Paper No. 2
Presentation Time: 8:30 AM


MIKKELSEN, Paula M., Paleontological Research Institution, 1259 Trumansburg Road, Ithaca, NY 14850,

No biology class is complete without the study of evolution, a fact recognized by its requirement in U.S. national and state education standards. Yet, a large number of teachers in American public and private schools feel unprepared to teach evolution in their classrooms due to the controversy and emotional reactions that the subject can evoke in students and parents. Most teachers have had few opportunities to apply evolutionary concepts to specimens of real organisms, and textbooks recycle a relatively small set of classic examples that fall outside the scope of most students’ life experiences. As a consequence, novel approaches are needed. The Bivalve Tree of Life Project ( is providing outreach materials that complement its research goals and teach the concepts of evolution using a familiar, accessible model organism – bivalves (clams, oysters, scallops, etc). The research of “BivAToL ,” funded by the National Science Foundation’s Assembling the Tree of Life program, is a multi-institutional, multi-investigator project to develop a backbone phylogeny for the molluscan class Bivalvia based on a wide array of morphological and DNA characters studied from hundreds of exemplar species. BivAToL’s outreach program seeks to provide effective, accessible instruction on evolution (including diversity, systematics, and phylogeny) using organisms that are (a) morphologically “simple,” familiar, and engaging, (b) sufficiently diverse to provide varied examples of evolutionary processes, (c) easy to obtain and maintain in the lab, and (d) represented by an ample fossil record. Bivalves fit these criteria perfectly. Deliverables target three audiences: (1) a traveling museum exhibition “Science on the Half Shell: How and Why We Study Evolution” for the general public; (2) the “Teacher-Friendly Guide(TM) to Evolution,” an online and print resource for middle and high school teachers; and (3) a lab curriculum to augment pre-existing undergraduate evolution courses. All outreach products emphasize the use of specimens, data, and the interpretation of results, some of which originate from the research results of this grant. Students and other users can apply the principles of what they have learned about evolution and bivalves to studying the same processes in other organisms. Funded by NSF DEB 0732860.