evolution, and evolutionary processes. The TTCI also asks students to report whether they have previously seen or learned to read phylogenetic tree diagrams. The MATE is a question, five-point Likert-scale instrument that asks respondents the extent to which they agree or disagree with statements about the process, the evidence for, and the scientific validity of evolutionary theory.

Statements are paired for each topic with a positive and negative phrasing. For example statement M16, Evolutionary theory is supported by factual, historical, and laboratory data. To evaluate tree-thinking ability, the frequencies of different misconception and deficient skills were summarized and compared between pretest and posttest responses from the UET assessment administered in F09 and S Students enrolled in a particular semester do not represent a random sampling of potential participants.

To do this, a student-level, multiple linear regression model was used to investigate the relationship between tree thinking and acceptance of evolution in semesters S11, F11, S12, and F12 Theobald and Freeman In particular, the pretest MATE and TTCI values serve as controls in linear regression analysis of posttest scores making it possible to evaluate the effect of gains in tree thinking and on acceptance of evolution at the end of the course. Study participants reflected the typical composition of students in BIOL , with most being sophomores Overall, Because participation in the study was voluntary, it is possible that self-selection bias could potentially influence the results.

However, we did not notice any differences in student characteristics, assessment instrument scores, or responses to assessment instrument questions between participants and other course enrollees that would suggest participants were dissimilar from course enrollees overall. Therefore, we are confident that was no bias towards students with high tree-thinking skills or initial acceptance of evolution. Unfortunately, the procedures to collect the necessary data and methods to statistically detect, identify, and correct for the myriad of potential factors that can contribute to self-selection bias Cuddeback et al.

In both pretests, students had a poor understanding of how time is represented in phylogenies and they frequently used node counting and reading across the tips to determine relationships. Consequently, rotations of trees at the nodes were thought to indicate different evolutionary relationships among lineages.

Surprisingly, the use of reading across the tips to determine relatedness increased slightly in posttests for both semesters. Students had difficulty reading how traits of different lineages are represented in trees in pretests. Although many students had difficulty constructing a phylogenetic tree when given a small data set for five hypothetical taxa in pretests, they showed marked improvement in their ability to construct a simple phylogentic tree in the posttest.

The interquartile range showed a greater increase in S10 than F Within pretests and posttests, there were no differences in TTCI scores among students in different years of school or between majors and non-majors. Pretest TTCI assessment showed that in approximately half of the responses, students correctly answered that phylogenies show relationships among lineages indicated by lines in the diagram Fig. Slightly over one-third of responses correctly identified how time is represented in a phylogeny.

Only one fourth correctly responded that nodes indicate where lineages diverge, but approximately one third held the misconception that nodes indicated where lineages came together or hybridized. As in F09 and S10, node counting was used to determine relationships in phylogenies to a greater extent than reading across the tips. Students could generally identify identical trees showed the same branching pattern of relationships despite node rotations. However, there was a low percentage of correct answers in questions asking students to interpret how trait evolution and speciation is shown in trees.

Posttest responses showed improvement in all areas Fig. In posttests, a greater percentage of responses correctly described the components of a phylogenetic tree, and students improved in their ability to determine relationships and interpret traits in trees. Although the frequency of node counting to determine relationships decreased in the TTCI posttest, it still tended to used with greater frequency than reading across the tips. Percentage of TTCI responses for different tree-thinking concepts and skills.

Misconceptions and incorrect methods of determining relationships are indicated by an asterisk. TTCI questions addressing a concept or skill are given in parenthesis. Most informative were the questions with the higher D -values i. Median MATE posttest scores were significantly higher than pretest scores in all categories except for students who were not life science majors and students who had not previously completed introductory biology. Despite covering the scientific evidence of evolution during the semester, posttest responses showed that low acceptance of evolution persisted in some students.

We found that after completing a semester of introductory biology in which a number of tree-thinking activities emphasizing macroevolution and phylogenetic perspectives were used as an organizing theme throughout the semester, students improved in their ability to read and interpret phylogenetic trees as indicated by significantly higher TTCI POST than TTCI PRE scores, and showed significantly greater acceptance of evolution as indicated by MATE posttest scores.

