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For many students, preconceived notions about Darwin are among the most significant obstacles in learning about the theory of evolution by natural selection. I present an activity designed to eliminate this obstacle and encourage empathizing with Darwin, utilizing the history-of-science approach. Through the activity, students' negative thoughts about Darwin disappeared, Darwin's position as a scientist came to the fore, students' interest in evolution increased, and they started to discuss the theory within a scientific framework.
Lists of vestigial biological structures in biology textbooks are so short that some young-Earth creationist authors claim that scientists have lost confidence in the existence of vestigial structures and can no longer identify any verifiable ones. We tested these hypotheses with a method that is easily adapted to biology classes. We used online search engines to find examples of 21st-century articles in primary scientific literature in which biological structures are identified as vestigial. Our results falsify these creationist hypotheses and show that scientists currently identify many structures as vestigial in animals, plants, and single-celled organisms. Examples include not only organs but also cells, organelles, and parts of molecules. Having students repeat this study will give them experience with hypothesis testing, introduce them to primary scientific articles, and further their education on vestigial structures.
Genetic drift is a concept of population genetics that is central to understanding evolutionary processes and aspects of conservation biology. It is frequently taught using rather abstract representations. I introduce three real-life zoological examples, based on historical and recent color morphs of tigers, tapirs, and ravens, that can complement classical models.
Students who enter college with a solid grounding in, and positive attitudes toward, evolutionary science are better prepared for and achieve at higher levels in university-level biology courses. We found highly significant, positive relationships between student knowledge of evolution and attitudes toward evolution, as well as between introductory biology course achievement and both precourse acceptance of evolution and precourse knowledge of evolution, among students at a medium-sized private northeastern university. Teachers who scant the teaching of evolution or who do not foster good attitudes toward evolution are compromising their students' potential for success in science at the college level.
The molecular basis of evolution is an important and challenging concept for students to understand. In a previous article, we provided some of the scientific background necessary to teach this topic. This article features a series of laboratory activities demonstrating that molecular events can alter the genomes of organisms. These activities are most appropriate for undergraduate students in Honors Biology, Genetics, or Molecular Biology courses. Student laboratory instructions are included to allow students to conduct the activities, make observations, interpret the results, and draw conclusions.
The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013) recommend that science courses engage communities of students in scientific practices that include building accurate conceptual models of phenomena central to the understanding of scientific disciplines. We offer a set of activities, implemented successfully at both the secondary and postsecondary levels, that involve students in guided inquiry toward creation and progressive revision of a robust model of selection that accounts for both natural and sexual selection and their complicated relationship to one another at the level of individuals and populations. Requiring students to progressively revise their models in light of data and previous understanding replicates scientific practice and allows for authentic assessment of students' growing content knowledge, understanding, and skills regarding scientific modeling and communication processes.
Teachers are being challenged to engage students in ways that will elevate student interest and understanding of concepts in science and encourage students to gather evidence to support what we know about science. It is critical for teachers to have budget-friendly, supporting activities that are aligned with current educational standards, that are easy to present, and that incorporate a variety of skills important to the study of science. This simulation activity is an inexpensive exercise that challenges students to hypothesize the evolutionary outcome of genotype selection in a population and then gather and analyze a set of unique data. Connections to recent evolutionary changes in familiar organisms ground the activity for students, helping them grasp the importance of such investigative work.
In this classroom activity, students build a phylogeny for woody plant species based on the morphology of their twigs. Using any available twigs, students can practice the process of cladistics to test evolutionary hypotheses for real organisms. They identify homologous characters, determine polarity through outgroup comparison, and construct a parsimonious tree based on synapomorphies (shared derived characters). This activity efficiently demonstrates many systematics concepts, including homology, homoplasy (convergence and reversal), polarity, synapomorphy, symplesiomorphy, autapomorphy, polytomy, and parsimony. It also engages students in inquiry, promotes student collaboration, raises awareness of plant structure, and exposes students to the diversity of common local trees.
Considerable anecdotal evidence indicates that some of the most difficult concepts that both high school and undergraduate elementary-education students struggle with are those surrounding evolutionary principles, especially speciation. It's no wonder that entry-level biology students are confused, when biologists have multiple definitions of “species.” We developed this speciation activity to provide clarity and allow students a hands-on experience with a speciation model.