2015 GSA Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, USA (1-4 November 2015)

Paper No. 216-8
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-6:30 PM


THANUKOS, Anastasia, Museum of Paleontology, University of California, 1101 Valley Life Sciences Building, Berkeley, CA 94720, MACDONALD, Teresa, Natural History Museum, University of Kansas, 1345 Jayhawk Boulevard, Dyche Hall, Lawrence, KS 66045-7593, HEISER, David Mangold, Peabody Museum, Yale University, 170 Whitney Ave, New Haven, CT 06511 and ROSS, Robert M., Paleontological Research Institution, 1259 Trumansburg Road, Ithaca, NY 14850, rmr16@cornell.edu

Understanding evolutionary trees is fundamental to students’ comprehension of evolution’s roots in deep time because trees visually represent the fundamental idea that all life is genealogically linked. Any set of species, even very distantly related ones, share common ancestors at some point in evolutionary history. Evolutionary trees are what connect the life that inhabits Earth today to the extinct forms found in the fossil record and ultimately to the ancestors of all life. In addition, “tree thinking” increasingly informs new biological research and socio-scientific issues, such as dealing with invasive species and emerging infectious diseases. Recent research shows, however, that evolutionary trees are often misunderstood by students, and the wide variety of tree styles encountered through textbooks, popular media, the web, and museums exacerbates these challenges.

The Tree Room (treeroom.org), a new component of UC Berkeley’s renowned Understanding Evolution website (evolution.berkeley.edu), contains resources both for teachers in K-12 education and for exhibition designers at informal science education venues such as museums, nature centers, zoos, and aquariums. The Tree Room demystifies evolutionary trees by providing friendly, accessible information on how to interpret trees, how they are built, and their applications relevant to society. The site also includes: 1), clarifications of common misconceptions about trees documented in the education research literature; 2) ideas for easily incorporating tree thinking exercises into curricula; 3), a searchable database of vetted lessons and tools for teaching about trees; and 4), a “field guide to evolutionary trees,” an interactive tool to help educators and students understand and interpret disparate tree diagrams.

Development of the Tree Room website incorporated both formative and summative evaluation with classroom teachers and was officially launched in May 2015. The Tree Room 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 funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.