Many misconceptions about phylogenetic trees, as well as misconceptions and conflicting opinions about evolution were corrected for most students. The assessment instrument responses indicated that the tree-thinking curricular structure, therefore, not only promoted development of the fundamental skills for tree thinking, it also improved acceptance and understanding of the scientific evidence supporting evolution.

In terms of learning tree thinking as a skill, we found that university students at the introductory biology level are capable of learning and applying complex phylogenetic concepts and techniques. Errors detected in pretests, such as not knowing that a phylogeny shows relationships among taxa or that there is a time axis inherent in a phylogeny, indicate that some students have a fundamental misunderstanding of phylogenetic trees and the information they contain. Other errors, such as reading across the tips and node counting, indicate how students who have not been instructed how to correctly read trees use superficial features to interpret phylogenies Halverson Baum et al.

Detailed item analysis of TTCI responses demonstrated that many of the mistakes students made when interpreting trees in TTCI pretest questions related to misunderstandings of nodes in phylogenetic trees and the evolutionary events they signify Fig. For example, approximately one-fourth of students in the TTCI pretest correctly responded that nodes indicate isolation of lineages, while the majority responded that they indicate other events. Although pedigrees and phylogenies are superficially similar, their interpretation is drastically different, particularly at the nodes.

Although we have detected a significant relationship between tree thinking and acceptance of evolution, the results of the study also demonstrate that ability to read phylogenetic trees does not in itself translate into significantly greater acceptance of evolution. Although students in the F09 semester had significant improvements in tree thinking, they did not show the corresponding increases in acceptance of evolution. Tree thinking does require understanding fundamental concepts and principles of evolutionary theory. However, promoting increased acceptance of evolution requires that students also put tree thinking into a larger context and understand how phylogenies serve as a conceptual starting point for researchers investigating evolution.

We think that this is the key benefit of our tree-thinking curriculum. It promotes increased acceptance of evolution by helping students improve their understanding of the nature of science and how evolution is studied scientifically Johnson and Peeples ; Southerland et al.

Duplicate citations

Doubts about the existence and validity of evidence supporting evolution not uncommon Alters ; Miller et al. Increased proficiency in a technique or method of analysis such as phylogenetic analysis does not automatically relate to increased acceptance of evolutionary theory Sinatra et al. Instead, we would suggest that the tree-thinking curriculum fosters a deeper understanding of how evolution is scientifically studied and validated, which is likely critical to improving acceptance of evolutionary theory.

Regardless of what students believe, and MATE responses indicate that some students continue to hold beliefs that are not completely consistent with evolution, students showed an improved understanding of the methods and evidence supporting evolutionary theory, which was responsible for the increased MATE scores. The tree-thinking focus in the introductory curriculum provides a larger, unifying conceptual framework throughout the course that presents, for what is likely the first time for many students, how biologists study evolution.

Evolution is a complex theory that requires synthesis of many different forms of data. By presenting students with tree thinking activities that draw upon examples using ecological, genetic, developmental, behavioral, and other forms of data, the tree-thinking curriculum provides a framework to synthesize data across different fields and show how they converge in support of evolutionary theory. Additionally, the curriculum focuses on macroevolution, which is an important, fundamental component of evolutionary theory that often receives scant emphasis in evolution education.

The increased emphasis on macroevolution provides additional perspectives on evolution and the nature of science, both of which are necessary to develop a broader understanding, appreciation, and acceptance of evolutionary theory Johnson and Peeples ; Southerland et al. Correctly applying tree thinking requires a fundamental understanding that lineages of different taxa descend and diverge from one another through a series of nested ancestor-descendent relationships.

We expected that by establishing how evolution is based on tangible and uncontroversial processes of inheritance, students should develop a better understanding of how genetic data provide a record of successful reproduction and transmission of information across generations. The tree-thinking curriculum focused on demonstrating how DNA and other forms of data based on genetics e.

