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Integrative learning in evolution, ecology, genetics

Janet Batzli, Betsy Desy, Tessa Andrews, Laurel Hartley, April Maskiewicz

We are advocating for teaching genetics, evolution, and ecology as fully integrated topics within real contexts in introductory biology courses. Most simply, we envision a course in which the students won’t know when we transition from talking about genetics to talking about evolution and to talking about ecology.

Our rationale for the integration of Eco/Evo/Gen in introductory biology courses:
Ecology is fundamentally the study of how organisms interact with each other and their environment; Evolution is the study of biological history and the mechanisms that influence biological change and diversification; genetics is the study of heredity and the variation of inherited characteristics. These disciplines are tightly integrated; genetic mechanisms acting in an ecological context drive evolution, and the way organisms interact is influenced by their evolutionary history. For example, recent studies have demonstrated that evolutionary processes influence ecology (see Furthermore, recent advances in molecular genetic technology have much to contribute to our understanding of ecological and evolutionary processes.

Example activity/module: See Rock Pocket Mouse
This activity is valuable because:
a) context integrates ecology/evolution/genetics
b) is data rich - researchers real data (DNA sequences, allele freq changes, ecological variables that affect freq changes).
c) students have opportunities to reason and develop explanations
Weaknesses:  Its only strong selection pressure. 

1) Existing research on Teaching and Learning

References on Integrating Eco/Evo/Gen
    • Dauer, J.T., Momsen, J.L., Bray Speth, E.B., Makohon-Moore, S.C., Long T. (2013). Analyzing Change in Students' Gene-to-Evolution Models in College-level Introductory Biology. J. Res. Sci. Teaching 50(6): 639-659.

Relevant References for Evolution Education 
  • Hokayem, H., & BouJaoude, S. (2008). College students' perceptions of the theory of evolution. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 45(4), 395-419.
  • Ingram, E. L., & Nelson, C. E. (2006). Relationship between achievement and students' acceptance of evolution or creation in an upper‐level evolution course. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 43(1), 7-24.
  • Nieswandt, M., & Bellomo, K. (2009). Written extended‐response questions as classroom assessment tools for meaningful understanding of evolutionary theory. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 46(3), 333-356
  • Smith, M. U. (2010). Current status of research in teaching and learning evolution: I. Philosophical/epistemological issues. Science & Education, 19(6-8), 523-538.
  • Smith, M. U. (2010). Current status of research in teaching and learning evolution: II. Pedagogical issues. Science & Education, 19(6-8), 539-571.

References for Ecology Education

Adeniyi, E.O. (1985). Misconceptions of selected ecological concepts held by some Nigerian students. Journal of Biological Education, 19, 311-316.

Anderson, C.W., Mohan, L., & Sharma, A. (2005). Developing a learning progression for carbon cycling in environmental systems. Paper presented at the meeting of the Ecological Society of America, Montreal, Canada.

Anderson, C.W., Sheldon, T.S., & Dubay, J. (1990). The effects of instruction on college majors’ conceptions of respiration and photosynthesis. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 27, 761-766.

Barman, C.R., Griffiths, A.K., & Okebukola, P. A. (1995). High school students’ concepts regarding food chains and food webs: A multinational study. International Journal of Science Education 17, 775-782.

Bell, B. (1985). Students' ideas about plant nutrition: What are they?  Journal of Biological Education, 19 (3), 213-218.

Brown, M., & Schwartz, R. (2009). Connecting photosynthesis and cellular respiration: Preservice teachers’ conceptions. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 46(7), 791-812.

Carlsson, B. (2002a). Ecological understanding 1: Ways of experiencing photosynthesis. International Journal of Science Education, 24 (7), 681-99.

Carlsson, B. (2002b). Ecological understanding 2: Transformation - a key to ecological understanding. International Journal of Science Education, 24 (8), 701-715.

Eilam, B. (2002). Strata of comprehending ecology: Looking through the prism of feeding relations. Science Education, 86 (5), 645-71.

Grotzer, T.A., & Basca, B.B. (2003). How does grasping the underlying causal structures of ecosystems impact students’ understanding? Journal of Biological Education, 38, 16-26.

Hartley, L., Momsen, J., Maskiewicz, A. & D’Avanzo, C. (2012). Energy and matter: Differences in discourse in physical and biological sciences can be confusing for introductory biology students. BioScience, 62(5), 488-496.

Hellden, G. (1995). Environmental education and pupils' conceptions of matter. Environmental Education Research, 1 (3), 267-277.

Hogan, K. (2000). Assessing students’ systems reasoning in ecology. Journal of Biological Education, 35, 22-28.

