Introductory biology for nonmajors provides an opportunity to engage students with the complexity of life. In these courses, instructors also have the opportunity to experiment with course material and delivery, especially with an intent to overcome common misconceptions about biology. Fortunately, frameworks exist that can be integrated into a completely novel classroom framework: the AP biology curriculum and the tree of life. In addition, assessments are available that specifically address common misconceptions. I tested whether such a novel approach, covering the four big ideas in biology equally and structured around an accurate depiction of biodiversity as a branching history of evolution, can improve student comprehension of difficult biological concepts. In the end, I found that students improved significantly in their understanding of biology and were much less likely to have common misconceptions about difficult topics.
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Vol. 78 • No. 2