January/February 2018 – Vol. 31 No. 2

The Tree Room: A New Online Resource for Teaching Evolutionary Relationships

Posted: Thursday, November 12th, 2015

by Anna Thanukos, Teresa MacDonald, David Heiser, and Robert Ross

Understanding evolutionary trees is important for students because trees visually represent the idea that all life is genealogically linked. This powerful idea, tied to Next Generation Science Standards MS-LS4-2 and HS-LS4-1, is one of those most fundamental concepts that biological evolution offers to explain the biological world. The implication is that any set of species, no matter how distantly related, share common ancestors at some point in evolutionary history. Evolutionary trees are an efficient way to communicate that idea. It turns out, however, that evolutionary trees are not quite as straightforward to interpret as they may at first appear — so where can a teacher turn for a user-friendly introduction to their use in the classroom?

The Tree Room is a new component of UC Berkeley’s renowned Understanding Evolution website. It contains resources both for teachers in K-16 education and for exhibition designers at informal science education venues such as museums, nature centers, zoos, and aquariums. The Tree Room provides user-friendly, accessible information on how to interpret trees, how they are built, and how they are relevant to society. The website starts with a Primer on trees that can help one learn the basics of evolutionary trees.

Lisa White (Assistant Director for Education and Public Programs at the University of California Museum of Paleontology) teaches about reading evolutionary trees.

Lisa White (Assistant Director for Education and Public Programs at the University of California Museum of Paleontology) teaches about reading evolutionary trees.

The origins of the new website emerged from research within the past decade that documents how evolutionary trees are often misunderstood by the public, including our students. For example, commonly students pay most attention to the ordering of taxa along the tips of a tree, without looking carefully at the branching pattern. Students might assume, therefore, that taxa next to each other are necessarily the most closely related. Students might also assume that one side of a tree, often the right side on a tree positioned “upward,” includes taxa that are more “advanced.” Branching patterns of evolutionary trees, however, can be shown in any order and communicate relative recency of splitting of lineages; in fact, branches can be flipped (rotated) and still communicate the same information. The section of the website “Tree misinterpretations” provides many more examples.

The tree on the left may be misinterpreted as showing evolutionary “progress” toward the top of the tree.

The tree on the left may be misinterpreted as showing evolutionary “progress” toward the top of the tree.

A wide variety of evolutionary tree forms are encountered through textbooks, popular media, and elsewhere, increasing the challenge of interpreting them. These designs range from sets of branching lines to graphics that look like actual trees or branching blobs. The Tree Room’s Field Guide explains how to interpret these various tree forms and their features, and ways in which some designs are more accessible than others. Research has shown, for example, that trees with squared corners (picture a tuning fork) are easier to interpret than the diagonal and circular trees that are common in scientific literature. Blobby trees look friendly but tend to be inherently ambiguous, because it’s unclear how exactly the lineages are related to each other.

The “squarish-corner” form of branching tree is easiest to interpret for students among the common forms of evolutionary tree graphics.

The “squarish-corner” form of branching tree is easiest to interpret for students among the common forms of evolutionary tree graphics.

The Field Guide to Trees home screen shows eight categories of evolutionary tree graphics, The “blobby” (lower left) and “tree-like” (left of the circular tree) designs are considered problematic particularly because of the difficulty in identifying branching points. 

The Field Guide to Trees home screen shows eight categories of evolutionary tree graphics, The “blobby” (lower left) and “tree-like” (left of the circular tree) designs are considered problematic particularly because of the difficulty in identifying branching points.

In the “For teachers” part of the site are ideas for incorporating tree-thinking exercises into curricula and a searchable database of dozens of vetted lessons and tools for teaching about trees. These lessons and resources, for grades 6 to 16, can be searched by grade level, keyword, and type (for example, lab activity, article, tutorial, and so on). Under the link “For museums and zoos” are resources written with museum exhibition designers in mind. However, some of these resources, in particular the section called Tips for tree design, may be useful for teachers who want to create new evolutionary tree graphics or modify existing ones for their teaching.

What did T. rex taste like? This web based module explores common ancestry and evolutionary relationships and is one example of lessons that can be found in the searchable database.

What did T. rex taste like? This web based module explores common ancestry and evolutionary relationships and is one example of lessons that can be found in the searchable database.

There’s another reason for students to understand evolutionary trees beyond the fundamental idea of common ancestry. Evolutionary trees are increasingly used to inform new biological research relevant to students’ lives, such as determining the origin and spread of infectious diseases, making crop choices in changing environments, choosing taxa to investigate for new medicines, and understanding the spread of invasive species. Our students may or may not be doing this research for their careers, but it will surely influence their lives and communities.

The Tree Room website was officially launched in May 2015. It was developed through a partnership among the University of California Museum of Paleontology, the University of Kansas Natural History Museum, the Yale Peabody Museum, and the Paleontological Research Institution, with input from a wide variety of evolutionary biologists and science educators. The project was supported with funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (grant number LG-26-12-0578-12).

Anna Thanukos develops and writes science education content for the University of California Museum of Paleontology in Berkeley (thanukos@berkeley.edu). Teresa MacDonald runs the education program at the University of Kansas Natural History Museum in Lawrence, Kansas (tmacd@ku.edu), David Heiser runs the education program at the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University in New Haven, CT (david.heiser@yale.edu), and Rob Ross runs the education program at the Paleontological Research Institution in Ithaca, NY (rmr16@cornell.edu).