Hogan, K. (2002). Small groups' ecological reasoning while making an environmental management decision. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 39 (4), 341-368.

Hogan, K., & Fisherkeller, J. (1996). Representing students’ thinking about nutrient cycling in ecosystems: Bidimensional coding of a complex topic. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 33, 941-970.

Hogan, K. & Thomas, D. (2001). Cognitive comparisons of students' systems modeling in ecology. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 10(4), 319-345.

Leach, J., Driver, R., Scott, P., & Wood-Robinson, C. (1995). Children's ideas about ecology: Theoretical background, design, and methodology. International Journal of Science Education, 17 (6), 721-732.

Leach, J., Driver, R., Scott, P., & Wood-Robinson, C. (1996a). Children's ideas about ecology 2: Ideas found in children aged 5-16 about the cycling of matter. International Journal of Science Education, 18 (1), 19-34.

Leach, J., Driver, R., Scott, P., & Wood-Robinson, C. (1996b). Children's ideas about ecology 3: Ideas found in children aged 5-16 about the interdependency of organisms. International Journal of Science Education, 18 (2), 129-141.

Leach, J., Konicek, R., & Shapiro, B. (1992). The ideas used by British and North American school children to interpret the phenomenon of decay: A cross-cultural study. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, CA.

Lin, C., & Hu, R. (2003). Students’ understanding of energy flow and matter cycling in the context of the food chain, photosynthesis, and respiration. International Journal of Science Education, 25, 1529-1544.

Maskiewicz, A., Griscom, H. & Welch, N. (2012). Using targeted active-learning exercises and diagnostic question clusters to improve students’ understanding of carbon cycling in ecosystems. Life Sciences Education; CBE,11, 58-67.

Mohan, L, Chen, J, & Anderson. (2008). Developing a multi-year learning progression for carbon cycling in socio-ecological systems.  Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 46(6), 675-698.

Munson, B.H. (1994). Ecological misconceptions. Journal of Environmental Education, 25 (4), 30-34.

Reiner, M., & Eilam, B. (2001). Conceptual classroom environment--A system view of learning. International Journal of Science Education, 23 (6), 551-568.

Webb, P., & Boltt, G. (1990). Food chain to food web: A natural progression. Journal of Biological Education 24 (3), 187-190.

White, P.A. (1997). Naïve ecology: Causal judgments about a simple ecosystem. British Journal of Psychology, 88, 219-233.

Wilensky, U., & Resnick, M. (1999). Thinking in levels: A dynamic systems approach to making sense of the world. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 8 (1), 3-19.

Wilensky, U., & Reisman, K. (2006). Thinking like a wolf, a sheep, or a firefly: Learning biology through constructing and testing computational theories—an embodied modeling approach. Cognition and instruction, 24(2), 171-209.

Wilson, C., Anderson, C., Heidemann, M., Merrill, J., Merritt, B., Richmond, G., Sibley, F., & Parker, J. (2006). Assessing students’ ability to trace matter in dynamic systems in cell biology.

2) Classroom Strategies and Resources (e.g. Activities, problem sets, modules).

Evolution in General

Evo - Specific topics

Phylogenetic trees and macroevolution
  • Catley, K. M., & Novick, L. R. (2009). Digging deep: Exploring college students' knowledge of macroevolutionary time. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 46(3), 311-332.
Population Genetics
  • Alters, B. J., & Nelson, C. E. (2002). Perspective: Teaching evolution in higher education. Evolution, 56(10), 1891-1901.
Natural Selection
  • Catley, K. M., Novick, L. R., & Shade, C. K. (2010). Interpreting evolutionary diagrams: When topology and process conflict. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47(7), 861-882.
  • Long, Tammy. Tobacco Plant Evolution.
Genetic drift
  • Andrews, T.M., Price, R.M., Mead, L.S., McElhinny, T.L., Thanukos, A., Perez, K.E., Herreid, C.F., Terry, D.R., Lemons, P.P. (2012) Biology undergraduate’s misconceptions about genetic drift. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 11(3), 248-259. doi:10.1187/cbe.11-12-0107

Ecology in General

2b) Assessment tools for genetics, evolution:

Evolution Diagnostic Test (6, open‐ended). Bishop, BA and CW Anderson. 1990. Student conceptions of natural selection and its role in evolution. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 27:415‐427.

Conceptual Inventory of Natural Selection (CINS, 20 questions, Multiple‐choice). Anderson D, Fisher KM, Norman JG. 2002. Development and evaluation of the Conceptual Inventory of Natural Selection. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 19: 952‐978.

