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Prevalence and Persistence of Misconceptions in Tree Thinking †

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

ABSTRACT

Darwin described evolution as “descent with modification.” Descent, however, is not an explicit focus of most evolution instruction and often leaves deeply held misconceptions to dominate student understanding of common ancestry and species relatedness. Evolutionary trees are ways of visually depicting descent by illustrating the relationships between species and groups of species. The ability to properly interpret and use evolutionary trees has become known as “tree thinking.” We used a 20-question assessment to measure misconceptions in tree thinking and compare the proportion of students who hold these misconceptions in an introductory biology course with students in two higher-level courses including a senior level biology course. We found that misconceptions related to reading the graphic (reading the tips and node counting) were variably influenced across time with reading the tips decreasing and node counting increasing in prevalence. On the other hand, misconceptions related to the fundamental underpinnings of evolutionary theory (ladder thinking and similarity equals relatedness) proved resistant to change during a typical undergraduate study of biology. A possible new misconception relating to the length of the branches in an evolutionary tree is described. Understanding the prevalence and persistence of misconceptions informs educators as to which misconceptions should be targeted in their courses.

No MeSH data available.


A comparison of overall performance on the assessment for each group in the study. Error bars represent one standard error.
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f4-jmbe-17-389: A comparison of overall performance on the assessment for each group in the study. Error bars represent one standard error.

Mentions: We compared student overall performance on the content component of the assessment between courses. The average score for both groups was below 50% on the assessment. Using a Mann-Whitney U test, we found no significant difference between the groups in assessment performance (n = 115, U = 1,635.5, p = 0.240). Despite changes in some misconception levels, student performance on the assessment overall remained low for both groups (Fig. 4).


Prevalence and Persistence of Misconceptions in Tree Thinking †
A comparison of overall performance on the assessment for each group in the study. Error bars represent one standard error.
© Copyright Policy - open-access
Related In: Results  -  Collection

License 1 - License 2
Show All Figures
getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC5134942&req=5

f4-jmbe-17-389: A comparison of overall performance on the assessment for each group in the study. Error bars represent one standard error.
Mentions: We compared student overall performance on the content component of the assessment between courses. The average score for both groups was below 50% on the assessment. Using a Mann-Whitney U test, we found no significant difference between the groups in assessment performance (n = 115, U = 1,635.5, p = 0.240). Despite changes in some misconception levels, student performance on the assessment overall remained low for both groups (Fig. 4).

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

ABSTRACT

Darwin described evolution as “descent with modification.” Descent, however, is not an explicit focus of most evolution instruction and often leaves deeply held misconceptions to dominate student understanding of common ancestry and species relatedness. Evolutionary trees are ways of visually depicting descent by illustrating the relationships between species and groups of species. The ability to properly interpret and use evolutionary trees has become known as “tree thinking.” We used a 20-question assessment to measure misconceptions in tree thinking and compare the proportion of students who hold these misconceptions in an introductory biology course with students in two higher-level courses including a senior level biology course. We found that misconceptions related to reading the graphic (reading the tips and node counting) were variably influenced across time with reading the tips decreasing and node counting increasing in prevalence. On the other hand, misconceptions related to the fundamental underpinnings of evolutionary theory (ladder thinking and similarity equals relatedness) proved resistant to change during a typical undergraduate study of biology. A possible new misconception relating to the length of the branches in an evolutionary tree is described. Understanding the prevalence and persistence of misconceptions informs educators as to which misconceptions should be targeted in their courses.

No MeSH data available.