All images are from the Understanding Evolution website and are used by permission of the University of California at Berkeley.

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

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Accelerating into NGSS – A Statewide Rollout Series Now Accepting Registrations

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

Are you feeling behind on the implementation of NGSS? Then Accelerating into NGSS – the Statewide Rollout event – is right for you!

WHO SHOULD ATTEND
If you have not experienced Phases 1-4 of the Statewide Rollout, or are feeling behind with the implementation of NGSS, the Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout will provide you with the greatest hits from Phases 1-4!

OVERVIEW
Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout is a two-day training geared toward grade K-12 academic coaches, administrators, curriculum leads, and teacher leaders. Check-in for the two-day rollout begins at 7:30 a.m., followed by a continental breakfast. Sessions run from 8:00 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. on Day One and from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Day Two.

Cost of training is $250 per attendee. Fee includes all materials, continental breakfast, and lunch on both days. It is recommended that districts send teams of four to six, which include at least one administrator. Payment can be made by check or credit card. If paying by check, registration is NOT complete until payment has been received. All payments must be received prior to the Rollout location date you are attending. Paying by credit card secures your seat at time of registration. No purchase orders accepted. No participant cancellation refunds.

For questions or more information, please contact Amy Kennedy at akennedy@sjcoe.net or (209) 468-9027.

REGISTER

http://bit.ly/ACCELERATINGINTONGSS

DATES & LOCATIONS
MARCH 28-29, 2018
Host: San Mateo County Office of Education
Location: San Mateo County Office of Education, Redwood City

APRIL 10-11, 2018
Host: Orange County Office of Education
Location: Brandman University, Irvine

MAY 1-2, 2018
Host: Tulare County Office of Education
Location: Tulare County Office of Education, Visalia

MAY 3-4, 2018
Host: San Bernardino Superintendent of Schools
Location: West End Educational Service Center, Rancho Cucamonga

MAY 7-8, 2018
Host: Sacramento County Office of Education
Location: Sacramento County Office of Education Conference Center and David P. Meaney Education Center, Mather

JUNE 14-15, 2018
Host: Imperial County Office of Education
Location: Imperial Valley College, Imperial

Presented by the California Department of Education, California County Superintendents Educational Services Association/County Offices of Education, K-12 Alliance @WestEd, California Science Project, and the California Science Teachers Association.

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

The Teaching and Learning Collaborative, Reflections from an Administrator

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

by Kelly Patchen

My name is Mrs. Kelly Patchen, and I am proud to be an elementary assistant principal working in the Tracy Unified School District (TUSD) at Louis Bohn and McKinley Elementary Schools. Each of the schools I support are Title I K-5 schools with about 450 students, a diverse student population, a high percentage of English Language Learners, and students living in poverty. We’re also lucky to be part of the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative with the K-12 Alliance. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the California NGSS k-8 Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

2018 CSTA Conference Call for Proposals

Posted: Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

CSTA is pleased to announce that we are now accepting proposals for 90-minute workshops and three- and six-hour short courses for the 2018 California Science Education Conference. Workshops and short courses make up the bulk of the content and professional learning opportunities available at the conference. In recognition of their contribution, members who present a workshop or short course receive 50% off of their registration fees. Click for more information regarding proposals, or submit one today by following the links below.

Short Course Proposal

Workshop Proposal Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

CSTA’s New Administrator Facebook Group Page

Posted: Monday, January 15th, 2018

by Holly Steele

The California Science Teachers Association’s mission is to promote high-quality science education, and one of the best practice’s we use to fulfill that mission is through the use of our Facebook group pages. CSTA hosts several closed and moderated Facebook group pages for specific grade levels, (Elementary, Middle, and High School), pages for district coaches and science education faculty, and the official CSTA Facebook page. These pages serve as an online resource for teachers and coaches to exchange teaching methods, materials, staying update on science events in California and asking questions. CSTA is happy to announce the creation of a 6th group page called, California Administrators Supporting Science. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

Find Your Reason to Engage

Posted: Monday, January 15th, 2018

by Jill Grace

I was recently reflecting on events in the news and remembered that several years ago, National Public Radio had a story about a man named Stéphane Hessel, a World War II French resistance fighter, Nazi concentration camp survivor, and contributor to the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The story focused on a book he had published, Time for Outrage (2010).

In it, Hessel makes the argument that the worst attitude is indifference:

“Who is in charge; who are the decision makers? It’s not always easy to discern. We’re not dealing with a small elite anymore, whose actions we can clearly identify. We are dealing with a vast, interdependent world that is interconnected in unprecedented ways. But there are unbearable things all around us. You have to look for them; search carefully. Open your eyes and you will see. This is what I tell young people: If you spend a little time searching, you will find your reasons to engage. The worst attitude is indifference. ‘There’s nothing I can do; I get by’ – adopting this mindset will deprive you of one of the fundamental qualities of being human: outrage.  Our capacity for protest is indispensable, as is our freedom to engage.”

His words make me take pause when I think of the status of science in the United States. A general “mistrust” of science is increasingly pervasive, as outlined in a New Yorker article from the summer of 2016. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.