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UCMP receives $401,833 to develop a program to increase understanding of evolutionary trees

UCMP,  in partnership with the Museum of the Earth, the University of Kansas Natural History Museum, and the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, has received a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences: The Tree Room: Teaching and learning about evolutionary relationships

This three-year project will result in a freely accessible online resource for science educators and ISI professionals – The Tree Room. Building on scientific expertise, the learning research, and current project partner efforts, this resource will clarify what evolutionary trees are, how to read and interpret them, how they are built, how they inform research, and their applications relevant to society.  The project will clarify common misconceptions about trees, identify best practices for using trees in exhibits, and provide lessons and tools for teaching about trees.

The Tree Room will become part of the already highly successful Understanding Evolution website and will target K-16 teachers and ISI professionals but will ultimately serve students and the broader public by helping members of the target audience communicate more effectively about evolutionary trees as important scientific tools.

This project will have national impact on three levels by:

  • Increasing the number of K-16 teachers and informal science educators who are prepared to teach about trees and able to clarify student and visitor misconceptions.
  • Increasing the capacity of museums to develop effective exhibit and program components that integrate evolutionary trees by providing access to learning research and best practices gained through case study analysis.
  • Increasing public understanding of evolutionary trees.

Measurable outcomes of the project will include:

  • Improvements in teachers’ understanding of evolutionary trees.
  • Increases in teachers’ confidence in working with trees and associated scientific data, and improved skills in synthesizing and transforming that knowledge for the classroom.
  • Improvements in teachers’ skill and capacity for communicating concepts associated with biological trees in the framework of local, state and national science education standards.
  • Increases in teachers’ ability to explain tree depictions in the popular press or in textbooks that may otherwise result in student misconceptions.
  • Increases in ISI professionals’ use of trees in new exhibit designs.
  • Improved use of trees in ISI exhibits in ways that better reflect the results of the learning research and best practices as established through case studies of tree visualizations in other institutions.
  • Increases in ISI professionals’ confidence in using tree visualizations in museum interpretive activities and in discussing existing tree diagrams with visitors.

Teachers better prepared to incorporate trees into instruction and ISI professionals with a deeper understanding of the role of trees in exhibits will lead to a more scientifically literate public—one that appreciates the central role that evolutionary relationships play in a modern understanding of biology.