By teaching phylogenetic approaches and tree thinking, we predicted that students would learn about and gain experience using the phylogenetic framework biologists use to develop hypotheses and explore questions about how organisms and their features evolve. Tree thinking involves not only the technical aspect of reading phylogenies, but also using an overarching understanding of evolution as an emergent biological phenomenon and how these diagrams graphically represent the nested hierarchy and descent from a common ancestor that are the core of evolution research.

Thus, the ability to read and interpret trees correctly reflects not only proficiency in using specific skills, but also an understanding of the evolutionary basis of these diagrams. The results of our study support the use of tree thinking as a curricular theme in introductory biology education and demonstrate how a curriculum focused on tree thinking helps students learn not only an important skill, but can also promote greater acceptance of evolution.

Further studies should also strive to identify whether there are certain activities we used or specific aspects of tree-thinking curriculum that have a greater influence on correcting misconceptions and increasing acceptance of evolution. Alters, B. Teaching biological evolution in higher education Methodological, religious, and nonreligious issues. Sudbury: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.

Perspective: teaching evolution in higher education. Evolution, 56 , — Aronova-Tiuntseva, Y. Hemophilia: the royal disease. Accessed 18 April Baum, D. Phylogenies and tree thinking. American Biology Teacher, 70 , — Tree thinking: an introduction to phylogenetic biology.


The New Evolution Deniers

Greenwood Village: Roberts and Company Publishers. Evolution the tree thinking challenge. Science, , — Berkman, M. PLoS Biology, 6 , e Defeating creationism in the courtroom, but not in the classroom. Bishop, B. Student conceptions of natural-selection and its role in evolution. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 27 , — Catley, K.

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Flammer, L. Mystery of the matching marks or Search for the tell-teale telomere. Accessed 17 September Gendron, R. The classification and evolution of caminalcules. Americal Biology Teacher, 62 , — Gibson, J. Exaggerated traits and breeding success in widowbirds: A case of sexual selection. Investigating plant evolution via morphological and molecular phylogenetic analysis. PlantEd Digital Learning Library. Goldsmith, D. The great clade race: presenting cladistic thinking in both biology majors and general science students. American Biology Teacher, 25 , — Gregory, T.

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Hopkins, K. Educational and psychological measurement and evaluation 6th ed. Englewoods Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.

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Horvath, T. Cross-dressing salmon: Survival of the sneaky. Accessed 5 Dec Not necessarily on purpose: Domestication and speciation in the Canidae family. But just when it seemed that the Scopes case might end with a whimper, Darrow made the highly unorthodox request of calling Bryan to the witness stand. With Bryan on the stand, Darrow proceeded to ask a series of detailed questions about biblical events that could be seen as inconsistent, unreal or both.

For instance, Darrow asked, how could there be morning and evening during the first three days of biblical creation if the sun was not formed until the fourth? And was Jonah really swallowed by a whale? Bryan responded to these and similar questions in different ways.

ISBN 13: 9781929614233

Often, he defended the biblical account in question as the literal truth, the work of a God of miracles. On other occasions, however, he admitted that something in Scripture might need to be interpreted in order to be fully accepted. The next day, many big city papers hailed Darrow and savaged Bryan, who unexpectedly died less than a week later.

And while Scopes was convicted of violating the anti-evolution law and fined, his conviction was later overturned on a technicality by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Accepting, understanding, teaching, and learning (human) evolution: Obstacles and opportunities

But this post- Scopes momentum did not destroy the anti-evolution movement. Indeed, in the years immediately following Scopes , two additional state legislatures — in Mississippi and Arkansas — enacted bills similar to the Tennessee law. Other states, particularly in the South and Midwest, passed resolutions condemning the inclusion of material on evolution in biology textbooks.

These actions, along with a patchwork of restrictions from local school boards, prompted most publishers to remove references to Darwin from their science textbooks. Efforts to make evolution the standard in all biology classes would have to wait a number of decades before bearing any fruit. This was due in large part to the fact that the government prohibition on religious establishment or favoritism, found in the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment to the U.

