You are here

How should we teach tree-thinking? An experimental test of two hypotheses

TitleHow should we teach tree-thinking? An experimental test of two hypotheses
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsEddy S, Wenderoth MP, Crowe AJ, Freeman S
JournalEvolution: Education and Outreach
Start Page13

<div class="collapsible-content">
<p>Phylogenies are ubiquitous in college-level biology textbooks, yet many college students continue to struggle to interpret them correctly. Multiple activities and frameworks for teaching phylogenies have been proposed to address this problem. In an introductory biology course for majors, we tested two contrasting hypotheses about the best way for students to learn the basic principles of &lsquo;tree-thinking&rsquo;.</p>
<p>We constructed two 30-minute, pencil-and-paper-based guided group activities: one focused on using a character matrix to build a tree and one focused on analyzing an existing tree. Groups of three students completed one of these activities during one class session of a large lecture course. All students completed an identical assessment the night of the activity.</p>
<p>We confirmed that students in the two groups were of equal academic ability, and found that students in the &lsquo;build your own tree&rsquo; treatment performed significantly better on the assessment than students in the &lsquo;analyze an existing tree&rsquo; treatment. We also had first-year graduate students in a Biology PhD program complete the assessment, without doing the activity beforehand. The scores of undergraduates who had done a modified version of the tree building activity were indistinguishable from those of the graduate students.</p>
<p>We recommend simple tree-building activities be a standard part of training for tree-thinking in introductory biology.</p>