The Promise and Challenges of Introducing Tree Thinking into Evolution Education

Kefyn M. Catley, Laura R. Novick and Daniel J. Funk

in Evolution Challenges

Published in print April 2012 | ISBN: 9780199730421
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199949557 | DOI:
The Promise and Challenges of Introducing Tree Thinking into Evolution Education

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Engaging in tree thinking (using phylogenetic diagrams to interpret and infer historical processes) is a prerequisite for understanding macroevolution. Tree thinking has become increasingly important in biology, with important ramifications for applied fields such as genomics, conservation, epidemiology, and pharmacology. Focusing on what is currently known about cognitive and perceptual constraints on students' tree-thinking skills the chapter reports on the effectiveness of business-as-usual instructional units on tree-thinking concepts in two upper-level classes for Biology majors and discussing how this knowledge can be used to inform curriculum development. The chapter argues for a paradigm shift in the way evolution is taught — from a strong focus on natural selection to a model that visualizes evolution as a broad hierarchical continuum which integrates both micro and macro processes with critical scientific reasoning skills.

Keywords: phylogenetic trees; cladograms; macroevolution education; nature of science; good continuation; prior knowledge; confirmation bias

Chapter.  10664 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Developmental Psychology

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