Constitution, applied only to federal and not state actions. This meant that state governments were free to set their own policies on church-state issues. Board of Education , did the constitutional prohibition on religious establishment begin to apply to state as well as federal actions. Efforts to mandate the teaching of evolution also received a boost 10 years after Everson , in , when the surprise Soviet launch of the first satellite, Sputnik I, prompted the United States to make science education a national priority.

In , in Epperson v. Arkansas , the Supreme Court finally turned its attention to anti-evolution laws. See Evolution: A Timeline. The case concerned a challenge to a post- Scopes Arkansas law that made it a crime to teach evolution in a public school or state university. Epperson put an end to state and local prohibitions on teaching evolution. Proponents of creation science contend that the weight of scientific evidence supports the creation story described in the biblical book of Genesis — with the formation of the earth and the development of life occurring in six hour days.

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  8. Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many conservative Christians had come to believe that the Earth was much older than the approximately 6, years biblical scholars had long estimated it to be. Morris and theologian John C. Whitcomb published The Genesis Flood. The book became the bible of the creation science movement, purporting to present scientific explanations for the creation, destruction and repopulation of the Earth as described in the book of Genesis. The Genesis Flood became and remains a bestseller, helping to spawn a network of creation science think tanks, including the Institute for Creation Research, founded by Morris in Furthermore, in the wake of the Epperson ruling, creation science provided an alternative to the now-unconstitutional efforts to ban the teaching of evolution in public schools.

    Both statutes were ultimately the subject of legal challenges. In , the Arkansas law was struck down by a federal district court in McLean v.

    Arkansas Board of Education. In its analysis of the statute, the district court relied on a Supreme Court decision, Lemon v. Kurtzman , which set up a three-part test to determine whether a government action violates the Establishment Clause. If the challenged action fails any one of the three parts of the Lemon test, it is deemed to have violated the Establishment Clause.

    Overton noted that both the author of the act and those who lobbied for it publicly acknowledged its sectarian purpose, which, he said, was otherwise clear from an objective reading of it. Furthermore, Overton determined that creation science was not science, but based wholly on the biblical creation story. Therefore, he wrote, the teaching of creation science clearly advanced religion and entangled it with the government.

    The U. Supreme Court entered the creation science debate five years later in Edwards v. Aguillard , a case that, like McLean , involved a challenge to a balanced treatment law, this one from Louisiana. Like the Arkansas statute, the Louisiana act forbade the teaching of the theory of evolution in public schools unless it was accompanied by instruction in creation science. In a decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the act violated the Establishment Clause because it did not meet the first, or secular-purpose, prong of the Lemon test.

    The high court did not bother to consider the second and third prongs of the test, since failure to satisfy any of the three is sufficient to nullify a government action. Actually, Brennan argued, the Louisiana law severely limited both aims by prohibiting the teaching of evolution unless certain other conditions were met. Justice Antonin Scalia, in a dissenting opinion joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, took the majority to task for presuming to divine the actual, as opposed to the stated, intentions of the Louisiana Legislature. Scalia pointed out that the legislators had sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution, understood the potential Establishment Clause problems and had taken several months to craft a bill that tried to meet these concerns.

    Scalia also criticized the majority for presuming to determine whether creation science was actually science and worth teaching in schools. Such a determination was the responsibility of the Louisiana Legislature, not federal courts, he said. Even if the legislators were wrong, Scalia argued, their error should not be deemed unconstitutional, as long as they sincerely believed that creation science was actually science. Neither Edwards nor Epperson prohibits the teaching of biblical creationism in other contexts, such as part of a literature or world religions class.

    Graham , Nevertheless, Edwards essentially ended state efforts to bring creation science into public school science classes. As already noted, recent anti-evolution efforts have focused on other strategies, such as disclaimers and, in the last decade, intelligent design. Efforts to require either oral or written evolution disclaimers have not met with success in federal courts. In a decision, Freiler v.