Knowledge of Evolution Exam (KEE, 10, MC). Cotner S, Brooks DC, Moore R (2010). Is the age of the earth one of our "sorest troubles?" Students' perceptions about deep time affect their acceptance of evolutionary theory. Evolution 64, 858‐864.

Common Descent Inventory (13 Questions, Multiple‐true/false, ordering). Abraham, J.K., K. E. Perez, J. C. Herron, N. Downey, E. Meir. 2012. Undergraduate student alternate conceptions and acceptance of evolutionary theory before and after a short computer‐based lesson plan. Cell Biology Education: Life Sciences Education 11: 152‐164.

Genetic Drift Concept Inventory (GeDI, 22, true‐false). Price, R.M., T.M. Andrews, T.L. McElhinny, L.S. Mead, J.K. Abraham, A. Thanukos, K.E. Perez. Introducing the Genetic Drift Inventory: a measure of what undergraduates have mastered about genetic drift. In review.

EvoDevo Concept Inventory (EvoDevoCI, 11, MC). Perez, K.E., Hiatt, A., G.K. Davis, C. Trujillo, M. Terry, D.P. French, R.M. Price. The EvoDevoCI: A concept inventory for gauging students’ understanding of evolutionary developmental biology. In press, CBE:LSE.

Treethinking challenge (Basic: 10, MC, Advanced: 10, MC). The Tree‐Thinking Challenge. Baum, Smith, Donovan Science 310, 979 (2005).

Natural Selection Inventory (6, open‐ended). Nehm RH, Reilly L (2007). Biology majors' knowledge and misconceptions of natural selection. Bioscience 57, 263‐272.

Measurement of understanding of macroevolution (Mum, 28, 27 MC, 1 open‐ended). Nadelson LS, Southerland SA (2010). Development and preliminary evaluation of the measure of understanding of macroevolution: Introducing the MUM. J Exp Educ 78, 151‐190.

Classroom test of Evolutionary Reasoning (CTER, 26 MC, two‐tiered, secondary ed teachers). Palko, P. 2009. The state of high school biology teachers’ understanding of evolution. Reports of the National Center for Science Education 29:37‐38. 



Genetics Concept Assessment (GCA, 25, MC). Smith MK, Wood WB, Knight JK. 2008. The genetics concept assessment: A new concept inventory for gauging student understanding of genetics. The American Society for Cell Biology 7: 422‐430.

Genetics Literacy Assessment Instrument 2 (GLAI‐2, 31, MC). Bowling BV, Acra EE, Wang L, Myers MF, Dean GE, Markle GC, Moskalik CL, Huether CA. 2008. Innovations in teaching and learning genetics: Development and evaluation of a genetics literacy assessment instrument for undergraduates. Genetics 178:15‐22.

Genetics Literacy (13, MC, 2‐tiered). Tsui CY, Treagust D. 2009. Evaluating Secondary Students’ Scientific Reasoning in Genetics Using a Two‐Tier Diagnostic Instrument. International Journal of Science Education, 2009, 1‐26, iFirst Article.



Measurement of Acceptance of Evolution (MATE, 20, Likert). Rutledge ML, Warden MA (1999). The development and validation of the measure of acceptance of the theory of evolution instrument. Sch Sci Math 99, 13‐18.

Evolution Acceptance and Literacy Survey (EALS: 104, Likert; EALS Short Form: 62, Likert). 

Hawley, PH., Short, SD., McCune, LA., Osman, MR., Little, TD. 2011. What’s the matter with Kansas?: The development and confirmation of the evolutionary attitudes and literacy survey (EALS). Evo Ed Outreach. 4:117‐132.

Short, SD., Hawley, PH. 2012. Evolutionary attitudes and literacy survey (EALS): Development and validation of a short form. Evo Ed Outreach.

3) Gaps in (a) Research and (b) Resources (a long narrative or a bulleted list is fine)

4) Ideas for New Collaborations or Ways to Scale/Extend On-going Research

April and Betsy would like to work on a model unit related to crickets, sound, and sex.

All - would like to articulate the value of integrating teaching of ecology, evolution, and genetics in intro biology.  We would like to explore student thinking related to the subparts (where are the three topics linked, e.g. allele) and how to integrate them.  We want to articulate the consequences of problematic thinking and inability to integrate.

Hypotheses that could be tested based on this assumption that integrating these domains of biology is important:
Students who understand genetics concepts, such as allele, will more successfully construct knowledge of evolution.

Subpages (1): Notes
Tessa Andrews,
Nov 9, 2013, 10:09 AM