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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org). Teresa MacDonald runs the education program at the University of Kansas Natural History Museum in Lawrence, Kansas (email@example.com), David Heiser runs the education program at the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University in New Haven, CT (firstname.lastname@example.org), and Rob Ross runs the education program at the Paleontological Research Institution in Ithaca, NY (email@example.com).
All images are from the Understanding Evolution website and are used by permission of the University of California at Berkeley.
Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016
by Jessica Sawko
In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.
At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/ai/infomeeting.asp.) Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
by Carol Peterson
1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. https://www.engadget.com/2016/08/25/google-offers-360-degree-tours-of-us-national-parks/. Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!
Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award
The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
by Peter A’hearn
NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?
The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt
Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…